Born Mary Eileen “Mimi” Chesterton (nicknamed Mimi by her friends and family) in St. Paul, Minnesota, titian beauty Claudia Jennings was raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In 1966, she moved to Evanston, Illinois, the first suburb north of Chicago just south of the Wisconsin state line, where she graduated high school in 1968.
After joining the Hull House theater company in Chicago, she took a job as a receptionist at the offices of Playboy magazine in September 1968. Photographer Pompeo Posar asked her to test, and with a potential $5,000 check at stake — enough for a ticket to Hollywood — she agreed. She eventually appeared as a Playmate in November 1969, and later as 1970 Playmate of the Year. Re-naming herself Claudia Jennings to avoid family embarrassment due to posing in the nude, she became the most perennially popular Playmate of the 1970s, as well as the number one female star of “Drive-In” movies such as The Unholy Rollers (1972) and ‘Gator Bait (1973). Her first film role was with the film Jud (1971), a low-budget, socially conscious, independent film about a Vietnam soldier’s return home. While the film came and went without much notice, it encouraged Claudia to go into the acting business full time.
From 1970 to 1975, she lived with songwriter/producer Bobby Hart but, after their split, her personal life began to spiral. She began using drugs and soon got a reputation for being unreliable. As her cocaine use began to escalate, her career from this point began to flounder.
One of her last theatrical film roles was a co-starring part in the little-seen Canadian racetrack drama Fast Company (1979). After narrowly missing the role of Kate Jackson’s replacement on Charlie’s Angels (1976) to Shelley Hack in May 1979, she began a tumultuous relationship with Beverly Hills realtor Stan Herman. Following their split later that summer, Jennings turned her life around and tried to quit drugs and drinking, but sadly died before she could continue performing in better films. On the morning of October 3, 1979, she somehow fell asleep at the wheel of her VW convertible while on her way to pick up some of her personal things from Herman’s home in Malibu and collided head-on with a van on Topanga Canyon Boulevard. She died a few minutes later from massive external and internal injuries before ambulance paramedics could arrive and get her to a nearby hospital. She was 29.
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