Playboy has been a popular media fixture for over 50 years and the ‘bunnies’ are the heart and soul (and body!) of the institution. Gracing the cover of Playboy can either be a sign that a model or celebrity has truly arrived or – for the previously lesser known models – it can bring unprecedented prestige and a huge career boost. For the lucky girl named Playmate of the Year, the distinction brings guaranteed fame. To understand the power Playboy has in modern media, you simply need to track the history of the unknowns who shot to fame on the back of their Playmate role.
Various characteristics have defined the Playmates during the course of Playboy’s publication history. Often, the favourite Playmate will fall in line with the standards of beauty and style of a certain decade but sometimes an outstanding Playmate has even contributed to defining the standards. The average age of the Playmate of the Month throughout the history of the magazine has been 22.4 but the Playmate of the Year has a more mature beauty, with an average age of 23.5. Predictable, only two women have ever become Playmate of the Year in their 30s – it’s a younger girl’s game! This does mean, though, that these young models who win the accolade have plenty of time to build up a career after Playboy.
Playboy has been subject to criticism in the past; as the first high-profile, widely accessible adult entertainment publication, it attracted the predictable criticisms – it objectifies women, it’s demeaning and it’s counter-productive to the feminist cause. Supporters of the publication say it’s empowering, sexual and classy at once. Your mileage may vary on either of these positions but whatever your stance on the controversial publication, the exposure (pardon the pun) provided by Playboy allows budding career women opportunities they’d likely never have had otherwise. Some continue modelling, while some diversify into other prosperous careers. We’ve looked at 10 Playmates who were relatively anonymous before appearing as Playmates and became international superstars after.
10. Marilyn Monroe – 1953
Monroe’s considerably diverse career took off during the year of her appearance as the first ever Playboy Playmate of the Month . She actually appeared in the magazine in 1953, making her the first Playmate of the Month. Monroe became one of the first high-profile glamour models in the United States after Hugh Hefner published unseen nude photos of the actress dating back to 1949. This entry on our list represents a reciprocal success; Playboy helped raise Monroe’s profile, but the star also helped increase Playboy’s profile in its early days, with shots that went on to become iconic.
9. Bettie Page – 1955
Bettie Page is widely recognized as an iconic pin-up, but many don’t realise that it was her role as one of the original Playmates in January 1955 that really kicked off her career. a boost to her career in the mainstream media. Prior to her Playboy experience, Page was involved in some underground modelling as one of the earliest BDSM models. After her appearance in Playboy Page went from being a controversial underground figure to a famous, mainstream glamour model. In the same year, she became Miss Pinup Girl of the World. Page’s star was on the ascendant when she retired in 1958 and converted to Evangelical Christianity.
8. Janice Pennington – 1971
Janice, now famous for her incredible 28 year stint as one of ‘Barker’s Beauties’ on the Price Is Right between ’72 and 2000, first became known as Playmate of the Month in May 1971. She is perhaps best known for her work on the show The Price Is Right. She’s also the co-founder of the Hollywood Film Festival: Even over 40 years after appearing as a Playmate, Pennington has maintained her profile and built a career in media since her initiation in Playboy.
7. Lynne Austin – 1986
Lynne was July’s Playmate of the Month in 1986, and she appeared in another issue of a Dutch Playboy publication the following year. She was scouted by Playboy after appearing in a Hooter’s ad campaign and her boost with Playboy allowed Austin to become a public face; a profile she used to continue work with Hooter’s as their poster girl and spokesperson throughout the years – she was named as one of the top Hooters girl of all time following the 25th anniversary of the restaurant chain. She’s also made TV appearances and developed a career as a radio personality in her hometown of Florida.
6. Pamela Anderson – 1990
Anderson is probably the best-known success story in the history of Playboy. At 21 she caused a stir when she was filmed on the big screen at a Canadian football game, in a tight Labatt’ Beer shirt. The ‘Blue Zone Girl’ was quickly snapped up by Playboy, appearing first as a cover girl and then as Playmate of the Month in February 1990. Her appearance in Playboy shot Anderson to fame and she went on to act in Baywatch and the 90s’ show Tool Time. While Pamela Anderson became a household name, she maintained loyalty to Playboy, collaborating with Hugh Hefner for over 20 years.
5. Karen McDougal – 1997
Indiana-born Karen was spotted by Playboy in 1997 after entering a Venus swimwear competition and after a whirlwind introduction to the Playboy world McDougal was crowned December 1997’s Playmate of the Month and 1998’s Playmate of the Year. McDougal has since built on her Playboy fame to forge a dazzlingly diverse career as a fitness model, a reality TV star, TV host, movie actress and a business woman. As of 2010, Karen diversified out of the media spotlight as an owner of health supplements company Pharmore Alternatives.
4. Shanna Moakler – 2001
Moakler developed a modest public profile competing in pageants and modelling as a teenager, and peaked in her pageant career as Miss USA in ’95. It was in 2001, when she signed a contract with Playboy and became that year’s December Playmate of the Month, that Moakler’s star really began to rise in the mainstream media. Moakler married Travis Barker of Blink182 fame in 2004 and their combined celebrity profile led to a reality TV show following their (short-lived) marriage.
3. Carmella DeCesare – 2003
DeCesare was just an average (if beautiful) small town girl when she entered Playboy’s competition, ‘Who wants to be a Playboy centrefold?’, and was selected as a finalist. She didn’t go through with the competition, but Playboy kept this Latina beauty in the fold and by 2003 she was April’s Playmate of the Month. She’s gone on to have enormous success as a model, garnering televised fame by appearing on WWE and Girls of the Playboy Mansion. DeCesare’s marriage to NFL quarterback Jeff Garcia certainly didn’t hurt her public profile – she graced the pages of Sports Illustrated as a swimsuit model, in an editorial profiling famous sportsmen’s wives. Years after her entry into the Playboy family, DeCesare maintains status, fortune and a huge fanbase.
2. Scarlett Keegan – 2004
This pale and interesting Irish American beauty has gained international fame as a model. When she was 20 years old Scarlett’s friend nominated her for the Playmate Hunt, which she won, and she appeared as a Playmate of the Month in September 2004, and has since cultivated a career as an actress appearing in HBO’s hit series Entourage and in the music video for Weezer song “Beverly Hills”. The flame-haired beauty always had aspirations to be an actress (she studied acting at the Gaiety School in Dublin) and thanks to her start in Playboy she’s become an established fixture in L.A.
1. Kayla Collins – 2008
Collins has is one of the more recent models to keep the spotlight turned on her since she appeared as a Playmate. Kayla was discovered by famous playmate Holly Madison, and appeared on The Girls Next Door. She was promptly named Playmate of the Month in 2008 and has since appeared on a number of other reality television shows, including the 10th season of “I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here” in the UK. The self-proclaimed ‘actress, model, host and entrepreneur’ has used her public profile to promote her own line of swimwear, while continuing to model commercially.
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