Erotic depictions of women in drawing, painting, sculpture and photography from the dawn of man to the present.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Centrefold Venus of the Month 31: Donna Michelle, December 1963




Well, we are three weeks late for our December centrefold Venus but this post ended up rather longer than we thought it would!  Although we had decided to widen the sources of our monthly centrefolds from the past you can't get away fom the fact that Playboy had some of the loveliest and so we return to Mr Hefner's publication once more.  One of our favourites from the sixties is the beautiful Donna Michelle who first appeared in the December 1963 issue.




Donna Michelle was the pseudonym of Donna Ronne who was born in Los Angeles on December 8th 1945.   Given that the December issue would have appeared at the end of November Donna was just seventeen when her centrefold appeared, despite Playboy's insistence in claiming to use only over eighteen year old models.  Playboy later, for reasons that will become apparent, indicated that she was actually older than this.






Donna could easily feature as one of our flexible venuses as she had danced with the New York Ballet (although, presumably not for very long) and the photographer of the black and white pictures in the pictorial, Edmund Leja, put her through some balletic paces at the Eddie Gay Dance Studio in Hollywood.



Donna was spotted as a potential Playmate in a high school play by a co-performer who was the daughter of photographer Edmund Leja, who shot the black and white pictures here and the colour portrait below.



Donna attended the Reseda High School in the San Fernando Valley which was the first new high school to be built (in 1955) in the US after WW2. It is a popular filming location and several episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer were filmed there.



She looks untterly gorgeous in the limited number of pictures that we got with her pictorial. The one of her and the records being Triple P's favourite.



When her Playmate of the Month issue hit the newstands Donna had already become Hugh Hefner's girlfriend.  She had first arrived at the Chicago Mansion in late autumn.  Still seventeen, although subsequent Playboy publications maintain that she was eighteen; Hefner was thirty seven at the time.




December 1963 was Playboy's tenth anniversary edition and to celebrate, the editor (Hefner, of course) chose his ten favourite Playmates of the more than one hundred who had posed over the previous decade. Diplomatically, he included Donna, so we got three more pictures of her outside of her Playmate pictorial; a first.




These three photos are all by Edmund Leja who was born in Detroit in 1919 and was an engineer by trade. His photographic work, from the forties onwards, was done in his spare time when not working for the likes of Chrysler, Lockeed and Rocketdyne.  It was only in the early sixties that he went full time as a photographer. He also discovered Teddi Smith, Miss July 1960, and shot the non-centrefold pictures for her pictorial, and would discover Lori Winstone, Miss June 1964, the only one of his three Playmates he would actually shoot the centrefold for.




Leja would continue shooting glamour work until the early eighties and died in 2002.  Although a very fine photographer of the female nude his reputation is somewhat tarnished these days by his involvement with the naturist pictorial magazine Nudist Moppets and another photographer, Ron Raffaelli, who was arrested in the seventies for inappropriate photography of minors.  Leja, himself, we have to say, was never arrested.




Donna reappeared in the May 1964 issue, as Playmate of the year, where she was on one of Playboy's great covers of the sixties; her flexible figure contorted into the shape of the rabbit-head logo.  Playboy art director Art Paul had had the idea for a model to get into the shape of the rabbit head for the cover but didn't think that anyone could manage it. "I asked Donna and there was no problem. She got into the position with great ease and could still smile," he said.




Hefner was still entranced enough by Donna that he gave her an unprecedented ten pages for her Playmate of the Year pictorial. The pictures were taken by Pompeo Posar, who had also shot her centrefold for six months before.









The opening set of images from this pictorial, taken from the cover shoot session, demonstrate Donna's flexibility and, unusually for the time, her well-defined muscle tone. 






As Hefner's girlfriend Donna was a great party girl and he reported that she was upset that because of President Kennedy's assasination in November 1963 all the nightlife was shut down and there was nothing else on TV.








After a quick snack Donna pulls some shapes and shows off her extremely impressive 5'4", 38-22-37 figure.





Donna was a classically-trained child prodigy pianist who once came second in a piano competition to Little Richard.







