Meet Her in St. Louis
if you're looking for miss february (and why wouldn't you be?), try the bike paths or the playboy club
Janis Schmitt can't help but remind you of the elusive blonde bombshell in American Graffiti, the one who cruises the streets in a spanking new white sports car, leaving poor Richard Dreyfuss frantic at every sighting. Janis tours the streets of St. Louis in a bright-blue Triumph Spitfire convertible, leaving contingents of wide-eyed, double-taking men in her path. Today she is wearing a skintight sweater dress with holes in appropriate places and black high-heeled boots, and as she extracts her 5'4" frame from a bucket seat and enters Houlihan's -- a funky, Friscoesque bar-restaurant in St. Louis' West County -- a huddle of businessmen at the bar stop abruptly, as if frozen in time, martinis poised in mid-air, mouths agape. She pretends not to notice, orders a bloody mary and stirs it with a celery stalk. "I can't believe men sometimes," she says. "You know, I bicycle almost every day in Carondelet Park. I get up real early in the morning, before the nuts come out. I wear my hair pulled back, an old T-shirt, some old gym shorts and no make-up -- in fact, I do everything to make myself look plain -- and I still get slapped on the behind."
Bicycling every day -- weather permitting -- is just one of Janis' many activities. At night, she's a Bunny at the St. Louis Playboy Club, a job she's had for three years and through which she became close friends with Playmate of the Year Patti McGuire. Before that, she was a file clerk in a local bank, a bookkeeper in a juvenile court and a respiratory therapist at a local hospital. The temptation to remark that, as a respiratory therapist, she surely must have left a lot of patients breathless is overwhelming, but you let it pass. Janis orders another bloody and carefully flicks a stray bang out of her eye, one of her more frequent and enchanting mannerisms. "I'm basically a very quiet person," she says pensively. "I've been shy all my life. Insecure. Would you believe I've even read books on overcoming shyness? I always wanted to be an actress, but I was too shy in high school to get on a stage. What really makes me mad about being quiet is that people always assume you're dumb, that you have nothing to say. I'm just more of a listener and I suppose that's why I'm attracted to outgoing, funny people." One of her favorite funny people is comic Steve Martin. Says Janis, "I'd love to meet him someday -- he's just so off the wall." Comedy figures strongly in her plans. "If I get into acting, and that's my main goal right now," she says between slices of London broil, "I'd like to be the comic type -- sort of like Goldie Hawn or Carole Lombard, not a dramatic type -- I doubt seriously that I could carry that off."
Janis is also an avid reader -- of books ("I love erotic paperbacks") and every kind of magazine ("Would you believe I actually subscribe to Andy Warhol's Interview magazine?"). She smiles mischievously. "I want to write a really dirty book someday," she says, "under a fictitious name. It would be kind of autobiographical, like Erica Jong's Fear of Flying, a chronicle of my life and loves. When I was younger, I used to write poetry all the time. I was lonely then and since I didn't have anybody to confide in, I'd write down my feelings. But I'm not lonely anymore, so I've sort of given up writing poetry." Nowadays, she just inspires it.
Photography by Ken Marcus