she's beautiful, she's sensitive and sometimes kelly tough even lives up to her name
We bumped into Kelly Tough for the first time in the kitchen at Playboy Mansion West. She'd stopped by for an orange juice after a daily rehearsal / workout with The Playmates, the Playboy singing group. Kelly's hair was tied back, perspiration delicately matting the finer tendrils to her temples. At that peak hour of twilight, her surname seemed most appropriate. Later Kelly explained, in her characteristic don't-mess-with-the-kid style (yes, she's a toughie, even a brat, she says), that the name Tough originated among Norsemen who invaded Scotland. Her particular clan came to rest in Vancouver, British Columbia, where Kelly grew up a few streets away from her high school chum Dorothy Stratten -- who, in fact, helped convince Kelly she was Playboy material.
The Toughs found the going tough in Vancouver. "We were so poor," Kelly told us, "that I was allowed to wash my hair only once a week. We couldn't afford the hot water."
Kelly remembers talking to her rabbits in the back yard at the age of ten, telling them, "One day I'm going to win a beauty contest and the reporters are gonna ask me, 'Is there anything you want to say to your friends back home?' And I'll say, 'I told you I could do it.' " Well, her rabbits, who must have been all ears, told some other rabbits and . . .
As you can see, Kelly's doing better now; she assures us her state of undress doesn't mean she doesn't own any clothes. She has been living in California for more than a year, and her present coolheaded manner hardly jibes with her description of herself as nervous ingénue arriving at Mansion West for the first time: "I remember driving through the gates -- I sat in front. I'd never been in a limousine before, so I'd looked at the driver and said, 'Can I sit in the front seat with you?' I felt so alone."
At the Mansion, Kelly found a friend in Sondra Theodore, Miss July 1977, who provided a shoulder to lean on. Other Playmates were helpful, too -- which surprised Kelly.
"I thought they'd all be sharpening their claws, ready to lunge at my throat," she confessed, "but they're not like that. They stick together. We've all dealt with the same things -- like leaving the boyfriend back home."
That's just what Kelly did when she was offered a spot in The Playmates singing group. It was a snap decision -- she'd wanted to be a singer all her life. "When I was a little girl," she reminisced, "my mom had an antique umbrella handle that had belonged to my Auntie Pearl. It was etched in gold with mother-of-pearl and was shaped like a microphone. I used to turn on the radio and sing along into that umbrella handle -- it was my mike." When Playmates musical director Vic Caesar first handed Kelly a mike, commenting that it might feel awkward, Kelly puzzled him by replying, "It doesn't feel awkward; it feels just like Auntie Pearl's umbrella handle."
Propped up by nerve, ambition and Thomas Wolfe's observation that you can't go home again, Kelly has adapted to her Los Angeles lifestyle. While many aspects of her California life thrill her -- the weather, the parties, the friends -- she admits to some disillusionment.
"I've been disappointed by a lot of people I've met, like TV stars I'd seen and thought I'd like to meet. Then I'd meet one and think, What a jerk."
Would she care to name names?
"And I miss the outdoors around Vancouver. When Hef showed me the redwoods here, I said, 'We've got a forest back home that makes this one look like twigs.' It's a 20-minute drive to the beach, another 20-minute drive to go skiing. You can hike places where people have never been. I miss it. I miss it. L.A. is a complex and fast place. Back home it was all so simple.
"But I'm directing all my energy toward one thing -- my singing career. I just remember who I am -- Tough."
Photography by Mario Casilli