These final shots from her Playmate of the Year pictorial were shot in Hugh Hefner's bedroom (where she spent a lot of time!) at the Chicago Playboy mansion.  This was before the installation of his notorious revolving round bed.  What an utterly gorgeous creature she is in these!







Other photos from this shoot regularly turned up in the magazine and other Playboy publications for decades to come.  The reason for this, we suspect (other than Donna's undoubted charms) are that the pictures are so classic; her make-up, for example is reasonably natural and doesn't scream sixties.  In these ones with just the black background the images are timeless.








The decor of these place them rather more firmly in the past.





These two fine studies of her standing on the bed, unlike some of the other extras here, had no equivalents in her Playmate of the Year pictorial.  The bottom one is rather classical.  She looks like an Ancient Greek statue come to life.










These final ones of Donna disporting herself on the bed are, again, classic stuff.  Plain white sheets never date!


The Reef Club before its transformation into a Playboy resort hotel


Donna's next appearance in the magazine didn't take long and she reappeared in a pictorial about Hefner's acquisition of a hotel in Jamaica in the September 1964 issue.  The Playboy team had already decided to buy the Reef Club for $6.5 million to turn it into a Playboy resort hotel but, like everything else in the Playboy empire, the personal approval of Hefner was required. 


The resort's 50m pool in its Playboy heyday in the sixties


Originally the Marrakesh Beach Hotel & Cabana Club, Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher had spent their honeymoon there.  It would open as the first Playboy resort hotel in January 1965.  It would be sold as part of Playboy's cost cutting campaign in 1977 and is now the Beaches Boscabel Resort and Golf Club.


The hotel today


Hefner and his team, which included Donna, flew from Chicago, in a Jetstar private jet leant to him by Lockheed, in January 1964.  On arrival at Montego bay they transferred to a de Havilland Heron for the flight to Ocho Rios.  This was to be Playboy's first resort hotel, much to the delight of the Jamaican tourist board. Hefner's decicion to approve the deal and the fact that he was going to hire local girls as bunnies made front page news there.






Donna was much in evidence in the pictorial whether trying out the buffet, chatting with Hefner and one of his friends or distracting her opponents with her pool-playing outfit in what would become the Playmate bar.





Of course the magazine took advantage of Donna's presence on the trip to adorn the article, which was a rather dry blow by blow report of the Playboy team's tour of the hotel, with some suitably tropical pictures.





Here Donna decorates Dunn's River Falls which are also in Ocho Rios, not far from the hotel.  They are famous for appearing in the first James Bond  film Dr No (1962) as well as being one of the few waterfalls in the world that empties into the sea.  After Hefner returned to Chicago he received a note from Ian Fleming, whose house Goldeneye was nearby, commenting on the stir the imminent arrival of a Playboy resort in Jamiaca was causing locally. 





These two pictures didn't appear in the September 1964 pictorial but we couldn't possibly leave them out!





Here are Hefner and Donna during their trip to Jamaica in January 1964.  When he wasn't checking out the facilities of the hotel he was checking out Donna's facilities (as Playboy might have said).









During her Playmate of the Year pictorial shoot, Pompeo Posar took several Christmas-themed pictures and these would appear in a number of places in the magazine over the next few years; particularly as festive themed advertisements for subscriptions as a christmas present. 




December 1964 saw Donna appearing in the magazine yet again.  Firstly, she appeared in this subscription advertisement.


From December 1964


Secondly, when Playboy had offered its choice of Hefner's favourite Playmates from their first ten years some readers wrote in saying that there should be a public poll as to who were the favourites. 





Playboy promised to do this for the end of their tenth anniversary year and so the December 1964 issue contained a pictorial of the ten Playmates the readers had chosen.  Fortunately seven out of the ten were the same as Hefner's choice including, of course, Donna Michelle, who was illustrated with these three pictures.





Donna's domination continued with her appearing on the cover of the 1965 Playboy Calendar where she was Miss December.




Readers didn't have to wait very long for another dose of Donna who re-appeared in a pictorial in the February 1965 issue looking at her reign as Playmate of the Year.  "Ballerina, pianist, student, sportswoman and actress - our most gifted gatefold eyeful to date," gushed the text.




