Melba Figge, 82, and her husband Bill Figge opened a photography
studio more than 60 years ago in Glendale. That studio, Figge
Photography, is now in Newport Beach and has been for the past 39
years. The couple for years contributed photographs to Playboy,
including 48 centerfolds. They stopped contributing in the early
'80s, when the pictures in the magazine became more revealing. Melba
Figge is more or less retired now. One of her sons, Greg, and her
daughter, Leslie, run the studio. The Daily Pilot's Lindsay Sandham
recently sat down with Melba Figge to hear stories about working for
the magazine and owning a photography studio.
Did you get a degree in photography or in fine arts?
No. I liked photography, always played with it and stuff. My
husband was an architectural photographer during the war, and he took
a zillion pictures of everything during World War II. He had
graduated from USC also, so that's how I met him.
The first studio you opened was in Glendale?
We had a small studio first near our house. We designed a major
studio in Glendale and were there for quite a few years. We came here
39 years ago.
How did you get into shooting centerfolds?
This is our first centerfold, Sue Williams (Figge points to a
photo in a Playboy book.) Her sister worked for us at our studio as
So, that's how you got started, with Sue Williams.
Sue Williams, and we had eight of them one year -- and they only
have 12 a year.
How does that work? Did you shoot all the photos and then submit
We sent the first one in ... and Hugh Hefner said, "She's really
cute. We'd like to see your work."
So we said, "Fine," and did some more cute pictures of her. They
loved our work and pretty soon they added our names to the magazine
as contributors because we didn't want to be part of their staff.
We did 48 centerfolds that were published.
Did you meet Hugh Hefner?
Oh, many times. When we first started, he didn't have his place in
Los Angeles. He was in Chicago, a beautiful mansion there.
You're celebrating your 60th anniversary for the studio?
Yeah, but we've been doing this for a lot more time. We started
working out of our house in the garage in Culver City when we got
How has it been with the transition from film to digital?
We had to adjust because all of a sudden all the photographers in
all of the world were beginning to shoot digital. It was cutting down
our business, so we had to learn how to do it also and see how fast
we can get the film out and make proofs and retouch them and all that
How do you make people feel comfortable in front of a camera?
We just have a way of talking to them and making it fun. Children
are a lot of fun. Greg and Leslie are both excellent. They've taken
over for me.
So you're more or less retired, and you're used to working most of
the time. What do you do to keep yourself busy?
I go to Shape Up, an exercise place. There are wonderful teachers.
They do everything, but my class is for adults.
By "adults" you mean ...