Ruth Anderson was a girl from a poor, religious family in war-torn Nazi Germany. How did she find herself the most popular pin-up sensation of the year in America in 1970?
And why did she disappear from the modelling scene before her photos even hit the newsstands – and had little idea that she was such a big hit?
Ruth Anderson enjoyed a short pin-up career – only a few short months across three spells – yet to this day, she remains a cult and popular figure with fans.
The Rialto Report tracked her down and found her still living in Miami, just a few blocks away from where she shot her famed photo-sets with the legendary photographer, Bunny Yeager.
Still incredulous that she is remembered by fans, we recently met her over an Indian meal, where Ruth talked in a still-pronounced German accent, about events from many years ago.
This is the first of a series where we look at lives adjacent to the golden age adult film industry to see how they differ or mimic those in the movie business.
*Apart from Bettie Page.
With thanks to Grapefruit Moon Gallery.
1. Ruth Anderson – Beginnings
Tell us about where your life started.
I was born Brigitte Lieselotte Stromberger in June 1943. I shouldn’t give my age away… but at this stage in my life, I have nothing left to hide (laughs). I’m nearly 81.
I grew up in the small town of Freiburg, near the border of France and Switzerland. It’s on the northern part of the Black Forest.
I was born during the world war, and my father was killed in the fighting so I have no memories of him. He died in October 1944, just before the end of the conflict. It’s sad: another seven months, and the war would’ve been over.
Did your mother remarry after the war?
No. I asked her why she didn’t, and she said, “We live in a small town. Most of the men here were killed, and those who came back were damaged or already married.” It was true: after the war, there was just a shortage of men.
She did have a boyfriend once who was much younger than she was, but when her boyfriend’s father found out about their relationship, he broke them up by sending his son away to work on a farm. I think the son should’ve been strong enough to say “I love this woman” but you know… that was the end of that.
Why was this father so against their relationship?
My family is Protestant, and this guy was Catholic. Where I grew up, it was black and white, you didn’t mix.
Did you have a religious upbringing?
Yes, my mom was very religious. And very strict. And if you come from a strict home… once you have the chance to have freedom and leave home, you take it! You go the other way (laughs)! That’s probably what happened to me.
Did you go to church?
Yes – but for all the wrong reasons! The church minister had four boys – so I looked forward to it! (laughs) These boys were all older than me but that wasn’t a problem because girls develop quicker than boys at that age.
Were you allowed to have boyfriends?
Not really. I was a late bloomer, thin like a boy until I was 14, 15. Completely flat-chested when the other girls started wearing bras! And then, boom… I changed overnight. Suddenly the boys noticed me. I didn’t do anything to encourage it, but I became popular overnight.
Did you have siblings?
I have an older brother. There’s only one year difference, and we fought like cats and dogs!
Did you have career aspirations as a young girl, or was that not encouraged?
I was artistic and I wanted to work in fashion design. When I was 16, I went to a woman’s college, but the first year was all about cooking and household chores. Ugh! I was impatient because I wanted to learn about clothes – but sewing wasn’t taught until the second year, so I dropped out and started a three-year apprenticeship as a window dresser at a high-fashion store.
Did you enjoy that?
Yes! And because of my success there, when I was 20, I got accepted on a three year course to study fashion design at the School for Fashion Design and Commercial Art in Munich. That was 1963.
That was the start of my love affairs as well…
Before I started fashion school, I travelled to Turkey with two guys I knew. I always wanted to travel around the world, and this was my first experience. We drove all the way there, and when we arrived, my two friends introduced me to another friend of theirs named Peter.
Peter and I fell in love, and became an instant love couple. He was a German man, nine years older than me, who did veterinary research with animals. I was so much in love with him that I didn’t want to go back to Munich to go to fashion school any more.
What did you do?
Peter was a serious person, and he said to me, “You go to school. In three years when you finish, we’ll get back together and travel the world.”
Three years is a long time to be apart at that age…
I know! I was so much in love. I said, “I don’t want to go to school.” And then he left and went to work in the United States.
Did you keep in touch and write letters?
No, we didn’t write letters at all! Of course, I was fancy-free and young, so I still had a good time.
And then, in my final year I met Hans. The day we started being a couple, I received a letter from Peter in America. Peter wrote, “When you’re done, meet me in New York and we’ll start traveling.” That was in January and I didn’t graduate until the end of July, so in the meantime, I got more and more involved with Hans.