Gifted she certainly was as, for the first time, as Playmate of the Year she was given $10,000 of items, many in the newly invented Playboy Pink.  Donna soon traded in the bright pink Ford Mustang in favour of a less conspicuous Volkswagen.  "Everyone would point and follow you!" she later said.




The piece also looked at Donna's appearance on the ABC TV Steve Allen show and her first stage appearance, with Macdonald Carey whose daughter Lynn would go on to be the  December 1972 Penthouse Pet of the Month.







The piece wasn't all reportage, however, Playboy took advantage of the opportunity to have Donna posed enticingly on a lion skin in a new set of pictures.


From Mickey One


The final part of the pictorial showcased Donna's role in a forthcoming film, Mickey One, starring newcomer Warren Beatty (locking lips with Donna, bottom right) and directed by Arthur Penn.  Two years later Penn and Beatty would team up again for Bonnie and Clyde (1967). 


What a lovely pair of bongos.  Donna and Penn on set




Donna and Warren Beatty on set


Mickey One is an ambitious and stylish film, filmed entirely in Chicago and with an excellent soundtrack by Stan Getz, but is largely forgotten today.  Sadly, as is often the case with centrefolds, Donna's part was "The girl".  Although the article made much of the fact that film offers had come "flooding in" following her Playmate pictorial in fact it was Hefner's influence that got her the role.


Donna in a publicity still from Mickey One


This wan't her first role, however, she had had small parts in a couple of other films and had appeared several times in the Man from U.N.C.L.E.

In the Man from U.N.C.L.E.


 In Big Valley


 
 
The following year she would appear in the western TV series The Big Valley.  She would appear in a few more TV shows and films, notably in the French film Le Bal de Voyous (1968) where she had a high billing.  Her last role was a minor one in the 1971 TV movie Company of Killers.





The end of 1965 would see Donna featuring again in the 1966 Playboy calendar, this time as Miss February.  She would also appear the following year for July, in a picture taken during her trip to Jamaica in 1964.


The next girl: Hefner, Donna with Mary Warren in the backround


Inevitably, Hefner moved on from Donna, who he seemed genuinely fond of.  He said: "Donna was a stunner. She was also unpredictable and that was part of the attraction, I think.  I knew it would never work as a lasting relationship"   Her replacement was Mary Warren who worked in the Playboy offices before becoming a bunny.




In the January 1966 issue an article on the Playboy mansion had this picture of a submerged Donna in the famous pool photographed from the underwater bar.




In December 1967 she appeared, away from Playboy, in the French Lui magazine in a pictorial that saw her dressed up in a number of "fancy dress" outfits lbased on shows that had appeared on French TV.  This picture is (very) loosely based on the popular French TV series Therry La Fronde, which was about France under the occupation of the English in the fourteenth century.




The second one has her in the South Pacific setting of the US import, Adventures in Paradise or Les Aventures dans les iles as the French translated it.



Here she is in a groovy sixties chair for Des agents très spéciaux which was the French name for The Man from U.N.C.L.E., in which Donna had appeared, of course, in three episodes and some of the theatrical films they made from these episodes for the overseas market.



This one illustrates another US TV series from the early sixties, The Untouchables or Les Incorruptibles, as the French would have it.  This is the only picture we have been able to find of Donna in stockings.



Next, they have Donna falling out of a flight suit for the then brand-new French series Les Chevaliers du Ciel which was about fighter pilots.  A dubbed version was shown on British TV and Triple P actually watched this one!



Finally, she is in western gear for what the French called Au nom de la loi, which was the early Steve McQueen starring show, Wanted: Dead or Alive.






In 1968 she appeared in the Dutch magazine De Lach (The Laugh).  This was a magazine with  a long history of displaying pictures of scantily and (latterly) naked women, especially featuring film actresses.  It was first published in 1928 and soldiered on into the seventies.







Pictures from this shoot by Giancarlo Botti also turned up in the March 1969 issue of Cavalier in the US.  Here it was revealed that Donna had moved to Paris to work.





