Candace Jordan and I are standing at a bar, and a group of handsome men are looking our way. “You two look like trouble,” says one.
In my entire life, I don’t think a man has told me I look like trouble. But Jordan has been catching men’s eyes at least since December 1979, when she appeared—come-hither naked—as Playboy’s centerfold. (“If they paid me that much, I would do it myself,” her father said at the time.)
More recently, she has been attracting attention with her popular new blog, Candid Candace—a stream of chipper reports and photos from the city’s best parties. Suddenly, thousands more eyes are following her. Just the way she likes it.
Back to the trouble. “Oh, we are,” confirms Jordan, 55, to our admirers. Then she positions the men and snaps some photos with her palm-sized digital camera—shots that will appear on her blog along with the who-what-where of this launch party for the posh ShowPlace ICON Theater in the South Loop.
One of the gentlemen Jordan directs into place is a six-foot-three businessman, another a TV anchor, the third a documentary producer. Click! Next, she puts me between two of them. Click!
Later, she e-mails me the photo with the message, “Here you are with your future husbands!”
After watching Jordan at work and play over a four-week period, I have no doubt that she could get me wed to one, if not both, of those Adonis-like creatures. “Nothing is impossible for Candace,” says Helen Melchior, who sponsored her for the Joffrey Ballet women’s board. “You should see her fundraise.”
There are reasons a girl from a tiny railroad town in southern Illinois made two covers of Playboy, nabbed a part in the film Risky Business, married well and happily to an avowed bachelor, Chuck Jordan, and thrived in Chicago’s society circles. Like mountains so imposing that they create their own weather systems, Jordan is—as the restaurateur Jerry Kleiner, her longtime friend, put it—“a force.” (Others have called her just “pushy.”)
Now she’s imposing herself in a way that befits our webcentric age. With most cost-cutting newspapers axing their society columnists, the scene is being colonized by a new breed of chroniclers: bloggers who use the Internet’s warp speed to post party photos long before glossy society magazines such as CS and Michigan Avenue can publish theirs. Like David Patrick Columbia with his New York Social Diary, Jordan is making Candid Candace this city’s go-to webpage for those who want to see themselves being seen. “I have people calling me saying, ‘How do I get on Candid Candace?’” says the society doyenne Hazel Barr. “It’s become the thing to read.”
With 361,000 page views in November alone, the blog was the fourth most popular that month on ChicagoNow.com—the website that’s home to Candid Candace and some 150 other Chicago-themed blogs. “She’s filled a vacuum, and she’s smart,” says the Chicago Sun-Times columnist Bill Zwecker. “[She writes] nothing nasty, and so, of course, everyone invites her to all the events.” (The blog is at ChicagoNow.com/candidcandace. ChicagoNow.com is owned by Tribune Company, which also owns Chicago.)
If Jordan appears in many of her blog’s photos, well, modesty isn’t what it used to be: Housewives can earn six-figure salaries for their reality antics, and the meek don’t seem to be inheriting much at all in this era of self-aggrandizement. Anyway, Jordan is an extrovert with irrepressible energy—“like a jumping bean,” says Kleiner. She couldn’t play the wallflower if she tried. “Everyone’s talking about her,” Kleiner adds. “If Candace is there, it must be a good party.”
Tonight’s was. As we drive away from the ICON, up LaSalle Street in a silver stretch limo, the owner of our posh ride—a new pal of Jordan’s—pours Russian vodka into crystal glasses. “No thanks, I have to be careful,” Jordan says. Tomorrow is almost here—another dawn, another day, another party.
“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:
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.”
Recently, Jordan’s blatant bid for the TV spotlight has raised eyebrows. This past May, when Bill Zwecker’s Sun-Times column reported that Chicago-based Towers Productions was casting for a Real Housewives–like reality series, “it couldn’t have been more than my third e-mail that I heard from Candace,” says Towers’s casting director, Becky Cattie, laughing.
Then Jordan wrote a blog post imploring readers to lobby Cattie. (The post’s title: “Real Housewives of Chicago: Help me become one!”) “Next thing I know, at least five or six e-mails a day are coming in,” Cattie says. “It was like a week of bombardment. It became this big joke at the office: Who is this Candace girl? But it definitely made me think, Yes, this is a girl I have to meet.”
Ultimately, says Cattie, “I fell in love with her”—although she passed on Jordan for the series, which is now being shopped to networks. “I told Candace I think she needs to be on TV. I just have to find the right vehicle for her.” (More recently, Kurtis Productions called Jordan in for a two-hour meeting to discuss doing a show with her.)
Zwecker and CS printed subsequent articles about Jordan’s on-camera audition, which she blogged about on Candid Candace. So when I told a partygoer that I was following Jordan for an article, I wasn’t surprised when she sniped, “On what—how to become famous?”
