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The Demise & Disappearance of Lorna Maitland, Topless Model

When casting for his infamous 1964 film, Lorna, director Russ Meyer famously said he wanted “a wanton of unparalleled emotion” and “unrestrained earthiness” who “destined to set a new standard of voluptuous beauty.” And he saw all of that in the star who would become known to legions of fans around the world and across the decades as Lorna Maitland. The curvaceous dancer and singer from California epitomized the wanton young wife of the film, whose desire for sensual pleasure ignites a violent reaction in a small country town. Meyer ended up prosecuted for obscenity in several states but still considered the film a roaring success. It was the framework for many of his later films. In fact, “Lorna” was almost a template of Lorna Maitland’s own life. In her youth, she felt stifled by small-town living, seeking the bright lights of Hollywood.

But just as quickly as she rose to stardom in the early 1960s, Lorna Maitland mysteriously vanished. What happened to her, and what is she up to today? Watch on to learn from her family and friends that Lorna Maitland’s life was far from picture-perfect.

Where It All Began

Before she was Lorna Maitland, the infamous movie star known as Barbara Ann Popejoy to her friends and family. Lorna was born in 1943, and her family remembers her as being “whip-smart” and a natural entertainer from a very young age. She spent her early years in Glendale, Los Angeles. And then the family moved to Norman, Oklahoma, when she was seven. Lorna missed the lights of LA, though she did get some excitement each year because Norman was located in Tornado Alley, the world’s most tornado-prone area. Thankfully for her later fans, despite being a million miles away from the “Lights, camera, action!” of Hollywood, her yearning to become an actress never died out. Instead, she channeled her sense of stardom into energetic sports like her school cheerleading squad. Eventually, however, she had enough of small-town living. Barbara decided to leave home in 1959 when she was just 16.

The Bright Lights of Hollywood

After leaving behind the endless fields of Oklahoma, Barbara headed to New York, taking up work as a model for Saks Fifth Avenue. That job didn’t last long, and she soon found herself in Reno, Nevada, where she started dancing with a troupe called the Delta Queens. They performed as part of a nightly variety show in the famed 7th-floor Fun Room of Harolds Club. Barbara, it turned out, had quite a good singing voice, so she took up a part in a review called “Riverboat Follies” that presented the colorful riverboat history of the area. But doing the same act, night after night just wasn’t enough for the ambitious performer. She quickly grew bored of the routine and began dreaming once again of life in glittering Hollywood. She was just 17, it was the 1960s, the dawn of a new decade and a new era, and so she packed her bags and moved back to Los Angeles. There, she got a room at the celebrated Hollywood Studio Club. And the place to be for aspiring actresses, and started heading to auditions. In the evenings, she danced in go-go clubs for some quick cash.

Her Singing Career Was a Non-Starter

It was 1962 when she first met band promoter and music producer Clancy Grass at an audition. After over a decade in the entertainment business, Grass had landed on a bit of success with his promotion of some of the recordings of a musical trio called the Paris Sisters. The Sisters managed by Lester Sill, a legendary and, more importantly, well-connected producer of the era. Grass, it turns out, wanted a cut of the action for himself. He decided to create a new trio modeled on the Paris Sisters’ recipe for success that he could manage. He recruited Jim Bailey as the lead singer and started hunting around for a trio of stunning backup singers. And guess who was at the audition? Why Barbara Popejoy, of course. Clancy Grass didn’t think she could sing that well, but her good musical talent combined with her incredible good looks managed to win her the role. They worked hard in rehearsals for months, trying to develop the act into something chart-worthy. But despite Grass’s good connections, the beauty of the backup singers. And the lyrical talents of Jim Bailey, Grass just couldn’t make it work.

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When Barbara Met Russ Meyer

Barbara went back to the audition circuit, dancing and modeling on the side. Grass was still her exclusive agent when she spotted a call for a “voluptuous girl” for a lead role in a new indie movie. The director was Russ Meyer, who had only made a few reasonably well-received nudist films up to that point. However, this new movie a marked departure in style for Meyer: it was the first “rural gothic” film he ever produced. It had a markedly dramatic storyline, would shot on 35mm film (another first for the director). And he’d managed to land a decent production budget of $37,000. Though Grass remembers going with Barabara to visit Meyer, arming her with publicity photos and the confidence that she could play the lead. He downplays any idea that he knew just how sexually exploitative the film was.

She Almost Missed Out on the “Lorna” Role

But unbeknownst to Barbara and Grass, Russ Meyer had already given the role to Maria Andre, an actress he’d worked with previously. Though Russ was happy with her acting ability, he was less enthused by the size of her breasts. He was looking for a chest that was, well, prominent. While keeping her in the role, he started hunting around for an alternative leading lady. With time running out, he started rehearsals with Maria anyway. When Meyer thought all was lost, his wife and business partner, Eve, came to him with a selection of naked Polaroids. They were off none other than Barbara Maitland, reportedly taken by her manager. Clancy Grass–though, to this day, Grass denies taking such lewd photographs. Whoever took them did Barbara a favor. Meyer was enamored.