Did you tell Hans that Peter was waiting for you?
Oh, I don’t know! I can’t remember. Too complicated… When you’re young, you’re young… who knows what I said (laughs).
But you had a choice to make between Peter and Hans.
Sure! All the time that I was with Hans, I was thinking, “Should I go and meet Peter in America or I should have stay with Hans?” I was torn for six months. On the one hand, Hans was an electro engineer and had a good job in a company building airplanes. On the other hand… I wanted to see the world.
How did you make a decision?
For some reason, one day Hans said, “I need to clear my head. I’m going to Greece for four months. And then I’ll decide what I’m going to do with my life.”
And I said, “I hope I’m going with you to Greece?” He answered, “No.”
So I said, “If you’re not taking me to Greece, I’m going to the States with Peter as soon as I finish school.”
And I did.
2. Coming to America (and Canada)
Did you leave as soon as you graduated?
No, I worked for a month as a waitress to get travel money. You have to understand, my mom was a poor war widow and she had next to nothing. So I needed to raise the money for the flight and for travel expenses before I left.
When did you got to the United States?
I landed at JFK airport in New York on September 2, 1966.
I hope Peter was there to meet you?
No! There was some confusion about the arrival date. When Peter wasn’t there to meet me, I decided to stay at the airport in case he was coming to meet me the next day.
How good was your English? Were you able to cope by yourself?
Non-existent! I hardly spoke a word. I couldn’t survive without Peter at that stage.
And did he turn up the next day?
He finally turned up – with another girl in tow!
What?! What’s up with the girl?
I was pissed when he came with that girl. This romantic reunion I’d been waiting for was… poof! Gone in an instant.
It turned out he was not having a big love affair with her, but she wanted to travel with us. In the end, she dropped out but I think Peter was pissed off at me for causing a fuss. From that moment, we started to fight all the time.
Not a good start to your big, romantic reunion…
No. After two weeks of fighting, I wrote a letter to Hans and a letter to my mom asking them to help get me back to Germany. I said, “I made a big mistake. I want to come home. Please send me money.”
How did they respond?
Well, wouldn’t you believe it: my mother said, “You wanted to travel to America so badly – so now you need to stay a little bit longer and not come home.”
Hans wrote the same thing, “Tough it out for a while.”
That’s a tough message to receive from both of them. What was your reaction?
I said, “Good! If that’s what you think. Now you will see what I’m made of. I can make it by myself. I don’t need you!”
So you set off on your travels with Peter.
Yes. We had a tiny little Volkswagen, and we drove the Tran-Canadian Highway across Canada to Vancouver. Fighting all the way (laughs).
3. Vancouver. (And Peter.)
What were your plans when you arrived in Vancouver?
Well, we needed to make money – which meant that Paul needed to get a job because my English was extremely basic and so I couldn’t find work easily. Paul had other ideas: he gave me $20 and found me an apartment, and told me, “You do your own thing. We’re done until you make money. Then we can meet again and travel.” He found lodging somewhere else. Since I had so many fights with him, I was ready to get rid of him.
But didn’t that put you in a difficult position because you couldn’t speak English?
I walked up and down the main street looking for a job. Any job! I eventually found a Jewish delicatessen restaurant called Reuben’s. I went in and this girl hired me because she said I had a beautiful smile – even though she knew I could hardly speak any English.
How did you get on working there?
I’d never heard of all this Jewish food with strange names. So when I took an order, I looked at where the customer pointed on the menu, and then I took the menu to the chef and pointed to the same item! Can you imagine doing that with every order? You have to have really chutzpah to do that!
I worked hard: I started at six o’clock in the evening and worked until two in the morning every night. But I knew I needed to learn English, so I went to a language school that started at eight o’clock in the morning.
To pay for that, I needed more money so I found another job frying hamburgers and making grilled cheese sandwiches in the afternoon. I’m like a lioness. When somebody needs to be fed, I do it (laughs).
How long did you work round the clock like that?
Almost a year, a long time… Eventually I spoke English well enough to worked in a restaurant/nightclub, so I left the deli and worked at this new place from eight o’clock in the evening until five o’clock the following morning. Gradually I saved money and became independent. I started to speak English. Restaurant English, not social English though.
Did Peter show up again?
Yes. Peter came with this other German fellow and they said, “Okay, we made some money. You should have made some money too. Let’s go and travel again.”
