miss march is on her own again, which means the competition is outnumbered
Donna Smith sat crackling like a campfire in her boyfriend's Burbank living room. In a loping narrative, she was recounting, with almost no regrets, the unusual series of events that had brought her to where she is now. Often, she exploded. Sparks flying in all directions, she'd leap from her chair and take the center of the room as though there were just too much to say sitting down. And there was.
She began with her childhood and her mother's midnight exit from Oregon, just ahead of the authorities who wanted to take her six children from her. She fast-forwarded to Washington, where the family settled for a while, and on to Idaho, where at the age of 14, she left home; traveling in Wyoming, Alaska, Hawaii and, finally, Japan, sometimes working as a cocktail waitress with a fake I.D.; then going successfully into modeling, getting married, getting divorced, moving to Los Angeles -- which is where we said , "Whoaaa!" There were details of interest here -- such as how a young American girl could make her way in a country where people speak mainly Japanese. "I speak Japanese," Donna said simply. Had we known better at the time, we wouldn't have asked such a stupid question. It's best to give Donna the benefit of the doubt. If you underestimate her, her attention drifts.
"I was interested in the Japanese and their culture," she went on, "so I just picked it up. After that, I dated a lot of Japanese men and ended up married to one for a time."
Although she hasn't been to college, Donna handles herself like a Ph.D. Experience is a great teacher, and the lady has a trigger-quick mind. Fending for herself was an early lesson, and she's honed her wit as well as her sensibilities. She's on her own again, and enjoying it.
"I like being independent," she said. "I wouldn't have it any other way, because there was a time when I wasn't. I would be living with a man, and he'd say, 'Well, it's my money. I'm paying the rent.' I'm out in the cold unless I do as he says. Forget it! Not happening! Not with this cookie, anyway."
Donna's nothing if not candid. She finds the straightforward approach is best.
"I'm really easy to communicate with, because I get right to the point. I don't play around. I just say it like it is. I'm a very honest person. And I'm so easygoing, it's incredible." The freedom she expresses is based on a well-cultivated inner strength. Donna knows who she is and where she stands.
"I'm very religious. I believe very strongly in God. It gives me strength. Like, if I'm scared on an airplane -- I hate to fly! -- I say a prayer and I know I'm going to make it. He's always looking over me. Boy, I'll tell you, He's definitely been there a few times. Quite a few . . . ."
Donna grew quiet and her eyes misted over. "See, now, if I talk like this, I'll start crying, so you have to stop talking to me." She excused herself and went to make tea.
Later, when she returned, she was crackling again. Modeling has been good to her, but she'd like to try something else, and singing is the best possibility.
"I do all kinds of stuff. I like progressive funk, and I like jazz. I like Phoebe Snow's style a lot. I also like the Pretenders, stuff like that, to get up there and really be a cocky bitch onstage; you know, to have everybody by the balls in a very strong but innocent way.
"I've had a lot of people say that when I sing, I sound a little like Kim Carnes but with a black side. I sing black because I was raised around black people.
"I used to be real shy about my singing. Stage fright. But every time I do sing, someone will say, 'Donna, get out there. You're a gold mine walking down the street. Someone ought to snatch you up!' "
Although her career is uppermost in her mind right now, Donna hasn't given up on love -- not by a long shot.
"One day, I'll get married again, I'm sure. I would love to have one or two children. I would definitely live with someone a long time first, though, to be certain I could spend the rest of my life with him.
The kind of man I prefer is a gentleman. Warm, loving, gentle -- just as it's said. I don't like arrogant men; you know, men who have a wild hair up their ass and think they can conquer the world. Men who think, You owe me, because I'm cool. Men like that -- disrespectful.
Sex isn't a big part of my life. It's a medium part; let's put it that way. There are times when I don't want it at all; then there are times when, honey, give it up, you know! I thoroughly enjoy pleasing my man, and I enjoy being pleased. It's important to have good sex in a relationship. But people who think it's the most important thing can stay out of my life, because I don't believe that.
Money isn't that important to me, either. If I wanted limousines, I could have all the limousines I wanted right now, believe me. I'd rather have my own and tell a man, 'Hey, would you like me to pick you up in my limousine?' " Then she levels her eyes and speaks carefully: "I want to be able to depend on a man as well as myself. But I want him to know that I don't need him.
"It's not that whatever Donna wants, Donna gets. That's not the way I am. I'm a very giving and a very loving person. I have a heart as big as this world. Anyone who knows me will tell you that.
"And I cook, too. Oh, boy, do I cook! I can do Italian, Japanese, Mexican, Chinese, steaks. No cookbooks, either. All with the tongue -- just the tongue. Everybody out of my kitchen; I'm cooking!"
There was really no need to add that. We were already convinced the lady could cook. In more ways than one.
Photography by Stephen Wayda