My Mother the Pop Icon

Walking with my mother through midtown Manhattan last summer, I spotted a familiar image on a streetlight banner. “Look, Ma!” I pointed. “There you are!”

The banner, and others up and down the east side cross streets, directed the tourist throng to the nearby Museum of Modern Art. This particular banner featured the iconic Roy Lichtenstein pop art image Girl With Ball from 1961, familiarly known to our family as “Mom.”


Roy Lichtenstein Girl With Ball 1961


Before there was a mordant Lichtenstein commentary on mass culture and female objectification and what have you, there was a billboard on the Taconic Parkway advertising a Poconos resort; and before there was a billboard, there was an 8×10 publicity shot; and before there was a publicity shot, there was the female half of a pair of crooners called Cass Franklin and Monica Lane; and before there was Monica Lane, there was June Springer, nee Reimer: Mom.


Monica Lane a.k.a. June Reimer Springer glamour shot


Pre-children and under her own maiden name, Mom had crisscrossed America in road-show tours of Broadway musicals (I still know every word of “Kiss Me Kate!”). Once married (to Dad, who merits his own blog post), Mom stuck closer to home and hired on as “Monica Lane,” replacing a lookalike blonde soprano who had retired (to raise babies) from the warbling duo “Cass Franklin and Monica Moore.” (Cass evidently hoped none of the bookers would notice the personnel change.) Once Mom/Monica started having babies, the confusion was noted (that’s my brother below):


Monica Lane/Cass Franklin


Cass Franklin and Monica Lane played New York clubs like The Latin Quarter, early TV variety shows like “The Colgate Comedy Hour,” and out-of-town resorts in the Catskills and Poconos (the sociological distinctions between Catskills and Poconos resorts is a treatise unto itself). They sang romantic duets; they weren’t torchy or bluesy or racy, though they did turn up along with strippers Lili St. Cyr and Bettie Page in the burlesque classic Varietease.


Bettie Page, Lili St. Cyr, Monica Lane Varietease


Mom quit working upon the birth of her second child (me), but Monica lived on for at least another decade (un-credited) as that Girl With Beach Ball image on the Taconic Parkway billboard; we passed it frequently and saluted it fondly. She also showed up for many years in little resort ads at the back of the Daily News Sunday edition, and even turned up in the ‘90s on a street flyer advertising hepatitis prevention and needle exchange for injection drug users (but heavens no, Monica/Mom was definitely not part of showbiz’s druggie subculture).

When I mentioned the billboard to an acquaintance midway in age between my mother and me, he recalled “Oh, your mother and I had a very close relationship!” So there, MoMA curators, who had this to say about the Lichtenstein version of Mom:

Lichtenstein took the image for Girl with Ball straight from an advertisement for a hotel in New York’s Pocono Mountains. In pirating it, however, he transformed the photographic image, using a painter’s version of the techniques of the comic-strip artist. The resulting simplifications intensify the artifice of the picture, concentrating its careful evocation of fun in the sun. The girl’s round mouth is more doll-like than female; any sex appeal she had has become as plastic as her beach ball.

Plastic, eh? You haven’t met June Monica Reimer Lane Springer!


Rock Hudson and Monica Lane

June/Monica with Rock Hudson


It’s a good thing we have no copies of (or copyright claim to) the original publicity glossy. That way, we’re relieved of the burden of greed and envy that could arise from contemplating this: Roy Lichtenstein’s “I Can See the Whole Room… and There’s Nobody In It!” from the same year, in the same early comic-book style, was just auctioned at Christie’s on November 10,2011, for $43.2 million.

Pop Art Painting: scores of millions. Mom: priceless.


Monica gets the Cosmopolitan treatment


By Alicia Springer