And I said, “I’m not interested in traveling with you!” So Peter took off with the German guy and they did their own thing.
Did you date anyone during this time in Vancouver?
I met an Austrian architect who came into the restaurant. He said, “Listen, you’re working too hard. I don’t want you to work anymore. You can live with me in my beautiful chalet house.” So I moved in with him.
How did that work out?
Weeellll, he was 20 years older than me. When I had my 23rd birthday, he said I was “an old rabbit” which is a German saying. I didn’t like that. I said to myself, “He is 20 years older, he doesn’t want children, and he’s Catholic. Those are three strikes against him! It’s time to leave.”
In order to get out of the situation, I decided it was time to travel again. That was in August 1967. I met a Canadian girl named Sheila and together we bought tickets for the Greyhound bus down to California and then Mexico, and we set off. Oh, we had such a good time!
Was it hard to travel as two young women alone then?
When you’re young, you’re not that concerned. Or even aware!
Sheila and I ended up in Acapulco and we met these two cute American guys studying medicine in Mexico City. I moved in with one of them, named Billy. A nice apartment building. We travelled on the weekends. We really had a good time.
Did you ever think of going back to live in Germany?
Yes, I decided it was time to go home again. I started planning my return to Europe, but Billy suggested that instead I should go to Miami Beach and spend the winter living with his mother. He said that she’d love me because she spoke Yiddish and I spoke German – and that we’d get on famously.
4. Miami Beach. (And Jay.)
So it’s January 1968, and you arrive in Miami Beach with Billy to spend the rest of the winter with his mom. How did that work out?
Terrible! She hated me from day one. It was very uncomfortable. Especially after Billy had to return to Mexico, and I was alone with her.
I assume money is running low as you had intended returning to Germany by this stage…
Billy’s mom had a friend named Ruth Anderson. Ruth was 47, whereas I was just 24, and she gave me her name and social security number so I could legally apply for work.
Except that it wasn’t strictly legal because you weren’t really ‘Ruth Anderson’…
Well, I became Ruth Anderson for a while! I found plenty of work, including working in Chili’s as a cocktail waitress for a month.
So people were calling you Ruth?
Yeah. At the beginning, I really had to remember to turn my head. It was hard to get used to!
I was trying to save enough money to buy a boat ticket to return to Germany: I had brought some beautiful onyx chess sets back from Mexico where you could buy them cheaply. Billy’s mom saw them and said, “You and I are going to go to the antique show in Miami and we’re going to sell those chess sets to make some money.” That was February 1968.
So I went with her, and I met a gorgeous young man at the show. That was Jay. We went out on a date, and I told him about my situation. Next thing, I moved in with him: we lived with his parents – they were upstairs and we were downstairs.
What did his parents think about you moving in?
Oh, they were lovely. His family absolutely adored me. His grandparents and his parents. They did everything for me, and treated me like their daughter.
Did that change your mind about returning to Germany?
By the time Jay and I started dating, I’d already bought a ticket to return to Germany. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I enquired if I could get refund, and the next thing you know, I got a phone call from the shipping company saying they’d found a buyer for my ticket and had already sold it!
So now I needed to make some money because I was going to be staying there a little longer.
Where did you work?
First, I got a job as a cocktail waitress at Jilly’s on Miami Beach. (Note: Jilly’s, situated at 1856 N Bay Causeway, North Bay Village, was a favorite haunt of Frank Sinatra who’d recently filmed the hit movie ‘Tony Rome’ (1967) in Miami. Jilly’s would later be used extensively in the film ‘Porky’s (1981).)
Then I got a better job at The Mouse Trap on Biscayne Blvd – there I won the title of Miss Mouse Trap at a Jaycee luncheon.
It was around that time that I started thinking about modelling.
What do you remember about that?
It was around the same time: February 1968. I wanted to be in the modelling business because I thought it would be fun, so I hired a nice photographer from Venezuela named Phelan who took pictures of me for a portfolio.
Did you get any modeling work?
Yes, a friend, Gene, the owner of a hair salon, The Headhunter, got me work modelling at car and boat shows.
Did you enjoy it?
Sure. It was easy work: I just had to stand around wearing miniskirts and long boots (laughs).
