Playboy magazine descended upon the Triangle two weeks ago, searching for Tar Heel, Blue Devil and Wolfpack women who would bare all for their conference. But for a magazine that shows so much, the media was allowed to see surprisingly little.
After three attempts at a media meet-up, these bunnies ended up being more elusive than daddy's secret stash of porn. (Note to our young readers: Nudie photos used to only exist in print format, and their discovery and collection involved cunning, skill, determination and a five-mile uphill walk in the snow, not merely access to a Google home page.)
For 32 years, Playboy has published college pictorials of students at various conference schools, though this is only the fifth time that the ACC has gotten a chance to show off its, um, goods.
Large ads in UNC's Daily Tar Heel, Duke's The Chronicle and N.C. State's Technician, posts on Facebook and MySpace and links on www.PlayboyU.com encouraged women to e-mail in and schedule an appointment for test shots.
"Lots of times girls have it in the head to do it," says Tina Manzo, junior publicist for Playboy Enterprises, "and this is just the little push they need."
Shoots are done off-campus and usually kept secret during these closed casting sessions. Shoots for Duke and UNC were both held at Courtyard Marriotts close to campus. "We don't want to deal with getting permission from the universities," said Manzo. She also spoke to the fact that it doesn't take much to turn the women timid. (Timidity perhaps being another word for suddenly thinking, "What on earth am I doing?")
A similar sentiment struck Leah Aronin, now 26 years old and a Duke graduate, in 2004 when she auditioned for the inaugural issue.
"When they told me to go to a room in a hotel I thought, 'What the hell is going on?'" she says. "It was a little weird, but it was totally safe and very professional. I stood in my bikini and had a face and body shot taken. But I'm glad I had some friends with me."
The Indy's first interview opportunity at the Courtyard Marriott in Chapel Hill was canceled after the Daily Tar Heel published the location of the photo shoot in its morning edition. Manzo said that hotel staff were not pleased with people showing up looking for the Playboy shoot, and that the hotel's management was trying to get the Daily Tar Heel to remove the hotel reference from their online edition.
Daily Tar Heel editor-in-chief Allison Nichols said they were not asked beforehand to not publish the location and did not remove it in accordance with their archives policy. A visit to the hotel soon after the cancellation uncovered no such rabid fans.
Manzo scheduled a second interview session at the Durham Courtyard Marriott, but this was also cancelled because "the girls that have signed up are adamant about keeping things very private, and of course we have to respect their decisions." Of course. But at what point were these women going to realize that if they're published in Playboy they're going to be sharing a lot more than their thoughts?
Manzo rescheduled, guaranteeing us a good time and some great coverage, and back to the Durham Marriott we went.
The front desk had no idea what we were talking about. But we knew we were in the right place when, among the retirees and business people, a young girl in high heels, full makeup and décolletage came strolling through the lobby. Her outfit seemed to reflect some confusion about whether she was an aspiring pinup model or a different kind of professional who plies her trade in upscale hotel rooms.
Eventual contact by cell phone with Kim Mizuno, the Playboy photographer upstairs, allowed us to see the room—a two-room suite decorated with Playboy posters and magazines—but no Bunny hopefuls.
"The inherent problem with college girls is that they chicken out," he says. "Duke girls especially. We only had one State girl back out."
These auditions do not guarantee a space in the September Girls of the ACC issue. From these test shots, Playboy will choose women to fly to Chicago for the photo shoot, and from these the pictures are chosen. Each of the 12 ACC schools will have at least one woman pictured (in the last issue, Florida State and Clemson represented quite well).
"Nudity is not required. We never force the girls to do anything they don't want to do," says Mizuno. "But in a 12-school conference, someone is going to get nude."
In 2004, Playboy chose Aronin, now a waitress in St. Thomas, for a second photo shoot. "I was an ugly duckling in high school and I was one of the five girls chosen from Duke? It felt good, a total ego and confidence booster," she says.
She chose to do implied nudity, posing with her bare back to the camera while wearing a bikini bottom, and was paid $350. She could have gotten $500 for baring all, but she decided to balance the experience and paycheck with a bit of modesty. "Nobody needs to see those bits," she says.
"It's the easiest $350 I ever made," she says. "And, I didn't end up in the magazine, so I don't have to worry about it coming back to bite me in the butt.... At 22 years old, why not do it? People express themselves however they want in a way that they're comfortable. If this is how I live and people don't like it, that's their problem."
And what did her family think when she did this?
"Oh, my parents still don't know," she says.