To the Folks Back Home, We're Pretty as a Post Card

Times Staff Writer

The "girls," clad in one- or two-piece bathing suits, are named Teresa, Sonia and Suzanne. The "guys," tanned and muscular, are named Pete, Steve and Dave.

They're among the scores of young men and women pictured posing on the beach in a series of post cards aptly dubbed "California Girls" and "California Guys."

And, according to the Orange County shops that sell these souvenir slices of the California good life, tourists find them irresistible.

"These things sell--I just can't believe it," said Georganne Daugherty, owner of the Toy Store in Laguna Beach, which sells the post cards on a sidewalk rack.

"Boys buy them to send to their bar back home," observed Daugherty with a laugh. "And girls buy them for their friends back home: 'Look what we've found.' "

The "California Girls" and "California Guys" post cards are produced by Actual Photo Co. of La Jolla, a small, family-owned-and-operated company that has been distributing post cards for 25 years.

Garth Valentine, 28, the company's account executive-photographer, came up with the idea for the "California Girls" post card line five years ago.

"After years of seeing the Tahitian and Hawaiian and French post cards, I decided California was a natural for this," said Valentine. "It's gone quite well."

The company added the "California Guys" line about three years ago, the result of the "flak" it received for featuring only women on the cards, said Valentine.

"There was," he acknowledged with a laugh, "major discontent: Everybody thought we were male chauvinists so we had to take care of the other end of the market."

Although both ends of the market are now covered, the photographic visions of the scantily attired Debbie, Sandy, Craig, Dave et al. are still making waves: Some stores simply refuse to carry the post cards.

"They consider these pornographic almost," said Valentine, adding: "It's nothing more than you'll see on any beach.

'Outdoor Image'

"We're just going along with the mainstream--the whole body consciousness and awareness (trend). We're trying to almost glorify the outdoor image."

The women and men in the post cards are photographed on beaches up and down the California coast, according to Valentine, who said he lets the young women decide whether to wear a one- or two-piece bathing suit.

Although some of the models in the early post cards came from modeling schools, many were recruited after being spotted in restaurants and even right off the beach. Now, however, many are found through references and portfolios that come in the mail, said Valentine.

"The whole purpose is to not look for ultra-model perfection, but for a real natural, classic California look. We're really looking to represent the beach atmosphere."

Valentine said the first names of the models are included on the front of each post card "to give the people in the pictures credit, first of all, and to add a little personality to the post cards. But I don't really think that's going to make much difference (in sales). I think people are really after the look itself."

Valentine and company, it seems, have latched onto a good thing.

"We really have changed the face of the post card in the United States," Valentine maintained. "There are probably six to seven companies beating the same path now. It's gotten quite competitive. I guess that's the name of the game."

Despite the success of the cheesecake and beefcake post cards, Valentine emphasized that the beach poses are just one segment of the company's business.

They also produce humorous post cards, custom work (post cards that advertise hotels and restaurants) and scenic post cards: "just your classic tourist destinations basically. If you go to Hawaii you want to send something that reflects Hawaii."

And if someone comes to California, chances are they'll want to send that ultimate symbol of the Golden State: the California Girl or the California Guy.

"People go for it as a gag almost," said Valentine. "It's kind of a fun form of communication. I've stood and watched people look at them. It's comical to watch.

"You get the families--they're all kind of congregated around a display, and it's amazing to hear the remarks. Sometimes the little old lady will be disgusted and you'll see Pop go, 'Here's one for you, check this guy out.' "

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