The lovely and talented Marlene Morrow was Playboy’s Miss April, 1974.
Like fellow 1974 Playmate of the Month and friend Bebe Buell, Ms. Morrow dated Todd Rundgren, and Marlene is related to no less than three different United States presidents: Washington, Monroe, and Madison. But there is much, much more to her gripping and moving story. Let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start).
Marlene is also a very interesting person. Born in Billings, Montana, she moved to Osaka, Japan, where her father was a baseball player on a Japanese team. From there, the family moved to L.A., where Marlene grew up. “Believe it or not,” she says, “up until the time I was 13 I wanted to be a missionary.” She gave up that idea and settled on the notion of being a housewife with a load of kids. But that’s been postponed indefinitely, now that her career is spiraling upward.
(“This Year’s Model.” Playboy. April, 1974. )
So groovy. My fave of the shoot.
But for now, Marlene is satisfied with her life in London — visiting pubs and going out with Englishmen, whom she finds vastly different from American men. But does she plan to make London her home? “Someday,” she says, “I’d like to buy a trailer and just travel around the world for a whole year. Is that crazy?”
I’M ALWAYS: Dreaming. Still, I wish I wasn’t so serious about life all the time.
WITH MY PLAYMATE FEE: I plan to settle myself in an apartment in Los Angeles and enroll in acting and dance school.
AMBITIONS: To be successful with my modeling and to study acting, and to have a nice home with about four children.
Now that the things she said in her interview at the time are out there and still resonating in your mind, I’m going to get to the main thing of this entry. Marlene Morrow’s real surname was Pinkard.
In a google search for her, I found an article by Italian-american author Joan “Strega,” in whose mother’s Encino shop Marlene worked after moving to L.A. Ms. Strega had done a similar google search and was meditating on her shock and dismay to find recent pictures of Marlene taken in Los Angeles.
It seems that Marlene did stay in L.A., but she did not become a famous model or actress. Nor is she happily married and settled in to a nice house with about four chidlren. Marlene now goes by “Persephone.”
Persephone is homeless, and currently missing. She lived as recently as four years ago with a few others on the streets of Los Angeles, where she journaled, wrote poetry, and carried with her in a manila envelope a photo of her former centerfold.
The above recent photograph was taken by Paul Zollo, a musician, journalist, and photographer who was strolling around Los Angeles and met Persephone and some of her friends at the corner of Yucca and Cahuenga. Below are highlights from his very moving story of how their encounter went.
At the intersection of Yucca and Cahuenga I saw her – she was sitting on the sidewalk with a guy named Bert Rental. I presumed at first that Persephone & Bert were a couple because they were sitting alone when I first approached them on Yucca near Cahuenga in Hollywood, very close to where I lived for more than 20 years. They both let me know they were homeless, but that wasn’t really an issue.
Persephone was crying, weeping profusely in fact, and explaining that there was a suicide, and she had a grandson she loved, and she had a husband who had disappeared, and “many contracts” that she was ignoring. She didn’t explain what kind of contracts they were.
I asked many times to take her photo, and she said, “No, I’ll GIVE you a photo — a good one — because I look like shit now, because I’ve been CRYING FOR TWO WHOLE WEEKS.” She repeated this like a sad mantra. She started crying intensely, and Bert seemed very uncomfortable with this, and I told her it was cool to cry, and she said, “NO — it’s NOT cool.” And I said all I meant is that it’s okay to cry. And then she wept openly, and then wiped the tears away and laughed with pure joy. And then alternated between laughter and tears.
[She] did show [me] a Playboy centerfold from the Sixties of a blonde woman named Morrow who she said was her. And it did look quite like her, and I believe it was her, and she said that now she dyed her hair dark. I asked her if she knew Hefner, and she looked at me with an expression that said, “How could I not know him?”
[She said] that everything was terrible – she’d been waiting for her husband for days, and he had yet to appear. That she had a grandson she hadn’t seen in too long. Then embraced me with all her heart and told me I was “precious.”
Then she opened a journal of her reflections and poetry, written in a florid script, and asked me to read it aloud, which I did to the best of my ability, as it was hard to make out, but it was about the mythical Persephone, the Goddess of Innocence and the Queen of the Underworld.
I received a message from a fellow flickr-artist [who] had looked her up on the net and discovered a photo of former centerfold Marlene Morrow, at some former centerfold convention or something, taken in 2002. He sent me a link to the photo. I didn’t think there was any chance it could be her.
But then I saw it. And it was haunting. It hit me like cold water in the face first thing in the morning. Because it was her face. Unmistakably.
This is the picture of Marlene at Glamourcon May 5, 2002, to which Mr. Zollo refers.
[I have been] receiving messages from Bebe Buell, who also was a Playboy centerfold – and a good friend of Marlene’s. Together we are hoping to find her. Last I saw she was on the street. If you can help us find her, let me know.
Bebe added more to my tale of Marlene, which follows — Bebe said both she and Marlene dated Todd Rundgren, and that Todd wrote a song about her which is on his “Something/Anything” album, called “Marlene.”
Bebe called and said, “I couldn’t sleep all night after reading your words about Marlene. I am ready to get on a plane to come and find her.”
A final entreaty and heartbreaking epilogue from Mr. Zollo:
I had hoped her life would improve. Sadly, I was wrong. Received a long and sad message from her daughter today telling me Marlene has been attacked on more than one occasion and has lost all her teeth.
Why the world treats some of its children like this is beyond me. She is someone beloved by many. If you know where she is, or have seen her, let us know.
The irreplaceable Ms. Bebe Buell, Miss November 1974, sweet and loving model, actress, and singer in her own right (not to mention mother to equally cramazing and talented Liv Tyler — they are beautiful inside and out), is still seeking to get in touch with Marlene, with whom she was close in the 1970′s. Ms. Buell said that she was told in the early 2000′s that Marlene was looking to talk to her and she lost track of time and did not follow up. She is understandably guilt-stricken about that now and is hoping fervently to find Ms. Pinkard. If you know how to find Persephone/Marlene Pinkard/Marlene Morrow and Ms. Buell has not already heard from you, you may contact her through her website, bebe-buell.com. Please. Contact Mr. Zollo or Ms. Buell any time with any information you have, really.
*(Also, if you follow the link to Ms. Strega’s thoughtful and poignantly articulated story about discovering that Marlene had become Persephone, Ms. Buell’s comment is the first: it includes an email address where she can be reached if you have info about Ms. Pinkard/Persephone. I didn’t want to put it in this entry without her permission.)
If this story has had an impact on you the way it did on me, I’ve hit the charity rating websites pretty hard and come up with a good solid list of some non-profits that you can volunteer with or donate to. Most are national and international so that you can help from no matter where you live, but I made sure to particularly include some charities that may directly affect Marlene’s everyday life, headquartered in LA and environs. All of the charities are top-rated, up-and-up organizations.
–Feeding America (formerly Second Harvest)
–Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger (don’t forget that besides outright donating, you can alternately buy the Nice Jewish Guys calendar that I spotlighted way back on Calendar Girls day to support this great organization)
This one is my personal favorite, and has several different ways you can help Marlene and people in similar positions to hers.
Homeless Health Care Los Angeles 213-744-0724
–and this last one I can’t stress enough: DONATE YOUR OLD CAR AND RECEIVE TAX DEDUCTION POTENTIALLY WORTH MORE THAN YOUR VEHICLE PLUS FREE GOOD KARMA FOR LIFE!
Okay, so think about all that? Thanks!