Gene also got me an invitation to a party for a European royal at the Fontainebleau Hotel that was hosted by Frank Sinatra. I sat opposite Frank, and struck up a conversation with him. Frank was in town to shoot ‘Lady in Cement’ (1968) with Raquel Welch, the sequel to ‘Tony Rome.’ Somehow, I got a call that I was offered a part as an extra in his film. That was shot in March 1968.
What was Jay doing during this time?
This was the Vietnam era so we were waiting to see what would happen to him. Jay’s father knew somebody in the military, and so his call-up kept getting delayed, delayed, delayed. Finally, Jay was conscripted and he was sent to do basic training at Fort Worth.
So you were alone again – living with his parents?
Yes. His parents said, “You are such a lovely couple, why don’t you get engaged?”
What was your reaction to that?
I wasn’t keen on the idea. But then, I also thought, “Jay’s family are really nice to me and they treat me so well. Maybe I should get engaged. Engaged is not married, I can still do what I want.”
So we got engaged.
Were you still working as a model at the care and boat shows?
I still did that, but I was also working as a model for Jaeger, and then in August 1968, I got a job as a showgirl at the Eden Roc Hotel which was next door to the Fontainebleau. Someone had seen some of my modelling shots, and offered me work in a show called ‘Discover America’- depicting different aspects of American life. I played an Indian with a feathered headpiece in one sequence, and a Southern belle with an umbrella in another. I was actually hired to do four numbers but the costume designer couldn’t fit me into the costumes because of my large bust…
5. Modelling for Bunny Yeager
How did you come across Bunny Yeager?
I’d been working for two months in the Eden Roc show, and Gene gave me Bunny’s number. He said she was a good person, an excellent photographer, and I could earn some money doing pin-up pictures for her. I was reluctant because I hadn’t done that type of modelling. Eventually I made the call, and I met Bunny for the first time at Gene’s house.
It’s almost surprising that your path hadn’t crossed with Bunny’s before that…
Yes. She told me that The Mouse Trap, the restaurant where I had worked as a waitress, was only a block away from her studio, and she ate lunch there all the time.
And also she had a role in ‘Lady in Cement’ as well – she played a Swedish masseuse, but we never saw each other on set either.
What was your reaction to Bunny’s suggestion that she you pose nude for her?
Bunny was very persuasive (laughs). In fact, we did a photo shoot on that same day!
She put me at ease, partly because she was a woman, but also because she was so encouraging and positive. Posing for her was a very natural thing to do.
Did you see Bunny again shortly after?
After that first session, Bunny came to see the show at Eden Roc, and took pictures of me backstage. She got those pictures published in the newspapers. After that she booked me all the time.
What do you remember about your photo sessions with Bunny?
Most of all, it was fun. We worked in 90-minute sessions, and there was only ever Bunny there – no one else. She always had a suitcase of colorful little nighties for me to put on. We would laugh and play around, but she worked quickly and efficiently.
I remember one of the first sessions was the Hotel Deauville on Collins Avenue. (Note: The Hotel Deauville, recently demolished, was where The Beatles played their second Ed Sullivan Show appearance four years before.)
We want to read you a quote of what Bunny said about you: “(Ruth Anderson) was such a stunning girl, and she had these immense breasts, which I knew would sell to the magazines. And she had such a nice attitude, so sweet. She sparkled and glowed – she just loved to pose! I really liked working with her. She was like Bettie Page. I could shoot her over and over, and I knew the pictures would sell. I knew that she would be one of my most special models.”
Aw, that’s lovely. She was very sweet, always respectful, and creative and talented too.
What did Jay think of this new activity of yours?
Oh, Jay had no problem with my modelling. In fact, later when the pictures started appearing in girlie magazines, these titles were available all over the army bases.
How about his family?
Ah. That was different. They knew nothing. Nor did my mother or my family in Germany. I kept it a secret from them. I was already considered the black sheep of the family for going to the U.S. and marrying a Jewish man. My family don’t know about my modelling even to this day.
And you never used your real name.
Bunny actually suggested using my real name, Brigitte Stromberger, as it was distinctive and strong. But I just wanted to use ‘Ruth Anderson’ to keep my anonymity and to maintain some distance between me and the pictures.
How quickly did Bunny start selling your pictures?
Immediately! Bunny didn’t waste any time. She told me she sent photo-sets straight off to the magazines.
For a time, you seemed to be Bunny’s only model – she took pictures of you constantly.
