The Best and the Brighton
connie's been training herself for stardom for 20 years and she's still only 23, so the odds are in her favor
Last Spring, television host Phil Donahue devoted one of his programs to showbiz kids. Among his guests were the singing-and-dancing pip-squeaks in the chorus of the delightful hit musical Annie, plus half a dozen child models and actors in TV commercials. If Donahue had done that show a dozen years ago, Connie Brighton probably would have been on it: "My mother put me into a performing dance school when I was three, and by the time I was six, I was a trained, professional dancer. In my seventh year, I was performing in a Miami Beach hotel, dancing and singing in two shows a night. I even had my own little solo. What I remember most about my childhood is those mornings during the school year when my mother had to wake me up and dress me and feed me, because I was so exhausted from not having had enough sleep. And I never got to go to the beach and play with the other kids, because I was performing or going to dancing class or singing class or acting class. I've always thought that my mother must have had a very frustrated performer inside her." On the other hand, Connie doesn't regret her childhood career. It not only earned much-needed money for her large Coral Gables, Florida, family but also gave her the poise and confidence necessary to face the heady challenges of her adult life, currently including a dual career as a recording artist and as vice-president of Spero International Co., Inc., an entertainment-promotion company in Coconut Grove. The long road between three and 23 (her present age) was, naturally, strewn with more strange, fascinating and wonderful experiences than she can recount. Among the most memorable was becoming Telly ("Love ya, baby") Savalas' housemate in New York. "It was shortly after I got out of high school," she recalls. "I was 17, and I went to New York to do a one-night show at the Waldorf and decided to stay in the city for a week to look for work. I had worked with Duke Ellington's granddaughter Mercedes in a bicentennial show in Miami, and Mercedes lived in New York, so I called her up. She said she knew a choreographer who was putting together a troupe of girls for Telly's act. So I went to the address she gave me and auditioned. While we were all taking a break, Telly came in. I'd been there since early that morning, so I said to him, 'Hey, you're late. You've kept me waiting for a while.' I guess he liked that. Anyway, he noticed me. And I was hired.
"First, I got an apartment with another dancer in the troupe, but it was in a real crummy neighborhood. Telly was protective of us and he'd have his driver take us home after rehearsals. One night, he said something like, 'Hey, this place you've got is a real dump. I've got a big place with several bedrooms. Why don't you girls move in with me?' At first, the other dancer and I were horrified. As for myself, I was rather prudish and still am. I wasn't a virgin, but just barely. We turned him down cold. Then, as time went by, we thought about it. One day she said to me, 'You know, this place is a dump.' We looked at each other, laughed and called Telly. But before we moved in, we made all these very strict conditions: one, no strings attached; two, we paid our own rent; three, we lived separate lives. He agreed, and we moved in. It was nice, really. He is a perfect gentleman. He even invited his mother over to have dinner and meet us while we stayed with him." That lasted about nine months, after which Connie decided to move to California. That also lasted about nine months. "I didn't like California. In some ways, it's even faster than New York. Very hard for a young girl, even with my experience, to survive there. So I went back home to Miami."
There she met promoter Ian Spero, who has since become her husband. Together, they've built Spero International into a headline-grabbing company.
"Our company is something along the lines of a professional star maker. We represent a few elite individuals and bands. We fashion an image for them, find them a market and promote them accordingly. Our company provides our clients with business management, attorneys and other services. Our last big concert promotion was Gary U.S. Bonds in Tampa. We're also promoting a great band out of Brighton, England, called Going Straight. "
That the band is from Brighton is no coincidence. Connie's husband is from England, and when he suggested that she choose a stage name from one of three British locations ("He gave me a choice: London, Sussex or Brighton"), she chose Brighton. She has since visited that town several times and has made a personal crusade of saving the Brighton Pier. "It's this beautiful, quaint old pier that's in terrible disrepair, and it's up for sale for two dollars. If someone can come up with the money to rebuild it, he'd be saving a wonderful landmark."
Maybe if Connie's prospective single, a remake of an old Sixties hit called Any Way That You Want Me, is a hit, Connie can renovate the pier herself. At any rate, she's currently knee-deep in a singing career. "I've just signed with Fat Albert Productions in Miami. They've produced more than 25 gold and platinum albums. We're working in Criteria Studios -- where the Gibb brothers used to record -- on a remake of Born to Be Wild, which I hope to release next." As if that weren't enough to keep her busy, Connie also acts now and then. She is currently appearing in a feature film that's on view in Germany.
With all that going on, we couldn't help wondering why (and how) she found the time to become Miss September.
"Why did I do it? Well, as I've said, I've always been a prude, and when Stan Malinowski coaxed me into taking my top off for your August 1981 pictorial The Girls of Summer, I was very nervous. However, when I saw the shot in Playboy, I was very pleased. So when I was approached for the centerfold, I thought, Why not? Playboy is not just the best men's magazine, it's the men's magazine. If I had a message for any of your readers, it would be that there's a time when everybody should step out of his or her own particular closet and say, 'I'm here. I'm real. See me!' "
Photography by Richard Fegley