“Most of the people I know who know her, love her,” Zwecker says. “But I’ve heard snarky remarks, people saying she is too pushy.”
For her part, Jordan says, “Pushy? I call it ambition. Without it, I’d probably still be in Dupo.”
“I think a lot of it is jealousy,” concludes Barr. “But she’ll win them over, because she’s so vivacious and a very good friend.”
Many have gone Team Jordan already. She is the vice president of the Joffrey Ballet’s women’s board. She also serves on boards for the chef Art Smith’s Common Threads, The Service Club of Chicago, and PAWS. “I love to tell the story of how I met her,” says Helen Melchior. “The Joffrey women’s board went to Miami to visit a dance company there, and we had a party. I walked up to this gorgeous woman I had never seen before and said, ‘Are you a member?’ And Candace said, ‘No, but I’m dying to be.’
“I loved her energy; I still do,” adds Melchior. When she had to hatch a new Joffrey fundraiser in 2006, Melchior chose Jordan as her co-chair. They concocted the now-annual soiree Couture & Cocktails. “We put it together in six weeks, and it was probably the most fun I’ve ever had,” Melchior says. “She loves life; she loves her friends; she’s married to a wonderful man; and she doesn’t take any of it for granted.”
Now Jordan is also documenting much of it. The blogging started about two years ago, when Sherren Leigh, owner of Today’s Chicago Woman, suggested Jordan blog for the magazine’s new website. “I had no idea what a blog even was,” says Jordan, who was the magazine’s fashion editor.
She left in 2008, but by then she realized that blogging was, well, her destiny. “I’ve always been a photojournalist,” she says. “Every trip, I’ve got thousands of videos, and I would take a diary and update it every day. But I never thought there was an outlet for it.”
A friend helped her set up her own blog (she now e-mails it each Tuesday to 4,000 of her closest friends). She called it Candid Candace, she says, “because in Playboy, that’s what they called me, because I’m candid, very direct.”
She wrote about the parties she and Chuck—who retired after selling his ad agency—often attended. Some, such as her 50th birthday in St. Tropez, had been quite fabulous. “I’m very social,” she says. “Parties are what I know best.”
This past May, when ChicagoNow.com launched, it advertised for blogs to include on its site. “We got a lot of e-mails from people being told by Candace to write us,” says Bill Adee, the Chicago Tribune’s vice president of digital operations, with a wry smile. “But that was impressive. That’s a good sign, when a blogger tells people what to do, and they do it.”
Adee saw that Jordan’s party blog—which included photos of people like Jimmy and Patti Connors, with whom she had spent New Year’s Eve—filled a niche chronicling the celebrity-society nexus. “And even if she didn’t get a lot of page hits, I knew she’d be great to have around at our parties,” he jokes, alluding to ChicagoNow.com’s monthly cocktail gatherings.
The result: With invitations to sift through every day, parties to cover every night, and techno skills such as photo scanning and uploading to learn, this middle-aged woman is smack-dab in the midst of a modern rebirth. “It is, it is!” Jordan exclaims. “I’m busier now than I’ve ever been. My husband, poor thing—he’s slowed down, and I’m speeding up.”
Her blog at ChicagoNow.com earns her $5 per 1,000 page views. Mostly she covers Chicago shindigs, but her occasional jaunts elsewhere can garner impressive numbers: The January 3rd post about her and Chuck’s New Year’s Eve revelry at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles got 44,000 page views—including 23,000 the first three days it was posted.
Still, she says, “let’s just say I’m not going to retire on this.”
In 2003 and 2004, I wrote a society column for the Tribune, and I would often spot Jordan at benefits and luncheons. I never spoke to her much, yet I found myself both drawn to and bothered by her. It’s only now that I can put my finger on what bedeviled me so.
It was the audacity of hair.
That close-cropped, salt-and-pepper, shorter-than-her-husband’s coif. On some level, I probably found it brazen, a deliberate affront to the perfectly fine way every other woman in Chicago seemed to wear her hair: dyed, shoulder length, flowy (all the better to deflect attention from our aging faces). Like so many others, I suppose I was a little envious. “When she leaves the salon,” says her longtime hairdresser, Charles Ifergan, “all the women say, ‘Oh, I wish I could wear my hair like that.’”
More recently, as I leafed through Jordan’s scrapbooks of Playboy memorabilia and modeling shots, I came across another testament to her audacity. “That’s my life motto!” she said. Scrawled across a page were the words: “Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting, ‘Holy shit, what a ride!’”
“It’s been an exciting life,” Jordan reflects. “And it’s not over yet. That’s the scary part, my husband says!” And then she laughs—as usual.