Updated 03/07/23. Playboy January 1969. Playmate of the Year Contest. Winner: Connie Kreski. Anthony Newley. James Caan.

Paige’s photo appears in the January 1969 issue of Playboy magazine. It’s also the 15th anniversary issue of the massively successful magazine and empire. The issue shows all 12 Playmates of 1968, a brief update accompanies each one.

The contestants are in the running for the soon-to-be-named Playmate of the Year 1969. The Playmate of the Year was a big deal. A higher status title than Playmate of the Month obviously, it meant more photos, more publicity and more money.

Connie Kreski

The winner was born Constance Kornacki in Wyandotte, Michigan. She grew up in a strict Polish Catholic family.

She became a Michigan nursing school student and then a Playmate as Connie Kreski in January of 1968. Around the same time she moved to London and met singer/songwriter Anthony Newley.

Connie appeared to look much younger than her 21 years. This is why Anthony Newley cast her in his 1969 film “Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?”

Cincinnati Enquirer Sept. 8, 1968

Connie plays Mercy, Anthony is Heironymus and his wife Joan Collins plays his wife in the film named Polyester Poontang. It was pretty much a flop and skewered by the critics.

Los Angeles Times May 15, 1969

Connie Kreski met another powerful man in London and began dating him: Hefner’s partner and close friend at Playboy: Victor Lownes. Lownes was head of the Playboy Club and casino in London during the Swinging Sixties.

Detroit Press Nov. 17, 1969 BetteLou Petersen celebrity column.

Well known to those who have read some 1960s social history, Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate had their wedding reception at the London Playboy Club in 1968; Lownes, Hefner and Polanski were close friends.

Connie and Victor are seen together with several mourners at Sharon Tate’s funeral, on film footage seen on youtube.

Victor Lownes is the person seen in a famous photo holding up a collapsing Roman Polanski at Sharon Tate’s funeral.

Connie has about 10 TV and film appearances after “Hieronymus.”

She appeared as a guest on the Merv Griffin and Joey Bishop talk shows.

April 6, 1969. Long Beach Press Telegraph

She go-go danced on Laugh-In, was introduced on Playboy After Dark TV show by Hugh Hefner as “Connie Kreski, our Playmate of the Year.” Connie does not say one word the entire show.

She did have more lines on other episodes of PAD, mostly the ones from 1970, the last year of the program.

San Francisco Examiner Nov. 8. 1970 below

The People, London. Aug. 23, 1970

Valley Times Mar. 25, 1969

Kreski’s newspaper press indicates she was signed to a contract with Universal Studios.

Universal signed an extraordinary number of models, beauty contest winners and starlets in the 1950s and 60s.

After a few years Connie’s contract with Universal was dropped which merited one sentence in a Hollywood gossip column.

Connie Kreski late 1960s. Possibly London.

Detroit Free Press April 27, 1969

Connie appeared on a memorable 1970 episode of Love American Style starring Kaye Ballard, where she plays a topless waitress.

Her last credit is the mini-series Aspen from 1976.

Connie had a high profile romance with actor James Caan in the early and mid-1970s. She was identified in Hollywood news articles as his “girlfriend” and “ex-Playmate.” They got together fresh off Caan’s star making turn in the Godfather; he was much in demand by directors and studios. And by beautiful young women as well, according to several interviews at the time.

Playboy Mansion regular James Caan speaks about girlfriend Connie Kreski in NY Daily News Oct. 8, 1972

Below is from an early/mid 1970s Playboy feature on men’s jewelry with Connie and boyfriend James Caan.

It was determined that Connie Kreski died of cirrhosis of the liver at age 48 in 1995. Laennec’s is a cirrhosis most associated with alcohol abuse over time.

What happened in her life that caused it to end this way at the age of 45?

What happened to her friendships with Hefner and Polanski and that crowd? And James Caan?

Connie Kreski is rarely mentioned in any pop culture forum. I find that strange given the people that she was seen hanging out with.

Many of these people continue to generate attention and conversation. Some are still alive, many dead. Most recently, Connie’s ex and Playboy mansion regular and good friend of Hefner, James Caan passed away on July 6, 2022. His death drew numerous accolades and a film festival is in the works.

Unusually, Caan lacks a dedicated biography. This will likely be forthcoming.

Caan hadn’t been asked about Connie since the 1970s.

Like Paige Young, Connie’s cause of death

is incorrectly identified on the internet. It usually says “blocked carotid artery” or “cancer.” Connie’s entry in The Playmate Book, mentions her death in Beverly Hills, 1995, but doesn’t state a cause. I have included closeups of her death certificate.

Connie married Louis Edelman in New York in 1986 and they set up a marital home in Los Angeles/Beverly Hills.

Connie died in March of 1995 at age 49. She died before her about 10 years older husband, Louis Edelman.

Official cause of death for 1969 Playmate of the Year Connie Kreski.

I corresponded with Connie’s stepdaughter Barbara Cooper. She told me that Connie became pregnant and lost a baby boy (named Zachary) when she was 6 months along. This tragedy also occured in 1986.