Yes. Bunny knew she could sell whatever we produced so we kept taking pictures! I didn’t know when I’d have to leave with Jay on a military posting, or if he’d have to go to Vietnam, so Bunny and I put in as much time shooting as possible. Bunny even talked to Playboy about me being a Playmate, but it needed me to commit to being around, and we couldn’t count on it for long enough because of Jay.
Bunny was tireless, she worked me hard. Sometimes she would say to me, “We can’t shoot Ruth Anderson today because she is becoming too exposed! The magazines are complaining that I’m sending them too many pictures of you!”
So I said, ”Ok, what are we going to do then?”
Bunny gave me a blonde wig and said, “For the next few weeks, you’re going to be a new woman. You’re going to be Libby Elliott! Libby, the all-new blonde bombshell!” Later she told me the trick worked, and the publishers didn’t realize that I was the same person (laughs).
Bunny mixed things up all the time, giving me new costumes and finding new locations. She knew some wealthy people and we used their mansions. One of my favorites was the mansion of Count Sepy Dobronyi in Coral Gables: we shot a lot there, and that was always fun. (Note: Dobronyi’s house was where Deep Throat (1972) was shot three years later.)
So even though you worked a lot with Bunny, the pin-up photography wasn’t a big part of your life?
That’s right. I worked hard but the pictures with Bunny were just a small side thing for fun: my main job was the evening show at the Eden Roc, and on the days I didn’t shoot for Bunny, I had a gig attending business luncheons in restaurants when I would mingle in see-through nighties – so the pin-up photography was a quick and fun way of staying busy for an hour or two during the day.
Even so, Bunny made a lot of money from you.
Yes, she made a lot of money from me, but I made very little money from her (laughs)!
How much she would pay you per session?
It was just $25 each time. Twenty-five a session. She paid me peanuts. Absolute peanuts!
But I understood Bunny: she had a hard life and was supporting her family. Her husband killed himself because he did illegal stuff with gun trafficking. Then she had a daughter who was deaf. So she had a tough life.
I didn’t complain, even when I realized later in my life that she was still making so much money from me.
Bunny was always working. If she wasn’t taking pictures, she was selling them. And if she wasn’t selling them, she was writing to the newspapers trying to get more publicity. And she was doing it all herself.
That first period when you shot with Bunny was a relatively short stretch of time.
Yes, just November and December 1968 – and then I got married.
6. Marriage. (And Hans).
Getting engaged was my big mistake.
Because ever since I’d got engaged, Jay’s family had been saying, “Forget about being engaged, that’s old-fashioned. Why don’t you two get married?!” It was like a net, and the noose was tightening. I said to myself, “How am I going to get out of that situation?”
What happened next?
Jay found that, instead of going to Vietnam, he was being posted to Alaska. And his parents said, “Oh, our poor boy, Jay, being in Alaska, cold, and all by himself. He needs to have a wife with him.” They did everything in order to get me to go with him.
What was your reaction to that?
I said to myself, “Maybe I should find out how is it with Hans?”
Wait, Hans?! The boy you left behind when you came to America to be with Peter?
Yes! Hans, the same guy who had gone to Greece to clear his head years before.
But that was two years previous! So, you were still thinking about Hans all this time?
Yeah. I thought, “Well, I’m not married to Jay, and I’ve been away from Germany for years, so I’d like to know what it’s like being back there… and what Hans is like now.”
Had you kept in touch with Hans?
No, not really.
And meanwhile, Jay’s family are pressuring you to get married and stay in America…
I felt obligated.
Well, I think, obligated because they were Jewish, and I was German. I felt people would say, “Oh, look at that German. She took advantage of their hospitality, and now she doesn’t want to get married.”
I felt that obligation strongly. So I said yes.
So you never meant to marry?
No, I never meant to marry. And Jay never asked me to marry either. It was actually his parents, and both sets of grandparents, who caused it to happen. That was what it was.
Did Jay even know that they’d proposed on his behalf?
I guess so, but he never asked me. He came back from basic training in Fort Worth, his head shaved and his gorgeous hair all gone.
What did you say to him?
I said, “I’m going to get out of here. I’m leaving and I’m not coming back.” I was not a happy bride, believe me. I wish I could have been a runaway bride. That’s how I felt on my wedding day.
How did the wedding turn out?
We had it at his home in Miami. His family knew a judge, so the judge married us. And they had a photographer who took the pictures. That was at the end of 1968.
