the beautiful miss baker, a new york and chicago model, ushers in playboy's fourth decade as our 30th anniversary playmate
Pause awhile before you read on. Gaze into the eyes of the woman on the opposite page. Thank you. You see, we traveled thousands of miles, shot thousands of Polaroids and interviewed thousands of women to find her. And now that we've found her, our greatest joy is sharing her beauty with you. When Penny Baker entered our 30th Anniversary Playmate Hunt last August in our home town, Chicago, she chanced to meet our Associate Photography Editor Janice Moses. Moses recalls, "She was pretty, sweet, bright, refreshing and fairly confident for a 17-year-old." And today, that description still fits Penny except for two things: She's now 18 and she's a tad more confident, because we've chosen her to crown Playboy's three decades of America's most beautiful women.
Despite her tender age, Penny is far from a neophyte in the world of modeling. She broke into the business at the age of 13, after spending a summer vacation in modeling school. Since there weren't many calls for models (13 or otherwise) in her home town of Springville, New York, she had to travel, after school or on weekends, to Buffalo, 25 miles away.
"My parents were wonderful," says Penny, looking back on that time with a matured perspective. "They had to drive me back and forth, since I was too young to drive myself, and I often wasn't getting paid more than $25 per job. My parents were paying for the gas and buying me lunch and, probably, spending as much as I was earning. But they always let me keep every dollar I earned." Her father, Leslie, an executive for a New York manufacturer, and her mother, Frances, chose to join her rather than fight with her.
"From the time I was about 11, when I began looking at fashion magazines, I wanted to be a model. I'd stare at cover girls and wish I could be just like them." It was more than wishing; it was believing, deep down inside that she coule be a successful model that gave Penny so much chutzpah at such an early age. For instance, when she was 15, her agency in Buffalo entered her in the yearly Modeling Association of America International (M.A.A.I.) competition, held that year in the Waldorf-Astoria. "I could tell that most of the girls weren't doing very well," she recalls, "until one girl, the one just before me, got up and did a terrifically animated series of poses. I thought, If that's what it takes, I can do better than that, so when my turn came, I went up there with -- 'Ta-taaa!'" She spreads her arms, grins and giggles as she replays the moment. "And, sure enough, I won."
As a result, she was sought out by several scouts from the big New York modeling agencies who convinced her that her prospects were excellent. "However, they also told me that I was still too young to live in New York by myself, and they told me to get in touch with them in a year, when I'd finished high school."
A year later, after taking more than a full load of classes in order to graduate (with nearly straight A's, by the way), Penny, with her parents' permission, moved to New York and set up housekeeping with four other models in a building populated largely by young people with budding performing careers.
"It was great, kind of like a big dormitory. We'd all get up early, wave to one another on our way to our various appointments, then come back at the end of the day and trade success or disappointment stories and have potluck dinners."
We wondered if her parents might not have been just the slightest bit worried that she could venture down the path of rack and ruin, and she replied, "First of all, my parents never talked to us [Penny and her older sister and two brothers] about sex. It just never came up. They knew I dated, but we never talked about it when I was in Springville and they didn't ask about it when I was in New York. But since I'd always been a good student and had never gotten in trouble, I guess they figured I had pretty good judgment."
She learned a lot in the Big Apple, including how to handle men instead of the "farm boys" she had dated in Springville. "I found that when I wanted to say no, I could; it was usually no problem."
She also learned the hard realities of the super-competitive New York fashion business. "I was able to pay my rent and buy groceries, but that was about it. The fact is, I just don't look like the high-fashion type. I'm a little too short and a little too busty."
When her roommates began to split up and go their separate ways, Penny realized that she would be soon faced with the responsibility of paying rent all by herself. "Several of the agency people I talked with in New York suggested that I move to Chicago, where, they said, I might have a better chance of getting a lot of work." So she moved to Chicago in March 1983 and signed up with Playboy Models in April.
Shortly thereafter, she appeared in a promotional poster for Playboy's pre-season football forecast, in which she wore a sexy blue football jersey. That and other jobs enabled Penny to settle into Chicago fairly comfortably. Then she heard about the 30th Anniversary Playmate Hunt.
"The people at Playboy Models suggested I enter. Once I made up my mind, I wasn't going to settle for being anything less than the 30th Anniversary Playmate."
Finally, after an August visit to Playboy Mansion West to meet Editor/Publisher Hugh Hefner, Penny learned that she was our choice. Her parents and siblings are "happy for me," and she plans to use her $30,000 fee to help finance a college education in computer science.
But for the next year, she simply looks forward to traveling and modeling for Playboy, Playboy Models and Playboy Video Productions. "When this year's over, I'll go to school. But I want to enjoy this while it's happening."
During the next year, at least, Penny plans to make Chicago her home. Then, with more experience under her belt, she may go back to New York, where she plans to attend Pace College. Meanwhile, she says, "I'm enjoying Chicago."
And we enjoy having you here, Penny. Congratulations. And thanks for making us look good.
Photography by Arny Freytag