Cooper told me that after the loss, Connie began an obsession with calorie counting and losing weight and on top of that she abused alcohol.

It’s no wonder then, that she died so young.

Barbara told me how consistently kind and sweet Connie was to her daughters and to everybody.

She said that Connie never talked about Playboy, Hefner, any of the Playmates, or her days in Hollywood.

More on Connie Kreski and her brief time in the spotlight

Sunday Mirror London. May 12, 1968
Chicago Tribune July 7, 1969. Tragically, Connie’s friend Sharon Tate unknowingly had about one month left to live when this was published.
Detroit Free Press Aug. 17, 1969

Family History#2. 1930s & 1940s. Great Depression. Peoria, Move To LA. Frank & Rose. the Marinellos. Radio City. Sunset and Vine. KNX. CBS. Tom Breneman. Jane Harker. Warner Brothers. Updated 03/04/2023

Frank LaRocca, brother of Diana’s grandfather and defacto father Ned, was a violinist and music director in Decatur, Illinois in the 1920s. His wife was named Rose. The rest of the family lived in nearby Peoria, Ill., where the children had grown up.

Decatur Daily Review Aug. 23, 1925
Part of an ad for the historic Avon theater in Decatur, Ill, where Frank LaRocca worked in the 1920s.

Mildred Marinello.

was a first cousin of Donna LaRocca, Diana/Paige’s mother. She was introduced in Family History #1.

Mildred and Donna lived next door to each other both in Peoria, Ill. in the 1920s and 1930 (see below) and later in Sherman Oaks, Ca. in the 1950s. She is listed as a witness at the Hollywood wedding of Donna to Robert M. Cotterell in 1940. See 1940s chapter.

In 1930, the year after the stock market crash of 1929, Joseph “Ned” LaRocca lives with his wife “Jeanette” and their daughter Donna as “Lodgers” at 206 Martin, in Peoria. This is the same address the LaRocca family had in earlier census records going back to 1900. In 1930, a Leana M Buckler is listed as Head of house. Next door lives Mildred, Donna’s first cousin, and her parents Anthony Marinello and Kathryn LaRocca Marinello, Ned’s only sister. They too were living with another family. It looks like Frank had already moved out to Los Angeles where he would die only 7 years later.

1931 and 32 Los Angeles phone directories list a Frank LaRocca and wife Rose in Los Angeles. The couple reside at 2303 Gatewood.

Ned, his wife Virginia LaRocca and their 9-year-old daughter Donna, join Frank and Rose in Los Angeles by 1934. The family moved into a house located at 2234 Shoredale Ave. It’s located about two blocks away from Frank and Rose on Gatewood.

Virginia LaRocca voter’s registration shows that the family was in LA permanently by 1934. Virginia started to be listed as a Republican by the 1940s.

Ned and Virginia had performed their vaudeville acts in the Los Angeles area many times in the teens, 1920s and early 1930s; so they had familiarity with the area, as well as both having siblings already living in there.

The Shoredale and Gatewood houses were in a neighborhood very close to Elysian Park, the LA River and Riverside Drive, well before “the 5” freeway was built.

 Brothers Frank and Ned LaRocca are listed as “music teachers” in the LA phone directory in the mid1930s. 

1937: According to his death certificate, Frank is admitted to Methodist Hospital with peritonitis/perforated duodena. After one week in the hospital, Frank dies, having contracted pneumonia two day previous.

Frank is buried in his home town of Peoria, Illinois.

His find-a-grave page includes an obituary from the Peoria newspaper. It states that brother Ned LaRocca lives in LA and is a harpist in a “Hollywood radio orchestra.”

The LAT obituary is below.

Los Angeles Times Jan. 7, 1937. Widow Rose remained in the Gatewood house for decades. Her death records indicate she died in Glendale, 1977.

In the late 1930s, A “Radio Row,” was forming along the section of Vine Street between Hollywood Blvd. and Sunset Blvd.

A sensational Streamline Moderne building was the new west coast headquarters of NBC radio and opened in 1938. Architect was John C. Austin. Austin was also architect of the Griffith Park Observatory along with Frederick M. Ashley.

*Below, I’m attributing radiocityhollywood.com below for several clear historic descriptions and explanations.

 

The National Broadcasting Company originally used the phrase Radio City to describe their studios at Rockefeller Center in New York City.  When NBC opened their new Hollywood studios at Sunset and Vine in 1938, they placed the words  Radio City prominently on the front of their new building.  However, the area between Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard on Vine Street became known as Radio City for tourists and locals alike who visited the many radio studios and radio themed cocktail lounges and businesses in the area.

radiocityhollywood.com

Veteran performing artist Ned LaRocca found a steady paycheck at both NBC and CBS.

CBS radio aka “Columbia Square” opens just down the street from NBC, also opened in 1938.

The website radiocityhollywood.com describes vividly what must have been a fascinating “scene”overflowing with human activity; all the types of people who had a requirement, a desire, or both, to be there, from the employees, their friends and families, tickets holders, which includes tourists from near and far, big wigs in the industry, interns, janitorial staff, professional radio performers including musicians like Ned LaRocca.