The next day we flew to Germany, and we had a German wedding there organized by my mum. I come from a long line of ministers, and my brother was a minister so he married us in the church there.
Ok, I have to ask: when you were back in Germany, did you see Hans?
When Hans found out I was getting married, he sent me a huge bouquet of roses. Yellow roses. That meant I knew that he was still in love with me.
After the wedding, I had to stay in Germany for three months in order to get a green card. Don’t forget, I hadn’t been legal resident in America up to that point.
In those days, you didn’t become an automatic citizen after you married, you had to apply for a green card – and you could only do that from outside of the country. So Jay returned to the U.S. and I stayed in Europe… and I went on my honeymoon to Amsterdam.
Wait. You went on your honeymoon by yourself – after Jay returned to the U.S.?
No, I went with Hans.
What?! And Jay, your-new-husband-Jay, had no idea?
What did Hans think of all this?
Hans tried really hard to convince me to annul the marriage. Hans had a girlfriend, and she was very much in love with him, but he preferred me over her, and I knew that.
Now that you’d renewed your relationship with Hans, how were you feeling about him?
I was confused. I had just got married, but I was confused.
So eventually you decided to come back to Jay, and to America.
I decided to come back, yes.
What do you think it was that made you come to that decision?
Maybe it just came down to the fact that I liked adventure and traveling. Maybe I should have stayed with Hans, but my life would have turned out completely different.
7. Alaska. (And Jay again.)
When did return to the U.S.?
I got my green card and went back to Florida in March 1969. Jay had already left to start his posting at the military station in Fairbanks, Alaska, so I prepared to fly up and join him.
Did Bunny contact you when you got back to Miami?
Yes. As soon as she heard I was back in town, she booked me for some more sessions before I left again! She told me that she’d had success in selling the photos we’d done the previous year, and she was keen to get some more. Jay and I didn’t have much money, so I was happy to pick up the extra work. She still paid the same $25 though… (laughs).
I’ve seen some photos of you that appeared in men’s magazines that were clearly not taken by Bunny. They don’t have any of her hallmarks of her work. What do you remember about working for other photographers during this period?
That’s strange. I have no recollection of ever doing topless photos for anyone apart from Bunny. I thought I’d just posed for Bunny. I really can’t remember anyone else…
How did you feel about moving from the tropical conditions of Florida to the frozen cold of Alaska?
I was excited. Alaska seemed completely out of this world.
When did you join up with Jay there?
I arrived on May 9th, 1969.
What were your first impressions?
I had no idea that the sun doesn’t set at that time of the year. Everything seemed orange and red.
It was nothing like our beautiful apartment on Miami Beach. It was a military barrack compound converted into apartments. The accommodation was all gray and long and depressing.
What activities were there for you to do?
The first thing my dear husband said was, “I’m in the military, we’re in Alaska, and I get only $130 a month. That will cover the rent, but we need money so you have to look for work right away.” That was on the first day there! All right. So I traipsed around, and found work as a cocktail waitress in an amusement park for tourists in Fairbanks.
Every girl who served cocktails there also had to learn how to sing. All-American songs. And I had to learn to dance the can-can. We danced three times each evening. Oh, let me tell you, your legs hurt like hell after doing those high kicks.
We were dressed in old-fashioned gold-rush dresses with bustiers. And at the end of the day, when the tourists were drunk, you’d sit in their laps and they’d put all the tips down your bustier. So in the evening when I came home, I unzipped, and boy, I was like a human slot machine (laughs).
Did you do any modelling in Fairbanks?
A little. I got a job modelling dresses and fur coats by day, so I could still keep my job as a waitress at night.
Did you get to enjoy the local area?
I must say Fairbanks was very nice. We did many trips to Denali Park, and we went to the places where the gold rush prospectors had lived. We drove everywhere. It was interesting.
Did you and Jay get closer over time?
Not really. We fought a lot, but we enjoyed the trips together so it wasn’t all that bad. There were a lot of young military couples so we had a lot of friends and we did a lot of entertaining. That’s all you did there: drink and eat (laughs).
And then, one day I saw our car parked in front of a block in Fairbanks, and a friend said to me, “Why did your husband park it at the apartment house which has all the single girls in it?”
Me, dummy. All right. I was so mad with him. I realized that he’d been messing around, so I said, “Okay, I’m going to divorce him.”
