Sunday, August 07, 2016

A Dubious Distinction

Ever since Playboy magazine stopped publishing nude centerfolds earlier this year — and even before that — I have seen milestones marked for the publication's centerfold models.

For example, whenever Marilyn Monroe is mentioned, it is almost sure to be observed that she was Playboy's "first playmate of the month" — which, technically, she wasn't. She was the first centerfold, which at that time, I believe, was called "Sweetheart of the Month." Someone else had the distinction of being the first playmate.

Being the first playmate to be or do anything is usually a good thing — but not always.

Marilyn was the first centerfold model to die — but not the first playmate to die. That was Tonya Crews, Miss March of 1961, who died in an automobile accident 50 years ago today.

Crews tends to get overshadowed when the topic of conversation is playmates who died young, especially if 1992 playmate Anna Nicole Smith is part of the discussion.

Part native American, Crews was born in Oklahoma in February 1938. She had just turned 23 when the issue of Playboy containing her centerfold hit the newsstands.

In 2007, following Smith's death, Jessica Gresko of the Associated Press lamented Smith's "exclusive" membership in the club of playmates who didn't live to see their 50th birthdays. Crews, of course, is a charter member of that club.

There have been so many other tragic deaths among the playmates that Crews' death rarely gets mentioned.

But it was 50 years ago today that Crews became the first playmate to die. It's a dubious distinction, but it's one to which she is entitled.