Before the pre-New-Year holidays we took a look at what I’d been able to find out about the two models, Loree Thomas and Gen Melia, who posed as Alice Santa Fe and Whitey Barker for Milton Caniff’s “Pipa Island/Red Cross” Steve Canyon storyline, which we just reprinted in Volume 7 of that LOAC series. If you missed it, you can catch up by clicking here.
Milton and models went together like baseball and hot dogs (or spaghetti and meatballs, for those of you with more refined palates), so I went back a bit further to look at a trio of other “Caniffite” models and what we could learn about them following their assignments in support of the Canyon strip …
You may recall these two young ladies from our 6th Steve Canyon volume:
Terri Keane, in uniform, and Lynn Thompson, in checkered shirt, posed as Scooter McGruder and Poteet Canyon for a photo session in support of a 1957 plotline that revolved around the Civil Air Patrol. Many photos from this assignment were used in publicity materials that appeared in various periodicals; here’s a shot of Caniff and Lynn, from a syndicated newspaper feature that I found in the Des Moines Register:
It may surprise you to learn Lynn and Terri were both teenagers when they did their Canyon work. This newspaper article, running nationwide in May, 1958, provides a lot of background on both girls, including personal details that would be frowned upon in the 21st Century, though it was a different society, with different mores, sixty years ago:
Terri also landed a gig on series television in the late ’50s. Here’s an article describing her work:
If you’d like a brief flash of Terri helping to intro the Pat Boone Chevy Showroom, you can see her at this link.
Arguably the most famous of the Canyon models Caniff used was Bek Steiner, who as Miss Mizzou made quite a splash when she appeared at halftime in the University of Missouri football stadium and doffed her character’s trademark trenchcoat (see our Steve Canyon Volume 3 for the detailed story). Here’s a a brief bit from the November 18, 1952 Macon, Missouri Chronicle-Herald with other information about Bek’s time at the school:
Newspaper gossip columnists kept track of Bek even after her time as Mizzou ended. In early April, 1953 Dorothy Kilgallen told readers that Bek and musician Marty Mills were “closer than the baseball season,” but just before Memorial Day of that year another gossip feature said, “Don’t know about the chance of Johnny Ray reconciling with Marilyn Morrison. Anything is possible. But he has been paying lots of attention to Bek Steiner, a stunner at the Copacabana in New York.” By the wintertime of ’53, with cold temperatures and snow on the ground in the East and North, Bek had migrated westward, but city editors knew a photo of a beautiful woman in a bikini would warm readers’ hearts and featured a beaming Bek — left leg bent, head tilted to the right, back slightly arched and arms upraised and extended to either side — in a dark bikini. The copies of the story I’ve found are too blurred and dark for reproducing here, but her image was presented all in the name of culture! The caption informs readers, “All that’s changed in 2000 years is the means of capturing feminine beauty for posterity. Bek Steiner, 22-year-old dancer at Las Vegas, N. M., models a Bikini bathing suit, almost exactly like those which appear in mosaics recently excavated in Piazza Amerina, Sicily. Today, the camera captures beauty once preserved in bits of ceramic.”
The next two years were big ones in Bek’s personal life. She wed singer Chuck Nelson in 1954, and in his column It Happened Last Night, gossip monger Earl Wilson covered the nuptials with this tongue-in-cheek snippet:
By the autumn of 1955 a child was on the way, as Dorothy Kilgallen reported at the bottom of the left column of this column (with a vivacious picture of Bek dominating the right-hand column):
This is also a fine place to mention J.B. Winter’s fine, fun 2014 look at the character who was perhaps Milton Caniff’s biggest blonde bombshell, Miss Mizzou: A Life Beyond Comics. You can see it at Amazon and the page on that site is well worth visiting, since one of Bek’s friends and her daughter remark on the book in the “Comments” section. They indicate that, as of 2014, Bek Steiner was alive and brightening the lives of family and friends. That is good news indeed for fans like us, because Bek’s fictional counterpart, Miss Mizzou, will be re-teaming with Caniff’s rock-jawed colonel in Steve Canyon Volume 8!