The Life and Tragic Death of a
             Popular 1950s Glamour Model

Miss Shirley Skates on the cover of the July 1959 issue of Modern Man magazine. Photography by Mario Casilli.

This article was made possible due to the painstaking investigative work of freelance journalist H.C. Slavic. Ms. Slavic uncovered the newspaper clipping of Shirley's obituary as well as the news stories that accompanied it. She also conducted two telephone interviews with Shirley's youngest sister, Gene Ciciliano (yes, the male spelling of Gene), to try to separate fact from the fanciful stories that were often invented by the editors of the various men's magazines.

Previously, H.C. Slavic's investigative work on the life and death of 1960s glamour model and Playboy Playmate Paige Young was featured on episode 8 of the 2022 A&E series "The Secrets of Playboy". To view her website about Paige Young, please visit:

Shirley Skates was a beautiful brown-eyed brunette with a radiant smile who, starting in late 1958, began appearing in numerous U.S. men's magazines as well as a few magazines that would later be published in Britain. It was certainly natural that Shirley's face and figure would be appreciated by glamour fans on both sides of the Atlantic! In the Spring 1961 issue of Britain's Spick Extra magazine (which featured a six page pictorial on Shirley that was titled "What's In A Name"), the editors wrote: "How the name became Skates, we don't know." Well, to try to solve this little mystery once and for all... it became Skates because that was the name she was born with.

Shirley Fay Skates was born in Dallas, Texas on January 24, 1935 to Roy Lee Skates and Ollie Pauline (Luttrell) Skates. At around the age of three, Shirley's parents would divorce. As a youngster, Shirley was her mom's favorite and the only child in the family with brown eyes. Mother Ollie used to call her "My little brown-eyed Indian". Note: Shirley's sister Gene doesn't know if her family is part American Indian or not. It was a story told in her childhood along with many stories of the family's origin. Gene added that she never had a DNA test to find out whether she had any Native American ancestry. She also mentioned that the whole family had blue eyes, except for Shirley and their father Roy Skates. Roy had a dark complexion and he may have had some Indian blood, but it can't be confirmed.

When Shirley was 6 years old, her family moved to California, which was where she grew up. At the age of 16, Shirley married a young man by the name of Tony L. Valenzuela. Not too long after the wedding, her new husband was sent to fight in Korea and was killed in action shortly after he arrived. 

From the Pamona Progress Bulletin, Nov. 26, 1951.

Though Shirley would use her maiden name of Shirley Skates for her subsequent modelling career, she would later on in life go by the name Shirley Skates Valenzuela.

A few years later, at age 18 or 19, Shirley went to work as a car-hop at a drive-in diner (according to Adam magazine Vol. 4 No. 8) and in a little over a year's time, she became the night manager. After a couple of years, Shirley decided she wanted to do more with her life and couldn't see doing it at a drive-in.

Adam magazine Vol. 4 No. 8 (August 1960) which featured an article on Shirley Skates entitled "Model's Model". Photographs of Shirley in this issue were taken by Kurt Reichert.

As mentioned in the article above, Shirley had found work as a showgirl in Las Vegas. Shirley's sister confirms this: "Shirley was a Vegas showgirl but not a stripper or burlesque dancer with an act, but one of many girls parading around on stage." It was "a small part", she said.

In 1958, Shirley found her way back to Los Angeles and made one of her first appearances as a model in the December 1958 issue of Ace magazine. She soon opened her own photography studio in L.A., and along with another model (Jan Spangler), Shirley would pose for amateur shutterbugs as well as Hollywood's best glamour photographers. Some of the photographers who captured Shirley Skates on film were Art Messick, Ron Vogel, Harry Maxwell, Edmund Leja, David Sutton, Kurt Reichert, Mario Casilli, Elmer Batters and Scotty Spears. The aforementioned Ron Vogel shot a photo story of Shirley at work in her studio, which appeared in the Vol. 3 No. 6 issue of Adam magazine (June 1959).

Adam magazine Vol. 3 No. 6 with an article entitled "Executive Model" about Shirley Skates' photo studio. The accompanying photos were shot by Ron Vogel, but the above cover photo of Shirley was taken by Kurt Reichert.

Below is a clipping from the 1959 Los Angeles telephone directory, which listed Shirley's photo studio, California Photography. A listing for the studio did not appear in the 1960 L.A. phone book, so it seems that her photography business lasted less than two years.

In early 1959, Shirley had met new model and recent arrival from Germany (via Canada) Doris Gohlke (see my glamour models page) while at Aaron "Scotty" Spears' photography studio. Shirley was asked by Mr. Spears to show Doris how to do her makeup as well as instruct her on other aspects of modelling. The two women would become good friends and this friendship lasted for many years. Doris' sister Margo, who was also a glamour model, would soon become friends with Shirley as well, and the two of them would restore antique furniture together. One such piece that Shirley had restored (a piano) remains in Doris' possession today.

Good friends Doris Gohlke (right) and Shirley Skates pose for a photo at a Hollywood party circa 1959. Since Shirley told everyone she knew that she was part American Indian, she naturally donned an Indian headdress for this costume party. Photo courtesy of Doris Gohlke.

