On her Data Sheet way back in January 1998, Heather Kozar told Playboy readers that one of her turn-ons is “surprises” and one of her turnoffs is “unappreciative people”. The Ohio beauty has nothing to complain about, with the news of her PMOY status serving both as a surprise (well, maybe to her) and as proof that there’s no one who doesn’t appreciate Heather.
For anyone who has never been on the set of a Playmate video or photo shoot – and sadly for the men of the world, this includes the vast majority of you – one of the great difficulties, at least for the newcomer, is to avoid staring. The videos are shot on film, which means there is a film crew, and they are often on location, where the notion of a ‘closed set’ is at times made arbitrary by the lack of walls. As I would discover over three days hanging around the Playmate of the Year video shoot, when Heather Kozar is the one in front of the camera, the situation is especially challenging. Men just wander in, even into unmarked buildings, as if they were being led by some sixth sense. You could shoot a Heather scene in a locked bank vault and the director would still have to stop at some point and yell out, “Can we please get this set cleared!”
When I first show up a couple of days into the shoot, the crew has just broken for lunch. Heather Kozar, recently named – but as yet unannounced – Playmate of the Year, sits at one of the industrial tables, surrounded by scruffy crew members. She is wearing a white hotel bathrobe and fluffy leopard-print slippers as she chows down with the rest of the crew. “It’s the director’s fault,” Heather says between bites of a fajita. “He told me to have lunch. But when I eat, I eat. He’ll be sorry. It won’t be pretty.” She bursts into laughter. That laughter, which returns frequently over the next several days (returning next when I take my first picture and Heather moves to cover up the hotel name on her robe, not wanting them to come after her for “borrowing it”, she says), is one of the things that makes Heather Heather. When she laughs, it is a raucous, infectious, slightly goofy laughter, and often at her own jokes. Laughing with Heather is like laughing with a pal, someone you could see hanging around with, which of course is the ultimate male fantasy: a woman with the personality of a friend, but the looks of a Playmate. Perhaps that combination begins to explain Heather’s meteoric rise at Playboy.
Lunch over, one would expect that the time has come to get down to business. And it has, only the business of the moment is not what one would hope for. Rather than watching heather work (for purely reportorial purposes, of course), I am instead watching the paint dry. And not as in the expression, that cousin of “watching the grass grow”. I really am. We all must stand around as the studio floor, freshly painted for the new scene, dries. The activity represents a common surprise to anyone new to the behind-the-scenes world of the glamorous entertainment industry: There is lots and lots of down time. However, the break does provide some time to catch up with Heather. Seated in her personal chair and flipping through a book of George Hurrell portraits, Heather talks about the tornado of PMOY activity that has just swept her up, like Dorothy out of Kansas.
It all started late one night near the close of an evening with Hef and the rest of the gang. There had been a good dinner, followed by drinks at a couple of Hollywood clubs. The party continued back at the Mansion, and it was there that Hef could no longer keep his secret. He didn’t come right out and say it then, but he told Heather that he had some exciting news and she got the idea. It was hers – Playmate of the Year. She was it. Heather felt like the world was opening up to her. “I love Hef and I love the company, and I just felt so excited that I was going to be able to represent Playboy at this next level,” she says. The only twist was that aside from her very closest friends, she couldn’t share her excitement with anyone. “That was the weird part. I’ve just had to tell everyone that I’m busy with regular Playboy promotions.” Really busy.
The first step on that "next level" was the PMOY pictorial. "The shoot went great. It was awesome," Heather says, looking gleeful at the memory. "They're going with 16 pages, more than Cindy Crawford." The tone is not at all competitive, merely awestruck, as if to say, "Can you believe it? Me, Heather Kozar, of Akron, Ohio?" Next up was the video. Heather and crew have already logged in multiple 12-hour days, and they have five more to go. After that, there are still voice-overs to record and a Playmate Review cover to shoot, and then things start getting really busy, with all that work promoting the magazine once the PMOY issue hits the stands. "Just when you think you're finishing, it's just getting started," Heather says with that laugh.
The paint finally dry, it's time for PMOY 1999 to go back to work. She disappears into her dressing room and reappears moments later totally transformed. The Midwestern girl with the big laugh has disappeared, replaced by a version of the century's most famous sex symbol. It turns out that the afternoon's scheduled shots all involve playing off of Heather's likeness to Marilyn Monroe. "I've gotten that my whole life, 'You look so much like Marilyn,'" Heather says, "so it's fun to finally do it up, with a makeup artist and costumes." Surrounded by lights, stacks of film canisters, that director's chair with her name on it and a clapboard, Heather shoots a flirtatious scene. It's not as easy as the finished product will make it look. As the director points out, "Probably the hardest part about this for Heather is that there is no dialogue, so she's acting, but it's silent. But Heather brings a talent to this that makes it a lot easier."
He adds, "What these videos are is actually hard to define. They're part movie, part rock video, part commercial and part something else entirely." Accordingly, it's hard to define what talent is being called upon, only that Heather has it, to the point that her recurring night-and-day transformations remain startling. One minute she has the robe wrapped around her and is cracking jokes while slugging back a cup of coffee, and then, as "Action" is called, she hands off the coffee, the robe falls, and she simply lights up for the camera.
If she is ever at a loss for something to do, there is always what she calls "the move." Starting with her hands out to her sides, she brings them in and sweeps them up her thighs, over her breasts, along her neck and onto her face. It is a move as practiced as the hand flourish of the spokesmodels on The Price is Right, but a thousand times sexier. Heather laughingly confesses that all Playmates know "the move."
