Deborah Nicolle Johnson is moving along the sidewalks of New York, singing, "Oooh wah, oooh wah, bebop ditty / Talkin' 'bout the girl from New York City." "Maybe you could work that into the title of the Playmate pictorial, hey? Well, if not the title, how about the opening paragraph?" Consider it done. Heads are turning, and Miss October is literally stopping traffic. A 14-year-old boy stops in his tracks and shouts, "You are a real woman. The rest are imitations."
Debi laughs, then chides herself for reacting. "It's hard living in this city. I get lots of comments. I try not to react. If you say the right thing, they come after you. If you say the wrong thing, they come after you. I have never learned how to flirt. If I see something I want, I go after it. But I listen. I guess I'm still insecure. When you stop hearing compliments, it means you're dead." Where were we? Oh, yes, talking about the girl from New York City. "Well, originally, I'm from Torrance, California. My father was a hod carrier. I grew up with a lot of love, in a very protected atmosphere. I have three brothers. Two are policemen; the third is a Marine Corps drill sergeant. They used to sit on the front porch, cleaning their BB guns, when my dates came over."
After high school, Debi got a job as a flight attendant with TWA. "I saw all of the United States, plus Mexico, the Bahamas, Aruba; you name it. What no one realizes is that the job is very lonely. You spend a lot of time in hotel rooms, exhausted." She changed careers to selling children's clothes, and now her days are filled with people.
"I make customer contacts, do line presentations and take orders. Then I usually go to the health club. I follow a rigorous workout schedule: 45 minutes of talking, then 15 minutes of exercise." She laughs. "No, I really do exercise, but it's very social. I like to jog and to ride my bicycle through Central Park. Then, depending on my mood, I will eat, shop or take a long walk. I love to watch people, and the Upper West Side is the best theater in town. Every now and then, I see stars from soap operas. I'm so curious, I look to see what they're eating or what they're buying. I know it's silly, but I can't help it." Has she ever considered an acting career? "No, not really. You know what I'm really interested in? Make-up and special effects. When I saw The Exorcist and the rest of the audience was throwing up and screaming, I was asking myself, 'How are they doing that?' When the arrow went through the guy's chest in Friday the 13th, it was terrific.
I went out and bought some books that explained how such effects are achieved." The conversation turns our thoughts to lunch. We ask Miss October if she can recommend any great New York restaurants. "I'm not one for great food," she responds. "Give me a hamburger any day. Or frozen yogurt. I'm a fool for frozen yogurt. I could spend all evening at some of those sidewalk cafés -- watching and being watched." We ask Debi what made her audition for Playmate. "I saw an ad for the 30th Anniversary Playmate Search and thought, What the hell. I can still remember the day Robert Fowler passed a copy of Playboy around the classroom. My nickname back then was Lurch. I took a look at the Playmate and thought for sure I would grow up to look like that. If Robert is still out there, reading this, hi. It was worth the wait. This has been an incredible experience for me." And for the rest of us. We watch her leave. She walks down the streets with the same energy John Travolta had in Staying Alive. Heads turn. People talk about her, the girl from New York City.
---- Photography by Pompeo Posar
To travel and experience as much of the world as possible.
Roses, diamonds, champagne, summer nights, being treated like a lady.
Needles or any kind of shots, humidity, being rushed.
Strawberries, quiche, tortellini alla panna, veal marsala, cheesecake and a good hamburger.
The French Riviera.
Ann-Margret, Dan Fogelberg, Donald Fagen, Lionel Richie.
To have been honored with the title of Miss October.