In November 1970 she appeared in the Italian magazine Fiesta (not to be confused with the UK publication of the same name).  She was looking a lot skinnier in this shoot than she had for Playboy.



It wasn't until June 1971 that we had a new picture of Donna in Playboy.  This was for a pictorial on all the previous Playmates of the Year.



The January 1974 issue was the twentieth anniversary one and it wasn't surprising, given her popularity, that Donna turned up once more in another old photograph, albeit, again, one that hadn't been seen before. 


Donna shoots Diane Kozlow


In April that year Donna was featured again, but this time behind the lens as she was now a photographer.  Playboy showed her photographing a number of models. Donna became interested in photography during her original Playmate shoot and had bombarded Pompeo Posar with questions.  An interest became a hobby and then she started doing professional work although she didn't progress to nudes until later.




Of course they couldn't miss the opportunity to show Donna again and so gave us the fine study above.  They were certainly getting their money's worth from the original shoots!  It was revealed that Donna, back from Paris, was now living on a ranch in Northern California.



More pictures of Donna appeared in the magazine during the seventies and indeed, afterward, usually in some sort of pictorial review of past Playmates or the newsstand specials which started in the eighties.  Here are a couple more featuring the polar bear skin.



Donna appeared at the Playboy Playmate reunion which was featured in the April 1980 edition where she appeared in a photograph with Hefner.

Hefner and Donna at the Playmate reunion, 1980

In April 1984 Donna appeared in Playboy once more, in a contemporary photo taken over twenty years after her first appearance, in a Playmates revisited feature.


In her late thirties she looks elegantly gorgeous in her only full frontal shot.  Here are a couple more pictures from this shoot as well.




Donna was certainly one of the most beautiful Playmates of the sixties and, probably, of all time.  Her voluptuous figure fitted the Playmate profile very well and, no doubt because of her association with Hefner at the time, she got intensive coverage in the magazine which translated into reader popularity.   In addition, her iconic cover photograph by Pompeo Posar for her Playmate of the Year issue is such that Triple P's Playboy desk calendar for this year carries the image on the cover.




Sadly, Donna died in April 2004 at the age of 58 but her image will surely live on for many years.

11 comments:

  1. Classic beauty, better than anything Playboy is putting out today. Thanks for posting.

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  2. Thanks so much for that. I've admired this woman for years, on the basis of single photos seen here and there, but never have known anything of her story. Do you know whether her death was a shady one, or relatively normal? She seems to have gone much too early.

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  3. She died of a heart attack whilst grocery shopping. Still, as you say, too early.

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  4. ...and I agree that she's among the greatest beauties we've ever seen in Hefner's magazine. Another great one, I think, was Kathryn Morrison (1978, I think). Have you considered a feature on her? And Marilyn Lange....

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  5. Marilyn is doubly memorable but I hadn't registered Kathryn before - she is lovely. They both come from May so maybe I'll post one of them later in the year...

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  6. It occurs to me that you should also look up Lisa Marie Scott, if you don't know of her—another old Playmate (but less old—1997, I think) and one whose beauty, for me, is not surpassable. She's a departure from the recent Hefner mold. Really a fantastic beauty, both with and without makeup.

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  7. I remember that one of her astride the chair...

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  8. awesome job on an awesome woman.How do you possibly research something like this. Just great!

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  9. Thanks for a wonderful post on Donna Michelle. I think she is one of the hottest and most fascinating women ever. Even without looking at her body, just her face and the gestures she can do with it are enough to drive one crazy. Then of course there is the body. She is one of those Playmates who I think have defined the legacy and without whom the title of Playmate wouldn't have been what it has become. I do wish though that you had written a little more about her personal and specially romantic life post Hef. Lastly I would like to express appreciation for the comment posted about Marilyn Lange - another outstanding Playmate and one of my all time favorites. Unfortunately hardly anything is known about her post Playboy days.

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  10. Excellent comment! I am getting more cautious about writing about the models' post magazine lives given the number of contacts I have had from the ladies themselves or their relatives.

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