On former Playboy centerfold and society blogger Candace Jordan

Belle of the Blog: Three decades after steaming up the pages of Playboy, Candace Jordan is attracting eyeballs again—this time with her clothes on—as a sought-after party guest and cyberscribe. Circulating among the city’s socialites, she chronicles swank galas and charity auctions on her blog—required reading for Chicago’s see-and-be-seen set

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“That is so hot.”

I hear the words coming from the Jordans’ bedroom as I arrive at their house for an interview. “Now put your right knee up. Good. Here we go, gorgeous. That’s it. Beautiful, sweetheart. That’s sexy!”

“Wow, our bed never looked better,” Jordan quips as we watch from the doorway. Her antique gilded rococo headboard is being grasped in a number of creative ways by a stark-naked, belly-button-pierced, breast-enhanced, 24-year-old Playboy model named Jenna.

“The location scout saw our home in a magazine,” Jordan says of the historic carriage house—part of a former Armour estate—that she and Chuck share in Old Town. Here, her passion for antiques and art collecting is on full display. The library is packed with rare books, including four Harry Potter editions inscribed by J. K. Rowling to Rowling’s dad. At a Sotheby’s auction preview, Jordan recalls, “I had to put white gloves on to hold them. My hands were shaking.” Chuck later bought them for her—to the tune of $100,000—as a surprise Christmas gift.

Out back is more fantasy: a fairy-tale walled garden, with flowering plants, crab apple and hawthorn trees, and a stone lion’s head spewing a sparkling stream of water. The spot earned the National Wildlife Federation’s designation as a certified habitat—meaning it’s a sort of safe haven–cum–fast-food restaurant for the menagerie of hummingbirds, red-tailed hawks, and snowy woodpeckers that dip down to drink from the koi pond or snack on hawthorn berries.

Today, though, all eyes are on another bird—the one making the most of the Jordans’ marital bed. As the photographer clicks away, Candace and I retreat to the kitchen. A longtime makeup artist for Playboy, Pat Tomlinson, organizes her shadows and brushes on the counter, and a photo assistant sits near the stove, color-correcting the bedroom shots as they appear on his computer screen. “I’m so glad you’re all here!” says Jordan. “This is taking me back to forever.”

* * *

It was a long time ago—September 19, 1974, to be exact—when the butlers at the Playboy Mansion on North State Parkway got the following note from Lottie Flores, the house manager:

To: Butlers
A Bunny by the name of Candy Collins is transferring here from St. Louis. She will be going into B Dorm Bed 10. Thank you.

Meanwhile, 20-year-old Candy—as she grew up being called—was making her way up the interstate. “I’ll never forget it,” she recalls. “I had an MGB, and my little suitcase attached to the luggage rack. Coming up I-55, when you see the skyline—it was like the Emerald City. I was just blown away.”

Unlike many people who reinvent them­selves, Jordan is proud of where she came from: Dupo, Illinois, a town of 3,000 people on the railroad line near St. Louis. Her father was a mailman; he and her mom divorced when she was two. “You know what they say about the mailman on the route?” Jordan says. “It’s true.” Her stepfather was a drinker.

Candy Collins, an only child, responded to it all by becoming all-everything: a gregarious cheerleader, straight-A student, and class valedictorian. “I think I wanted to prove to everyone in town that we were a viable family,” she says.

At 13, she began modeling at Famous-Barr, a St. Louis department store. “Once I saw my picture [in an ad] in the paper, that was it,” she says. “It made my mom so happy, and I think that drove me, too.”

After dropping out of Saint Louis University, she landed a job at the St. Louis Playboy Club. Only 19, she couldn’t serve liquor, so she worked as a “door Bunny,” greeting guests and taking coats.

“The first time I met her, I thought, This is one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen,” recalls Patti Connors, who started as a Bunny a few months after Candace and eventually wed the tennis star Jimmy Connors. “She was also really outgoing and approachable. Some of the girls could be conceited. She wasn’t.”

After someone from the Chicago club spotted her, Candace got called to the big leagues. Life at the mansion was good: Rent was just $75 a month, which included maids and 24-hour room service. “Girls would order lobster at 3 a.m.,” she says. “I didn’t take advantage of it. All I ever ate were potato chips and Diet Pepsi.”

Working the door at Chicago’s Playboy Club, Candace soon caught the attention of the magazine’s photographers and designers, who often stopped in for lunch. “She was famous among all of us for her eyes,” recalls the art director Tom Staebler, now retired. “They are huge by human standards. And they just sparkle.”

They invited her to the studio for test shots, which led to two U.S. covers and the December 1979 centerfold. Staebler shot the most famous picture: a close-up of Candace’s eyes peering from under a white fur hat. “I tested a few girls, including Patti, and it just wasn’t working great,” he says. “So I called Candace to come in, and her eyes made it work. I probably could have tested 500 girls, and it only would have worked with Candace.”

The shot became the February 1980 cover, which won a national design award and propelled Playboy’s newsstand sales to a 12-month high. (Some of that surely had to do with the cover line: “Suzanne Somers’ Nude Playmate Test: Ten Glorious Pages of TV’s Hottest Sex Star.”)

By that time, some of the photographers urged Candace to leave Playboy for fashion modeling, where she could earn more money. She moved to New York and signed with the Wilhelmina agency. “I was there when Gia [Carangi] was there,” she says of the model, whose life and tragic death were memorialized in a movie starring Angelina Jolie. “There were knife marks all over this booker’s desk, where [Gia] would come in and just carve things in it. She was a nut, an edgy nut, but she was stunningly gorgeous.”

Sent to Spain, Candace did print ads for Burberry and a fashion spread in Vogue España. Friends took her to Salvador Dali’s house in Cadaques, where she dined with Dali, his wife—and his wife’s lover. “His wife was a known eccentric,” Candace says. “She came out with this massive red Betty Boop bow on her head and with her young boyfriend, who lived in the coach house. And we all sat at the table like civilized people.”

Back in the United States, a swimsuit-clad Candace dominated a four-story billboard in Times Square—an ad for JVC—and won a part as a call girl in Risky Business. During filming in Chicago, Tom Cruise kept to himself, but Candace became on-set pals with Rebecca De Mornay, who insisted on having lunch with her every day. “I still get [residual] checks for that movie,” she says.

In 1988, a friend introduced her to Chuck Jordan, who co-owned an advertising agency on Wells Street. Although he had sworn never to remarry after his divorce 15 years earlier, he asked her to dinner several times. Candace, a regular at the Rush Street disco Faces, found him “too normal, too straight”—and turned him down. Finally, she granted him “a sympathy date,” she recalls. “We went out, and I literally slapped myself, thinking, How could I have missed a guy like this? I fell in love with him that night.” Chuck changed his mind about marriage—“She was quite a catch,” he explains—and they wed six months later. (Chuck, now 66, has an adult son, Charley, from his first marriage; Chuck and Candace did not have children.)

At 35, Candace had all but retired from modeling, and Chuck’s business allowed the newlyweds to travel and attend glitzy events. But certain Chicago society circles proved less accessible. “Lots of people objected to the fact that she was a Playboy model,” recalls Hazel Barr. “There was a lot of talk in the town, and I said, ‘What’s the difference?’ It hasn’t been easy for her, in some instances.”

* * *

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