from north dakota to chicago, miss july has done it her way
Carmen Berg's father is an auctioneer in Bismarck, North Dakota. From the time she was five or six, he took her along when he went to do the fast talk to sell off someone's house or farm. "I think it would have made him happy if I'd gone to auctioneer's school and followed in his footsteps," she says now. But Carmen never learned to talk fast enough and instead set out on her own at the age of 19 to seek her fortune as a model. She eventually wound up in Chicago, which is both our good fortune and a long way from Bismarck.
Not that Carmen has anything against her home town. It's just that "not much happens there. For instance, when Vanity was in Playboy [May 1985], it was big news in Bismarck, because she was from somewhere near North Dakota: Minnesota." To be perfectly honest, Bismarck didn't look very promising for Carmen unless she wanted to go into auctioneering. "I worked all through high school and I never had a job that paid more than minimum wage." One of those jobs, however, turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Carmen started working out at a Nautilus fitness center during her senior year in high school, then landed a job as a Nautilus instructor at the local Y.M.C.A.
After a year of practicing what she was teaching, "I developed enough confidence in my body to enter the annual Peace Garden bodybuilding competition held in Grand Forks." She won third place -- not bad for someone who'd been working out for such a short time. Her self-esteem bolstered ("I had always been very shy"), she decided to move to Minneapolis, where, she hoped, she could make a living modeling. It wasn't easy at first. "I found an apartment I could afford, but it was in a really bad neighborhood. I had no furniture -- slept on the floor. I didn't have a phone, so I had to make my calls from pay phones. When I was out telephoning at night, policemen would drive by and warn me that it was dangerous; but people from North Dakota tend to be very trusting, and I never seriously considered what might have happened to me out there. I guess I was lucky." But you can't keep a good woman down, and within four months, Carmen was making enough money modeling to move to a better apartment and have a phone installed. "Things have been better since."
She moved to our home town in March 1986, signed on with Playboy Models and met Playboy Senior Staff Photographer Pompeo Posar one day on her way to the agency's office in the Playboy Building. Posar offered to take some gatefold test shots and, once again, those years of Nautilus work paid off. Her photographs were, as you can see, fantastic.
What makes Carmen particularly appealing is her paradoxical personality. On the one hand, she can perform a sultry striptease like the one she did for Posar's camera; on the other, she says, "I have a lot of old-fashioned values," including a strong belief in the Catholic Church and adherence to the moral philosophy that love and commitment should precede sex. "I know some people will think it's contradictory to say that I'm a strong Catholic, that I believe in God and that I'm posing for Playboy. The Church probably wouldn't favor my posing nude, but I feel that I have a close personal relationship with God and that He won't condemn me.
"God didn't make up all these rules that you shouldn't pose nude, that people aren't supposed to use contraception or that women shouldn't have abortions. We don't have the right to impose our views on others."
Carmen also practices her religious beliefs in a practical way, volunteering time each week to work at a shelter for teenaged unwed mothers in Chicago.
"I think that a lot of those girls wouldn't be in that situation if they'd had more information about sex. I feel pretty lucky that I didn't get into trouble in high school; but then, I hardly ever dated. I spent most of my time studying."
Carmen is still choosy. "I tend to want long-term, committed relationships. When I marry, I want to stay married for life, just like my parents, who've been together for more than 40 years. But I want to see how far I can go in my modeling career first. And even after I marry, I'll always want to work. It's more fun spending your own money than someone else's." Hmm -- we'd never thought of it quite that way.
Photography by Pompeo Posar