I wrote this about 17 years ago, at the dawn of the Internet age, but I never sold it; I might not even have tried. I thought of it again when Playboy decided to stop featuring nude women in their magazines.
Recently I was surfing the Web for pictures of pretty girls when a name I hadn’t thought of in years popped into my head: Gig Gangel. She had been Playboy’s Miss January 1980. I remembered her not just for the usual anatomical reasons, nor for the happy coincidence of the four hard G’s in her name, but because she was the only playmate I ever pinned to my wall.
I was 16, living in an all-male household—the divorce had split us up along gender lines—and I already had posters of several booby actresses in my room (Cheryl Ladd, Lt. Uhura); so why not a naked one? Yet Gig lasted less than a week. One night my father brought home a date, a woman I’d never met, whose politeness I mistook, with the egotism of adolescence, for flirtation. Wasn’t I wearing a high school letter jacket? What woman could resist?
I was waiting for friends to pick me up so we could cruise around town and do our not much of anything, and for some reason my father wanted to show her my room. Because I was so neat? I forget. Anyway, they were halfway up the steps when I remembered Gig. I think I made some noise of protest but it was too late. The lights were flicked and there she hung. The next day, still mortified, I took Gig down, and, as the saying goes, we lost track of one another.
The Web gave us a chance to reunite. Typing Gig’s name into the search engine elicited a surprising number of sites—I thought her more obscure than that—but I immediately focused on the only one that didn’t sound like a perverted man panting. The URL was Japanese, and after several seconds, lo and behold, Gig began to download. It was her centerfold shot: a Bob Fosse fedora tilted seductively over one eye, red red lipstick, and a fishnet body suit. For the week she was on my wall I used to mentally trace the lines of that fishnet, which stretched to the point of bursting over her voluminous chest, and then slowly converged until the lines became indistinguishable and intermingled with whatever was going on below her waist. (Full disclosure: I had no idea what was going on below her waist.)
Gig: mid download
Manipulating the URL I discovered I could call up other centerfolds from my teen years, such as Candy Loving, the 25th anniversary playmate, and Lou Ann Fernald, Miss June 1979, playfully pouring a pitcher a water over herself, as girls do.
But I soon became less interested in the centerfolds than in the stat sheets accompanying them: Turn-Ons, Turn-Offs, Favorite Movies, Secret Dreams. These have long been a national joke (a big warm bed on a cold rainy night, etc.) but provoked interest now for cultural reasons. Generally, a playmate’s favorites include both high culture (to make the girls appear smart) and low culture (to make them appear fun), and the two don’t mix well after 20 years. Gig’s favorite movies, for example, were The Godfather and The End; and apparently when Liz Glazowski, April 1980, was done finished with Harold Robbins she loved nothing more than to curl up with a little Ernest Hemingway.
Overall, there wasn’t a lot of difference in these various likes/dislikes. One prefered autumn, the other spring; one blue eyes, the other brown. Most liked roses. No one cared much for crowds or traffic or hairy backs. The September ’79 playmate, Vicki McCarty, said she was tired of hearing about Ronald Reagan, so you get the feeling the’80s were a bit of a drag for her. Well, not just for her.
It was when I began reading the “Goals” and “Secret Dreams” of these girls, though, that the whole thing turned sadder than I’d anticipated. It was like flipping through an old yearbook and wondering whatever happened to this “Most Likely to Succeed” or that “Most Talented.” Did Sandra Joyce Cagle (February 1980) get to ride a hot air balloon cross-country? Did Henriette Allais (March 1980) learn to play the flute? Was Vicki Witt (August 1978) ever shipwrecked on a desert island with Lee Majors?
Most wanted to be famous actresses, of course, but a quick search through IMDb reveals that neither noun nor adjective took much hold. Rosanne Katon, Miss September 1978, was featured in The Swinging Cheerleaders and Motel Hell, and even managed to share scenes with future Oscar winner Tom Hanks in Bachelor Party; but then “Girl #3” roles began to go to younger playmates and her career fizzled.
Yet Ms. Katon is Meryl Streep compared with the other playmates. More common is the experience of Lee Ann Michelle (February 1979), Sylvie Garant (November 1979), and Liz Glazowski (April 1980). Each hoped to light up the silver screen; each appeared in not much. Garant wound up on two episodes of two Canadian TV shows, while Glazowski’s sole credit is a bit part (as “Liz”) in “The Happy Goes to Hollywood.” I find nothing on Michelle.
As for Gig, who wanted to be a famous singer? She did appear in the 1993 straight-to-video actioner “Killing Device,” opposite Alan Alda’s son Antony, and under the stage name (or married name?) “Gig Rauch.” But there’s nothing on her on iTunes.
In my youth, playmates seemed mythical beings; they generated such fantasies. Now I realize they're just another group of people for whom the world didn’t turn out as planned.