The military stepped in and arranged counselling for us to save the marriage. Jay told the counsellor he didn’t want to stop seeing his girlfriend. After the session, the marriage counsellor took me aside and said, “Between you and me, you can do a lot better. Get rid of him!” (laughs)
In the end, Jay promised this and that, and finally, okay, I took him back.
You were in Fairbanks for two years – from mid-1969 through to mid-1971. During that time, especially in 1970, the pictures you had taken with Bunny had blown up. You were everywhere – Dude, Fling, Modern Man, Gent – and you were on the covers of many of them every month. Fling selected you as the ‘King’s Favorite’ of 1970 – which was their big honor. Bunny started charging more for your photo-sets because you were so popular. Meanwhile you’re living a quiet life in Alaska. Were you at all aware of how well-known you had become, and how successful your pictures were?
No, I had no idea! The pictures with Bunny were just a fun thing I’d done briefly in the afternoons. I had no knowledge that they were so popular.
There was one incident that should have made me realize. In Fairbanks, I worked in the Petroleum Club. And I made good money there, sometimes I’d get $50 tips. That was a really good tip back then. Well, one time the chef went to Las Vegas on holiday, and when he was there, he came across some magazines with me in them. He said, “Wow! That’s the waitress who gets all those big tips that she doesn’t share with us.” He told the boss about it, and next thing I got fired!
Did you stay in touch with Bunny while you were away?
Yes, we corresponded, and she told me a little about what was going on. I asked her to let me know if anyone offered me any film roles.
Did Bunny ever share any of the fan mail she was receiving for you? I read in an interview with Bunny years later that the fan mail for you started to flow in, with many letters from G.I.’s in Vietnam asking for a date!
I never saw any fan mail. I think Bunny kept them all. I never saw anything. She later told me I got a lot from Japan, with one being a beautiful cherry blossom card. That’s very sweet. Maybe I was popular in Japan because the women have small tits? (laughs)
So your pin-up work with Bunny faded into the background?
Yes, I didn’t think about it much at all. I didn’t think anyone would notice.
8. On The Road Again
What happened at the end of Jay’s two-year posting in Fairbanks?
In the summer of 1971, when he was through with his military, Jay said, “I don’t want to go back to Miami. I hate the heat and the humidity.”
I loved Miami, but I suggested we move to Anchorage in Alaska instead. Anchorage is a beautiful big city, and it doesn’t get as cold as other areas. You could see beautiful snow-capped mountains in the distance. It reminded me of San Francisco. So we went to live there. We got a nice apartment, and, because it was in the summertime, Jay got work as a park ranger.
Was it easy for you to find work there?
I waitressed in the fanciest, most luxurious hotel in the city, the Captain Cook. That was in September 1971, but it was starting to get cold and when the tourism slowed down, I went to work in an Italian restaurant. I went around the tables making Caesar Salad in front of the customers. The people were so impressed, they gave me great tips. I was happy there. And ever since then, my Caesar salads have been a hit (laughs).
And what made you finally leave Alaska?
It became so cold, I wanted something warmer! We met a German couple who had travelled in a Volkswagen bus all the way from Tierra del Fuego up to Alaska, and they were ready to sell the bus. We’d saved about $7,000 – mostly because of the Caesar’s Salad tips I made! So we bought it, packed everything up, and set off on a road trip down the west side of Canada and the U.S. We went down to Vancouver, through California, all the way down to Mexico, and then to Guatemala. In Mexico, we met up with Peter again – the guy I had flown to the U.S. to be with. We went to the ballet together in Mexico City.
What did you do in Latin America?
We discovered all the different markets. Every cute little village had a different market with amazing handicraft, artwork and clothes.
What sort of clothes?
Mexican skirts and ponchos, and then they had these marijuana shirts. You’re too young to know about them, but in those days, all the hippies had them. We decided to set up an import business, and bring the items into the U.S.
So, each day, we went to a different market and we started to buy and buy. We learned to bargain, and accumulated a lot of goods.
Was the business successful?
Yes, we went back to Miami and then to New York and found boutiques where we could sell our stuff. Demand was high and suddenly we didn’t have enough product so Jay flew back to buy some more.
Sounds great. So the business grew?
Well, after Jay returned to Guatemala… one week went by, two weeks went by, three weeks went by, and guess what? He met a woman, and didn’t want to come back.
Oops, he did it again! And was that the end of the marriage this time?