Architect is Swiss-born William Lescase. CBS Columbia Square is the official moniker. The legendary Brittingham’s Restaurant existed in Columbia Square. This building and NBC were major tourist attractions in 1938 on through the 1940s In Los Angeles.

This building is the new home to KNX Radio, where Ned LaRocca performed.

Old postcard when these spectacular buildings were brand new. Ned LaRocca worked at both.
Description on back of postcard.
Radio Room cocktail lounge on Radio Row in Radio City Hollywood 1940s. Bowling alley and coffee shop next door. Lots of neon which Los Angeles was becoming famous for.

A block away, the Columbia Broadcasting System opened it’s new modern studios at Columbia Square.  Across the street, on December 26, Earl Carroll opened his premier nightclub and restaurant, with the glamorous neon sign proclaiming, “Through these portals pass the most beautiful girls in the world.”

The National Broadcasting Company, after moving from New York to San Francisco, opened its’ new Moderne studios at the intersection of Sunset and Vine in Hollywood, California.

The Hollywood Palladium opened two years later between NBC and CBS, with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, featuring band singer Frank Sinatra. Across Vine Street, on the northwest corner of Sunset and Vine, sat Music City and Capitol Records, operated by bothers Glenn and Clyde Wallich.

radiocityhollywood.com
San Fernando Valley Times July 1938

The radio industry in Los Angeles, and the world I imagine, was at its’ zenith from the late 30s through the 1940s. This era was short lived. Television would soon replace radio as the mass entertainment medium of choice. (1950s)

Film-noirish look at Sunset & Vine. Found on the internet. NBC on the right. 1940s. Capitol Records on the left, before the iconic new location, the “Stack of Records” building, was built at 1750 Vine St. by Welton Becket and Assoc. (Opened in 1956)

Vintage postcard. Famous Earl Carroll theatre across the street.
Back of postcard

The American Broadcasting Corporation set up shop a few doors north on Vine Street.  Up the street was the Radio Room, Club Morocco, Mike Lyman’s and the famous Tom Breneman’s Breakfast in Hollywood restaurant. Even further up Vine, just before Hollywood Boulevard, Clara Bow operated her restaurant, the It Cafe.  Across the street,  south of the Boulevard, was the world famous Vine Street Brown Derby, more restaurants and bars, and at Selma Avenue, the RCA building. Further south, at the end of the block, at the intersection of Vine Street and Sunset Boulevard stood the radio flagship studio, NBC Radio City.

It was a glorious year, 1938, for Hollywood and for radio. And, while NBC called their new studios Radio City, the entire area became famous across America and around the world.

Radio City Hollywood website.

Tom Breneman broadcast his popular show “Breakfast In Hollywood” from his restaurant on Vine off Sunset Blvd. I’ve listened to a few of his radio broadcasts on youtube, and Breneman often asks the audience members “where are you from?” It seems like they are a combination of locals and out of state visitors.

Tom Breneman’s Hollywood Restaurant.
Known as the “Mayor of Encino,” Tom’s family in the 1940s.
1948 Taken from NBC. No more Tom Brenamen! Sadly he died suddenly in 1947. KECA TV moved in. Television’s explosion into American homes would happen soon but not quite yet in 1948.

Ned LaRocca continued to work at NBC and CBS throughout the 1940s and made an important contact with Leith Stevens, conductor and composer.

Studio 1 CBS Close up of harpist in the Wilbur Hatch Orchestra 1940-41 Photo by “Dick” Whittington Studio. Could the harpist be Ned LaRocca?

1938, 1939 & 1941 LA phone directory, Joseph LaRocca is listed as a musician and living at 3834 Evans.

1938 Los Angeles directory.

Late 1930s Los Angeles directory. Joseph’s sister-in-law Rose, widow to his brother Frank, is a factory worker this year. One year she was a cook and another year a seamstress. Biagio LaRocca may be a family member, he was also listed in the Oakland directories in the late 1920s, along with Ned LaRocca.

Donna LaRocca had another female cousin named Mary Jane Harker. She was born two years after Donna and had short lived fame in the 1940s. She was contracted to Warner Brothers studio for about 2 years before getting married and leaving LA.

.Jane Harker was the daughter of Josephine and George Truman Harker. I write more about them in Family History Part #1.

From a Scandinavian ? Hollywood stars and starlets were promoted overseas through these type of magazines.

The information about Jane Harker that you see on websites like imdb is incorrect. I’m attempting to officially get the record straight.


Salt Lake City Tribune July 19, 1945. Paige Young’s 2nd cousin. Name would eventually get shortened to Jane
.

Daily Calumet, Chicago. May 18, 1946.

I have a lot of material collected about Jane Harker if anyone would like to collaborate on this project contact me.

Warner Brothers Starlet Jane Harker in a publicity pinup shot by Hollywood photographer Wellbourne.
Jane Harker in a publicity pinup shot by famous Hollywood photographer Wellbourne.

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