Maria Stinger was a bombshell in her day. Throughout the 1950s and '60s, Stinger was a popular pin-up model, working with the likes of famed pinup and photographer Bunny Yeager. She was renowned for her resemblance to the iconic Marilyn Monroe.
Then, at 34 years old, Stinger took her own life.
But her story doesn't end there. A half-century later, her suicide would inspire her granddaughter's first documentary.
Three years ago, documentary editor Christie Strong, Stinger's granddaughter, had an epiphany. "I always knew that I was going to tell Maria's story, even when I was younger. It was just a matter of how and when," said Strong. But a boy got in her way. "I got swept up on this epic adventure and romance. I began dating this other filmmaker, we traveled the world, I started helping him with his projects, and I completely put my project down," said Strong. Three years later the romance ended and it hit her, hard.
"When the relationship ended, I realized there were a lot of parallels between her life and mine. I put a lot of aspects of myself down, and that's something my grandmother did too. She never had a chance to develop her own identity, and that's part of the reason she killed herself," said Christie. That's when Christie realized that her grandmother's story had modern-day resonance. Maria Stringer was 34 when she decided to kill herself and Christie is 34 now; the timing could not be more perfect.
After traveling to India to put her life back together after the break up, Strong moved back to Miami in March. So began what she considers her new beginning. Her upcoming documentary, Bombshell: The Life and Death of a Pin Up, explores the life of Maria Stinger and the events that led to her suicide.
"'Bombshell' has been a name floating around her for some time. She was a hot, blonde lady. She was on the cover of a book about pin-up models in the '50s called Bombshells: Glamour Girls of a Lifetime and was on MAC Cosmetics' Bombshell campaign in the year 2000," said Christie.
Maria Stinger was known as Miami's Marilyn Monroe because she really, really resembled the troubled beauty. "There are a ton of parallels. They were both married young and dealt with depression and alcoholism," said Christie. A person so entangled in a life similar to Monroe's was bound to follow in her footsteps.
Strong's approach to the documentary is to interview Maria's surviving friends, including her grandfather and grandmother's ex-husband, friends, daughters, and high-profile women who have dealt with similar troubles. Bunny Yeager, Maria's best friend, is a famed local pin-up photographer who has been incredibly supportive of the project. Bunny hopes to give Strong a chance to step into her grandmother's shoes by shooting her. "This is such a complex project for me, so I want to explore all of the different levels and pieces," said Strong.
In doing so, her grandmother's ill-fated life has given Strong the chance to embark on a new adventure that's only helping her move forward. "I want people to know that there's always time for a new beginning, and this project is mine. I've always worked for other people's projects, mostly men, so I'm so excited to put my voice out there and show people what I'm capable of and who I am," said Strong.
Strong intends the project to be about more than Maria Stinger's life and her own resurgence. She hopes the audience sees that her documentary tells a story many women go through; many people reach a moment where you feel you've lost and let go of everything. "I was losing my identity," said Strong.
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"For me it was about the layers of meaning that the word [bombshell] has. This idea that she was beautiful on the exterior, but inside she was harboring a secret that was dangerous and explosive. She had a beautiful life and family, but underneath the surface she did nude film, and underneath that there was the secret that she didn't value herself or her life," said Strong.
To fund the project, Strong launched a Kickstarter campaign called "Bombshell Fragments." But she wants to tell a story throughout the process and share her vision with the project's supporters. Every couple of days she's releasing new content including photographs and videos that explore the themes in the film, her grandma's story, and her personal connection to her life.
With 21 days to go, the campaign has raised $3,024 of its $34,000 goal. Learn more at Kickstarter.