As a young girl, Wendy Stuart Kaplan dreamed of both the stimulus of Manhattan and the enchantment of Africa. Her mother, a model and Miss America runner-up, was the inspirationfor her glamorous yin while a love of the exotic was her introspective yang. In She’s the Last Model Standing, Stuart Kaplan takes us from the Bronx to Nigeria to Studio 54 as she recounts a life where more is more.
Tell us how a Bronx childhood led you on the path to Africa. WENDY STUART KAPLAN: I’ve always been interested in things that were magical. Maybe it was a prophecy. There has always been something about the exotic and the different that turns me on. Growing up in the Bronx was fun, and I had great friends, but it was short on magic. My dream of going to Africa always dangled before me and when I got into college there was an opportunity to go there and study voodoo, so I took it.
How did you end up modeling and acting in 70’s and 80’s Manhattan? WSK: My mother wore her mink coat to shop at the Associated. She would line her lips with red lipstick, perfectly, and I heard stories all of my life about her modeling days. She modeled with Lucille Ball and Shirley Schrift, who went on to become Shelley Winters. I was fed stories of those early glamour days of modeling in New York. She sang in nightclubs during the Depression and was fifth runner-up at the 1935 Miss America pageant. We were invited to the Miss America pageant when I was about six years old and we got to ride on a float with the contestants, so I was totally sold at that point and bought the dream hook, line, and sinker.
[After I went to Africa,] I came back and started doing some print modeling and a bit of runway and even some fit modeling, which pays a little bit of money.
Share some of the highlights of your life as a young model/actress in New York. WSK: I remember standing outside Studio 54 in January, it was freezing cold and I was in some terrible dress and open-toed plastic shoes that were too high. Suddenly, Mark Benecke opened up the rope and said I could come inside. Once I got in, there was this older guy who looked very quirky and artistic and my friend said, “That’s Andy Warhol.” I put it together at that moment because I had seen a lot of pictures of him, and then lo and behold he started talking to me.
[Another] night that stands out in my mind was when Madonna came. [...] I remember her blonde hair and dark roots. She looked really slutty and sang a song called “Borderline” that was so completely tired and we thought this girl would never have a shot in hell of making it. It was less than a year later that she was everywhere.
Where have your life experiences brought you? WSK: Right now I’m working with the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival in New York and am an on-camera host. I’m getting to meet major players who are doing amazing things like Dr. Birute Galdikas who has lived with orangutans for 40 years. [...] Additionally, I’m working on a new project called Model with a Mission and it encompasses my love of wildlife, anthropology, modeling, and acting.
She’s the Last Model Standing is available on Amazon.com