Well, not the first time. But then he did it a second time, and that was it. That was it! After five years together, that was the end. We had a very bitter divorce. And the business collapsed.
9. Real Estate. (And Ronnie.)
So you just turned 30, you’re newly divorced, what did you think you were going to do?
Oh, after the divorce, I felt like the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders. Freedom. Freedom. Finally, freedom! (laughs)
Did you ever think about calling Bunny and doing more modeling?
No, it didn’t even occur to me. I still wasn’t aware that my pictures had been successful or popular, and besides I probably considered myself too old for pin-up modeling at that stage! In fact, I considered having breast reduction surgery, but decided against it due to the cost. Oh, it’s not been easy having these breasts!
I settled back in Miami and worked as a bartender in a jazz club. I also painted a lot, especially hand-painted t-shirts and clothing.
Then I started dating a friend of Jay’s younger brother. That was Ronnie. I met Ronnie in 1973, and eight months after the divorce from Jay came through, Ronnie and I got married.
What did Ronnie do?
Ronnie was always trying to make money. One day he said, “I heard people make a lot of money in real estate so I’m going to go to school and get a license.”
Now Ronnie liked to smoke a lot of marijuana (laughs), so I thought I’d better go with him and make sure that he was serious about it and actually doing some studying or else it would be a waste of money. So we signed up together and we both went to real estate school.
And did Ronnie manage to stay off the wacky baccy long enough to qualify?
Well, he passed the school test, but the state test was a lot harder and he failed that. I passed both. I encouraged him to repeat the exam but he didn’t – so it was up to me.
Did you start a career in real estate?
Yes, because we didn’t have any money so I had no time to wait. At first, I worked for a developer where I got $50 a week which was nothing – but anything was better than nothing then. And then I got a job selling condos at the Tiffany complex in Bal Harbor before moving to the Tropicana in Bal Harbor, where I also became the manager of the building. And when that sold out, I went into general estate. I worked in real estate many years.
What did Ronnie end up doing?
After eight and a half years, I divorced him. It was difficult for him, because he knew he could never live up to me. But I must say, it was a friendly divorce and we finished on good terms.
10. Settling Down. (Lenny. And John).
When I finished with the Tiffany condos, I was looking for another job and I met Lenny. That was February 10, 1982. Lenny was the manager of the Vincent Towers. It was love at first sight. We moved in together in May 1982, and got married in November 1984. Len was a sales director for new condo developments, and so we started working as a team specializing in vacation homes and condos in Miami Beach.
We had many happy years before Lenny died in February 2020.
And then you met John…
Yes I met John, my partner, almost three years ago. After Lenny passed, I tried online dating, but it was full of scammers. One day, I decided to try once more, and so I just posted two pictures of me and wrote, “You have to like classical music and animals.” And that’s all I said.
And John replied, and we moved in together and have been happy ever since.
Are you still in touch with anyone from the earlier part of your life?
I still have family back in my hometown in Germany, including my brother, so I still go back and visit. I became friends with Peter all over again and I’m still friends with him today. He lives in Germany now. He just celebrated his birthday this month. He is 89 now.
I kept in touch with Bunny for years. Later in life, she finally got recognition for her work. I went to the opening of some of her exhibitions, and it was then I realized how much money she made from my photos. She was still selling photo sets of our photos even in recent years! When I last saw her before she died, I couldn’t believe that she had become so heavy. She was always so skinny and model-thin.
She had one exhibition, where Lenny, my husband, saw a picture of me and he bought it. It is in my bedroom over the bed today.
In recent years, I once went to a broker’s party and ran into Sepy, the owner of the mansion where Bunny and I had shot so many pictures. He came in with his leather jacket, full of confidence just like in the old days. And I said, “Sepy! How are you? I’m the one who was in all those pictures at your house!”
He looked at me, and had no idea who I was (laughs).
But most other people from that time have passed.
Do you realize how popular you are today with a new generation of people? That your photos sell for large amounts? Over the last few years individual negatives of your pictures sell for several hundred dollars each.
Oh, really? I had no idea. Then you can tell them I’m still alive (laughs).
Does it seem strange to you that you had a very brief modeling career – totaling barely a few months – and that it still lives on?
This was almost 60 years ago. Can you imagine? Over half a century ago…
What has happened to everything since then? Time goes so fast, doesn’t it? It’s scary. But it’s been a good life.