Oh, how our values and the things we take pride in have changed over the years.
The premiere of that new “Playboy Club” show, featuring Naturi Naughton as a Black Playboy Bunny has drawn all types of attention back to Jennifer Jackson who not only worked in the original Playboy Club but also holds the distinction of being the first Black woman to be featured in a Playboy spread.
Except she doesn’t understand what the big deal is.
I didn’t tell anyone until after I took the picture. And I didn’t feel proud of it; I was kind of ashamed of it for a long time, until I went to the playmate reunion back in 1999. And I’m glad that I went, because it was like a closure. Everyone always made a big deal about it but I was always ashamed of it.
So while everyone was celebrating you for breaking down the barrier as the first African American to pose for the magazine, you were actually ashamed?
I never looked at it like that. I guess I was the first, but in Chicago we had black doctors, dentists and business men living in our neighborhood. You had black people with money who lived well.
Are you still ashamed about your past?
No, I’m not now. But you’ll be surprised. It depends on who you talk to. Most people really think it’s a big deal and say, “Jennifer, you should write a book.” Write a book about what?
Well damn! What’s crazy is that her stint at Playboy also lead Jennifer to a few other firsts. But she had plenty of other sources of pride in her life.
Once you relocated to New York City, what were some of your other modeling gigs?
I worked for Eileen Ford of the Ford Modeling Agency. Then I was with an agency called Black Beauty, which was nothing but black models. I was the first black model to do Lady Clairol and KOOL cigarettes. All of the ads went into Ebony magazine. You didn’t have any black models that went into LIFE [magazine] and all that stuff. I also was the poster girl for the Ebony Fashion show back in ’65. And then I got pregnant with my first child, I gave birth in ’66. That’s what every girl wants. They want to settle down and have a family, and that’s what I did.
Another reason why Jennifer wasn’t always so proud about her “Bunny” days?
I was a CPS [Child Protective Services] Investigator for most of those years, and I also recruited and trained foster parents for about seven years. So I had a variety of jobs which I enjoyed and in which I had to keep quiet about my past. I was always worried about them finding out about my past.
Don’t expect any of this to make it into Brenda The Black Bunny’s story line if “Playboy Club” makes it past one season thought.
I had some family and friends call me and say, “Hey Jennifer, they’re going to have a show about the Playboy Club. Did anybody call you?” I said, “No!?” Then they said, “You should help write the script for a show and tell them your views on how it was.”
As you now know, the show has a black bunny by the name of Brenda, who is played by Naturi Naughton. What are your thoughts on her character being loosely based on you?
I read the interview that she did with (The Huffington Post), and she said some really nice things about me. But again, “loosely based off of me,” and nobody contacted me. If someone’s going to be playing you, it’s kind of weird for them not to contact you. I’m thinking that they just don’t want to spend the money. But she’s a very talented young lady. She was on “Fame” and on Broadway. And I felt proud that they got somebody who’s so talented to play that part.