The final scene of the day turns out to be Heather's biggest challenge of the shoot. The idea is to capture the ultimate Marilyn moment, namely the scene from The Seven Year Itch in which Marilyn plays with a subway vent breeze as it lifts up her skirt. So in this scene it is not enough for Heather to look like Marilyn – and everyone on set can't get over how strong the resemblance is when she's in the white dress – but she has to act like her, too. As the director repeatedly calls out for Heather to do more of what she is doing and make it bigger, you can see in her face the look of someone who is fighting back frustration.
"I'm very hard on myself," Heather explains later. "I wouldn't say that if people close to me hadn't said so, too. When something doesn't feel right, I get that way. And it especially happens in a situation like that, where I have to imitate someone else."Adds Marty, the makeup artist specially hired to do the Marilyn look, "Part of Marilyn is over-the-top, and Heather had a little trouble with that. She thought she was making a fool of herself. But she tried really hard and actually got it, she got the essence." Incarnating Marilyn Monroe in front of a jaded Hollywood film crew is a long way off from the young woman who, according to one of the first Playboy representatives to meet Heather, was so shy that she looked down at her hands while talking with new people.
Heather's ascension began with a relatively inauspicious audition for Playboy's Book of Lingerie in a Cleveland barbershop ("I had never taken my top off in front of any strangers," Heather confirms). But that simple beginning quickly became something bigger. Not only did the audition lead to shooting for the BOL, but her layout started off the issue. Next there was a call to shoot a Newsstand Specials cover, and shortly after that a call to come in for a Playmate test. She obviously landed the Playmate slot, and now Playmate of the Year, all for someone who wasn't at all confident that she would get to model. Heather credits exactly this Midwestern and somewhat shy beginning for her success: "Being from the Midwest, being grounded, being real, taking the time to talk with people – when you do those things, people want you to succeed."
Two days after the Marilyn shoot, I return to find Heather in the midst of a completely different challenge. The crew has set up in a legendary Hollywood hotel, creating an elegant party scene with the help of a crowd of extras in tuxedos and gowns. Heather, of course, is the belle of the ball. She wears a beautiful, low-cut gown, the sort of dress that would make Cinderella weep and has Heather telling tales of her high school prom, a sweet story about spending half her teenage savings back in Ohio on her own, much less successful prom dress. The culmination of the day's shoot takes place behind the closed doors of one of the hotel's suites. In it, one of the partygoers fantasizes that this PMOY vision is his companion at the end of the night, which is a roundabout way of saying Heather has a love scene. "I wouldn't exactly call it a love scene!" Heather says, laughing, when I use the expression. But she admits to being more than a little bit nervous. "It's been so long since I've kissed someone new, I'm not sure I'll remember how."
I watch as Heather, along with the director and Gerald, the male model who drew the short straw for this tough duty, choreograph how the scene will unfold. Between throwing Gerald on the bed, tauntingly partially stripping for him, yanking his clothes off and finally jumping on him, there is no mistake about who is in control of this fantasy. "I think guys like it when the woman takes control," Heather says. "It's fun." And then just when the camera is about to roll and they are going to start shooting for real, the director clears the set of nearly everyone, including any Playboy Online reporters.
One other unusual thing about these Playboy video shoots is that, because of the unique nature of the videos, it's hard to imagine what this will all look like once assembled. In addition to what we have seen so far, we have also heard about a sexy sequence of Heather as Red Riding Hood ("I was busting out of that costume," Heather giggles), plus location shoots at a car wash and a firehouse. There are also elements from her top-secret pictorial shoot that will make it into the video, which, according to Heather, include black satin, a bar, a tiger-skin rug and soap bubbles. Add all that in with Marilyn Monroe and this fantasy party scene and it's hard not to be optimistic about the final product. Explains the director, "We keyed off the small-town girl coming to the big city, coming to Hollywood and succeeding."
A day after the party scene, I go back for more. This time the crew has set up in a different studio, this one with lots of windows, which fill the studio with natural light. Not surprisingly, light plays a big part in the day's shooting. Heather, as usual, is laughing.Today's scenes all revolve around heat. Marty is on hand to spritz Heather with water, and the crew has put orange gels over the lights for a height-of-summer look. But the real factor for the seeming warmth in the studio is Heather. Whether she is drinking a glass of lemonade, or standing naked as money rains down on her, it is the moment Heather turns on that look that sends the suddenly parched crew members toward the cooler for cold drinks. It is also that look which once again brings men mysteriously wandering into the studio. It is on this day that the director is almost constantly calling for the set to be cleared."I'm not comfortable when people stare at me when I have clothes on," Heather points out, "so why would I be when I'm naked?"
One of the men who may have been surprised to have his temperature thrown off by Heather Kozar is the guy who rode her brand new BMW motorcycle to the set. The bike is to be used in a scene at the end of the day, and Heather is thrilled to see it. Talking about the bike segues into talking about her new Shelby Cobra car, both of which she receives as part of her PMOY payoff. Referring to the car as "a racing machine," Heather goes on to list all sorts of statistics about what makes the vehicle so badass. She is planning to keep the car at a racetrack near Las Vegas so that she can drive it the way Carroll Shelby intended. For driving around Los Angeles, she'll keep her Corvette, though even that, she says, is too much car for L.A.'s potholed streets.
Which all brings us back to where we started. This woman, who can stop men in their tracks taking a sip of lemonade, is talking about cars with the passion of a 15-year-old kid on the eve of getting his license. Once again, she demonstrates a side that is more friend than sex symbol. The easy laughter, the Midwestern values, the Marilynesque packaging – they are Heather Kozar's winning combination.