Doris and Shirley were two of the most published glamour models of 1959. They were even immortalized in a vintage pack of glamour girl playing cards. Photo courtesy of Doris Gohlke.

After Shirley's photos were published in men's magazines such as Adam, Rogue, Modern Man, Sheik, Sizzle, Follies, Nugget, Ace, Scamp, Sheer, Hi-Life, Pepper, Blondes Brunettes Redheads, and Spick Extra, she made a few appearances in such "Nudie Cutie" films as Surftide 77 (1962) and The Bare Hunt (1963).

In Surftide 77, a bumbling private detective is tasked with finding a young woman who has a butterfly shaped birthmark on her chest. After getting a promising tip on where to find her, he walks right into a woman's home and then into her bathroom where she just so happens to be taking a shower. The detective then opens the shower door to get a good look at the woman's body. This woman, played by Shirley Skates, who has no birthmark, screams when she sees the man and begins beating him violently over the head with a brush that she had previously used to scrub her back. The scene ends abruptly and the next scene opens with the detective sitting in jail.

In an uncredited role, Shirley Skates appeared as "Woman in the Shower" in the 1962 Nudie Cutie film Surftide 77.

The Bare Hunt was produced by the same people who brought us Surftide 77 and also features a "detective" as the lead, but this film makes Surftide 77 look like a masterpiece. The plotline of this movie is so thin that it's almost nonexistent. In one scene, our hero, a goofball who wears a fake moustache, has a blacked-out front tooth and inexplicably wears a pair of ear muffs, goes to a 24 hour model agency because he heard that a beautiful woman is "playing him for a patsy". So, he pretends to be a photographer and "photographs" four models, one of whom spends a majority of the time dancing on a coffee table. I won't give away the payoff to the scene because I feel it would be in bad taste. At first I wasn't sure if the woman dancing on the table (who was identified as Shirley Skates in the credits) was really Shirley, but perhaps that was because her hairstyle was so different from the one she had during her modelling career.

Shirley Skates plays the role of Flo, a model who dances on a coffee table while being photographed in various stages of undress in the 1963 film The Bare Hunt.  

Sadly, later that same year (on October 19, 1963), Shirley's mother Ollie, who had remarried for the third time and moved to Shady Cove, Oregon, died from head injuries that she sustained in an automobile accident. She was 48 years old.

On September 6, 1964, at the age of 29, Shirley Skates would marry for the second time. The groom, who went by the names Peter Peterson and Peter Linnier was 20 years her senior. According to Shirley's sister Gene, both assumed that the other had money and when it was found out that neither of them did, they quickly got an annulment. The marriage was of such little consequence that when Peter Linnier died in 2010 at age 95, it was not mentioned in his obituary at all.

Beginning around 1971, Shirley went into business as a dog breeder. In 1980, she moved herself and her business to Apple Valley, California, a small town of around 19,000 people that is located 92 miles northeast of Los Angeles (as of 2022, the population of the city had grown to 73,765!). Shirley lived a relatively quiet life in Apple Valley for the next decade or so, when at some point she met a man named Charles Kline, who would eventually become her live-in boyfriend. 

It was on May 12, 1996 when an obituary for Shirley Skates Valenzuela appeared in the Victorville Press Dispatch (Victorville is about 7 miles west of Apple Valley). In the obituary, there was no hint as to the cause of death.

The horrific story of Shirley Skates' death was revealed the very next month in the Victorville Daily Press (June 14, 1996).

According to Shirley's sister Gene Ciciliano, Shirley was shot by her boyfriend after a fight, when she asked him to move his trailer off of her property.
Information on the sentencing of Charles Kline would appear in the Victorville Daily Press on August 7, 1997.

Shirley's sister told journalist H.C. Slavic that at some point she received a letter stating that the murderer Charles Kline had died in prison. However, no one could tell her exactly how he had died. Gene Ciciliano and her family had earlier been told that they could speak at an upcoming parole hearing, but it never happened due to Kline's death.

It is my personal opinion that Charles Kline should have been given a life sentence, but as fate would have it, he actually did end up serving life after all.

Despite the senseless and violent nature of her death, I, along with many other fans of Shirley Skates, will continue to admire her great glamour work for years to come. One excellent photographer who Shirley Skates had the privilege of working with was Edmund Leja, and several of Mr. Leja's photos of Shirley are among my all-time favorites. Below are three classic examples. 
Please Note: These photos by Edmund Leja are being reproduced here with special permission from his son, Tom Leja.

Shirley's smile just seemed to light up a room!!

A beautiful outdoor shot which featured Shirley wearing her
striped Capri pants.
A gorgeous nude study of Shirley that was captured by Edmund Leja. Several years ago, Tom Leja took on the time-consuming task of scanning and editing all of his father's work and the results are just breathtaking! Thank you Tom!

I can't help but think that had Shirley not been senselessly murdered back in 1996, H.C. Slavic might have been able to track her down today and get her to consent to an interview. We could have heard from Shirley firsthand about her long life and listened to her reminisce about her modelling days. Oh, what might have been! Bless you, Shirley Skates!!! You were taken from this world much too soon!!

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