Lorna Maitland Was Born

Russ Meyer hated Barbara’s given name, so he decided to give her the stage name. And the now-famed Lorna Maitland was born. Meyer once loved a woman called Lorna, so that’s why he chose the word, and he thought Maitland was a nice upper-class contrast with the movie character’s country roots. The film was shot in Walnut Grove, California, a place Meyer thought looked like the scenes in the Italian melodramas famous in the 1950s and 1960s. It took Lorna five hours to get there on public transport. She arrived a few days earlier than the rest of the actors because Meyer asked her to shoot the nude lake-bathing scene with less crew to have as few people gawking as possible. It very quickly became apparent that Maitland and Meyer were polar opposites and tensions rapidly rose on set. In fact, Meyer later admitted that Maitland “absolutely hated my guts.” Despite the clashes, the crew managed to get everything filmed on time.

The Aftermath of Lorna Success 100

Russ asked Lorna to star in another of his movies, Mudhoney, but the film bombed at the box office. Meyer blamed Maitland, saying crassly, “her tits had kind of gone south.” So what was next for Lorna? At the time and father of her child, her boyfriend, Mark Scofield, was friends with the members of a band called Danny and the Memories. It wasn’t long before that group broke up since their particular brand of acapella was quickly going out of style. The band packed up and moved to San Francisco, keen to get into the emerging rock and roll scene. To make ends meet, he took a job as a dancer at the then-show club, Big Al’s. When Dino needed a new dance partner, Mark Scofield suggested Lorna for the role. Though they’d never officially met, it was love, or at least attraction, at first sight, the moment Lorna got off the plane in San Fran.

She Turned Down a Broadway Role

Lorna continued to work at Big Al’s while occasionally starring in scopitone (jukebox) films for Dino’s and other bands. The group of friends started using marijuana and acid frequently while at the same time working on a record for their new band, The Psyrcle–described as “blue-eyed soul. The group saw moderate success, recording two sides with producer Sly Stone and pressing promotional 1,000 copies, paid for by Lorna in exchange for naming the label Lorna Records. At the same time, Lorna was offered a lead role in the Broadway show “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,”. But she turned it down to stay with Dino. Instead, she took a job as a dancer in Las Vegas and Dino. And frustrated by his band’s mediocre fortunes, eventually left the group.

Lorna Maitland Spirals Into Drug Addiction

Lorna began to find herself detaching from reality, a victim of the drug culture that increased in the 1960s and 1970s. She’d lost her ambition to the point that when a major Hollywood studio called offering her a contract for a two-movie, seven-year contract, she turned it down almost immediately. It was the precursor to Lorna’s first severe mental breakdown. And her mother took her to a clinic that administered electro-shock therapy. It was the end of her career as a movie star. Not long after, Lorna, referring to herself as Barbara again, married Ben (formerly known as Dino) in a small ceremony in Santa Barbara.

Settling Down Following Fame

Barbara and Ben settled down on a small farm in Ellwood City, PA, Ben’s hometown, where they welcomed their first son, Beniamino, into the world. Despite loving her new life as an artist and homemaker, Barbara couldn’t control the psychotic episodes and was often hospitalized for mental illness. She gave birth to their daughter, Gina, in 1974, and just a few short years after, her instability would lead to Ben pressing for a divorce. Barbara, he said, “the rotten apple that spoils the barrel” in their family. Ben moved away with the children, and Barbara drifted in and out of mental institutions and spent much of her life on the road. Though Barbara remained in sporadic contact with her parents, it wasn’t until the early 1990s that her daughter Gina heard from her mother again.

Where is Lorna Maitland Now?

No one knows where Barbara Popejoy is today, though her family is keen to track her down–especially her daughter, Gina. Gina spoke with Russ Meyer in 2000, who sent her some films that Barbara starred in. She remembers him telling her that her mother was “a little wild, a little promiscuous, and a little nutty.” Gina and her aunt hired a famous medium, Theresa Caputo, to learn of Barbara’s fate, who said she saw a spirit called Barb or Barbie standing behind the ghost of Gina’s grandfather. There are arrest records for Barbara dating back to the 2000s, where she was caught causing public disturbances in California, and she may have been living in cheap housing in Las Vegas until 2007. Wherever Barbara is today, her family hopes she has finally found peace and that she will one day be celebrated for the mark she left on American cultural history.

Do you think Lorna Maitland is a heroine of the 1960s and 1970s counterculture? Or should her films and musical contributions be relegated to the dustbin? Fight it out with fans and haters in the comments below. Like this video and share it with your friends to really get the debate going. We hope you’ll subscribe to Facts Verse, too. We’ve got tons more videos just like this one up our sleeves, and we can’t wait to share them with you.

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