Debra Jo turned 52 last week, but she's as pretty as ever. She's also wiser, after a brief reign as Playmate of the Year, a 10-year cocaine addiction, a string of jobs and marriages, and all the dreams and disappointments we humans share.
Debra Jo met Anna Nicole only once, at a Playboy Mansion party. It's described in my story for The Beaumont Enterprise today:
It was a New Year’s Eve party at the Playboy Mansion in 1995, just months before Anna Nicole’s billionaire husband J. Howard Marshall would die at age 90.
Anna Nicole wore a flowing evening gown and dripped with diamonds. Barely 27, she was the reincarnation of Marilyn Monroe in both her appearance and in Playboy’s breathless publicity. She symbolized a reinvigoration of Playboy’s faltering brand, a sudden beauty in a string of fake pearls. She was to be the new face of Playboy. She was a star.
To Debra Jo, who watched her from across the famed Playboy pool, Anna Nicole was the most fascinating and elegant woman at the party – and maybe was having more fun than anyone, as she was clearly loaded.
Suddenly, Anna Nicole dove into the pool — gown, diamonds, buzz and all. As she swam in the aqua-glow of a new year, Fondren saw her chance to meet the sex goddess she had only admired from afar. She dashed into the pool house, grabbed a towel and met Anna Nicole poolside as she emerged from the water.
“Hi, I’m Debra Jo Fondren, and I’m also a Playmate of the Year and I’m from Texas, too,” she said, a little star-struck, as she wrapped the towel around Smith.
“Oh, hi,” Anna Nicole said, still more than a little high. “Will you take me home?”
After that night, Fondren never saw Smith again, but she often thought of her. Debra Jo had survived her own post-Playmate tribulations, and she knew what Smith didn’t until it was too late.
Debra Jo (right) with a sopping Anna Nicole, poolside at the Playboy Mansion in 1995
(Photo courtesy of Debra Jo Fondren)