John Lennon Begged For My Autograph
By Rosemary Grayson
(Ed. Note: It’s been said that some of the most interesting people in the world are right here at Lakeside—and Ms. Grayson is a prime exhibit. At one time, she and her husband managed a zoo in London; later she became an executive with a multi-national corporation, then a TV anchor, Justice of the Peace, successful journalist and ultimately a British magistrate. However, she is (perhaps) best known for being the first Playboy Centerfold when the magazine initiated a British version in October 1964. Fifty years and counting! She moved to Lakeside in early 2012.)
“If you don’t swing, don’t ring,” is famously written in Latin on Hugh Hefner’s door. After a swift translation, thanks to a classical British education, I rang just the same. A disembodied voice asked who I was and who sent me. In deepest BBC Received Pronunciation, I gave my name and said Playboy Magazine had done the honors. Thinking I was in London, their receptionist refused me his telephone number but gave his address. I had sweated in the Chicago Greyhound bus station phone kiosk with my case stowed in a locker. The taxi dropped me outside “The Mansion” in North State Parkway.
An enormous oak paneled door swung open and I was in. Well, not quite. You see the western world’s biggest playboy has very special security. It was not what you’d think. This gorgeous big black lad was wearing a white wig, buckled shoes plus doublet and hose. He opened the door. The pantomime clearly started now. Passing a suit of armor, which was mercifully silent after the speaking bell, I was shown into a vast windowless clock-free ballroom.
After that triumphant door stepping, I seemed close to nailing my story. Here was the ace reporter bringing back a major scoop to little old England. At 20, smitten by scoring top points in the media with a super hot exclusive, I had this cracking number lined up. I was on a student bus ticket in the USA at 99 dollars for 99 days. There was a waft of pipe tobacco, strangely not sulphur, and he walked in.
‘I’m Hef,’ he said. It was 2.30 pm. He was in a stylish silk paisley dressing gown and pajamas. I got the interview. He gave me his direct phone number. I politely refused his offer to pose for the centerfold and scurried away.
A month later, days before catching the student flight back from New York, I was in a hotel room with another British student. I had had a drink. She dared me ring. The next thing I knew I had arrived at O’Hare Airport to be met by a sleek limousine. Driven by a lovely black chauffeur, it had a white telephone in the back, all courtesy of guess who?
With test shots in the bag after a hilarious few days at the Mansion, I concentrated on studying in England. Hef and I negotiated on the phone about when I could make it back to do the photo shoot. Naturally it was agreed to fit my schedule. His name came through the loud hailer in the college coffee bar. It meant nothing to the pimply multitude.
It was October 1963. I was in my second year Honors Degree at Exeter University, in Devon. J. K Rowling of “Harry Potter” global fame is a fellow alumnus. Meanwhile, all I could see were my massive headiness in the South Westerner, our weekly undergraduate newspaper. My idea was to run it as an interview with one of America’s up and coming millionaires. No one had heard of Hugh Hefner in the UK. By October 1964, his name was everywhere. So it seemed was my topless centerfold photograph as a fledgling career graduate trainee for Procter and Gamble just started.
Aghast, I walked into a London news agent to see wall-to-wall Playboys. Then a man in front of me opened one up and there I was. Surely bad taste to whisper, “I’m behind you.” Oh, and they had given me a new name, Rosemarie Hillcrest. I had put my foot down about using my real name, you understand.
So in good print tradition, the multimillion dollar Playboy Corporation used a local girl. I had turned up at just the right moment to launch the London Playboy club and Playboy Magazine big time in Britain. By contrast, my timing was appalling when proudly presented to The Beatles. Jetting back from the US, they had pored over the October 1964 issue. I too had been in the US with no grasp of their meteoric rise. Travelling, I spared myself US TV, newspapers or radio.
Just into my graduate management training, came an invitation by a colleague’s father, the owner of the Kings Hall, to this new group’s debut concert in Northern Ireland. I happily pitched up. Vaguely, I wondered why I must step over fainting girls to get in. Ringo mouthed, “I told you she was British.” Then their press man diminutive, Derek Taylor, a Daily Express reporter and I plus a sulky pouting groupie were invited to join ‘the boys’ in their hotel suite. The staff formed a guard of honor. Still I didn’t get it. I concluded that not much happened pop-wise in Belfast at the time.
John Lennon begged me to autograph my centerfold shot. I graciously gave in to his request. I never thought to ask for his.
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