Charlize and me (the real story)

Former Playboy SA editor Jeremy Gordin writes on that time he crossed paths with the yet-to-be star in 1993


I recently came across something Bertolt Brecht apparently said or wrote: “He who fights, can lose. [But] he who doesn’t fight, has already lost.”

Being Brecht, he was doubtless referring to the struggle we should all unceasingly wage against Fascism and capitalism, and in my view the ANC. Fair enough. But one thing I noticed about Brecht is that, unfortunately for him and us, he died at the age of 58[i].

I, however, am now 70. So while I appreciate Brecht’s implied emphasis on maintaining the good fight, on keeping one’s anger simmering 24/7 and for as long as you live, and while in my earlier years I was an angry young person, I did find myself making up a little aphorism this week.

I immediately concede that it’s lame, but here’s how it goes: “There is less ire as you tire (and maybe anti-depressants also help)”[ii].

I was thinking that, as we grow older, many or at least some of us become less prickly, less inclined to be fahribbledfaribel being a lovely Yiddish word meaning a “grievance” or “grudge”. This character shift makes it more pleasant for others and for yourself to be around yourself.

It also explains why I was only mildly fahribbled that my friend and colleague David Bullard unashamedly leapt into the spotlight ...

Imagine Bullard, if you will, clad in a pink tutu, performing a balletic jeté (leap) à la Nureyev on the stage at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. (Sorry, I was absorbed for a minute by that image. Let me return to what I was writing.)

I was only mildly fahribbled that my friend and colleague DB unashamedly leapt into the spotlight a few days ago regarding Charlize Theron.

Although I know DB is perilously close to turning 70, as did Pres Frogboiler a week ago, and although I did notice some slight fraying of DB’s cognitive abilities regarding Covid-19 inoculations and suchlike, I must say that during our recent interactions – by mobile phone, WhatsApp and email – DB has seemed as on the ball and piquant as ever.

Could living in the Cape, where thanks to the DA the livin’ is easy, the fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high, and where one doesn’t have to be as constantly alert as we are in Gauteng, could this (I wondered) have blunted DB’s legendary acumen?

Might he be suffering from post-traumatic amnesia, one of the sad concomitant features of living in this land? (Have a look at what young journalists write; have a look at many so-called history books.)

For DB must surely remember that if there is one person left in Seffrica who knows (as it were), and has experienced, Ms. Theron in some detail – at, one might say, a formative period in her development – DB must surely recall that such a person is me.

Why then did he not mention me in his article? 


Now then, I know that you’d like me to get on and explain what I’m talking about, but if you’ll forgive me – and I’m sincerely sorry – there is one other observation about aging that has occurred to me.

As you move into your latter decades, it seems that many or some, or at least a few of us, become less inclined to equivocate or rationalise, especially about ourselves. Time simply feels too short to get into that labyrinthine gallimaufry.

And so, ten years ago and during the 60 years preceding that time, I would have suggested all sorts of reasons and rationalizations for my truly appalling academic record at high school and early years at university [iii].

Now, however, I would not do so; now I’m clear about things. I was a spoilt brat and bloody lazy. Finish en klaar.

I mention this by way of pointing out that, notwithstanding my terrible record, in high school I did okay in English, history and unexpectedly, in my matric year(s) at Damelin College (1969-70), I also performed not too badly at Afrikaans. I had lucked out by having a wonderful Afrikaans teacher. His name was Ian Raper; and it seems it still is, though until about three minutes ago[iv] I’d lost touch with what had become of him.

I believe his mother tongue was English, though I’m not certain, but he wrote and edited Afrikaans poetry, and also had been, if I have this right, a part-time Hell’s Angel – and, to cut a long story short(er), he simply bothered to spend some time with me after class, listened to my attempts at writing poetry, read me his poems, and thereby taught me to drink deeply of the Afrikaans language.

Within a few years, I was reading (or trying to read) NP van Wyk Louw, of whom Raper was (then) something of an acolyte. I see (it’s still on the bookshelf) that I even had a shot at reading Van Wyk Louw’s Liberale Nasionalisme (Tafelberg, 1971) [v] – me, a fire-breathing langharige hippie[vi] for whom everything that smacked of Afrikaans or Nationalism or the then government was anathema.


Sometime in 1993 I was appointed editor of Times Media Limited’s spanking new project – Playboy magazine (SA). It was a big deal – especially for me of course and I suppose there’s many an exciting tale I could tell. But let me uncharacteristically try hard to stick to the subject with which I’m supposed to be dealing.

My first major project was to find SA Playboy’s first playmate. This proved to be far more difficult than I’d thought it would be. It was 1993, remember, and finding young women, who had to fit Hugh Hefner’s formula [vii], and who were prepared to take off all their clothes was not so easy.

But one day a tallish and lissome young woman from Benoni, one Charlize Theron, dressed in jeans and a loose green tee shirt, showed up at my office. With her, she had her mother, who sat outside my office, while I interviewed Charlize.

Being not entirely foolish, I never interviewed a potential playmate alone, and besides (like ANC presidents), I liked to rule by apparent consensus, so deputy-editor Shona Bagley and art director Tracy Dossin were there too. (Very sadly both of these fine people and journalists have since died.)

Theron showed us her modelling portfolio – mainly her dressed up as a Marilyn Monroe lookalike (very elegant and fetching), I sketched our main difficulty (finding someone “suitable” who’d take off her all clothes), and also told her what her “prize” would be if she were picked as our first playmate: an all-expenses trip to Chicago, where the photoshoot would be held; R30 000 (if I remember correctly, and which wasn’t a little in 1993); and of course our undying gratitude.

Said Theron: “I know it’s difficult finding the right local woman to be a playmate. But I’ve been to the states, I know what Playboy is, and I’m not at all troubled by what I know is required of me.”

I saw, from the corner of my eye, both Dossin and Bagley nodding, and I bounded across the office to the publisher (who didn’t much like me, and vice-versa), saying “Bingo, I think we have the right person.” The publisher looked at the portfolio, came over to meet Charlize, then she and I met back in her office.

“No way,” said the publisher. “She’s got no breasts. She won’t pass muster with Hefner et al.”

I was disappointed and thought to myself that if I had brought in Marilyn Monroe herself, the publisher would have said no, simply because it was I who was making the introduction. But such was my lot; I had to get the publisher’s buy-in. She controlled the purse strings.

You probably haven’t ever been in the situation in which you have to say to a young person of the female gender that her mammalian protuberances and other physical charms don’t alas meet with specifications. Trust me, it’s very difficult, especially if you’re as shy and retiring as I am.

I started off, “Er, ahm, you see, er ...”. Without hesitation, Charlize said: “I know what the problem is,” and without further ado, whipped off her tee shirt, under which, perhaps needless to say, she wore no bra.

“Will this do?” she asked. If she’d wanted to, she could have said, “I rest my case,” but she didn’t have to do so. Gordin, Dossin and Bagley sat there with their mouths open – and later on, the publisher found herself well and truly outvoted.


The Punch Line: Charlize Theron never signed the contract to be the first South African playmate. She told me on the phone a week or so later that she’d received a better financial offer, including a trip to Italy, from some cosmetics house.


So what have we learnt, dear readers?

First, besides clearly being a damn good actor, I’d say it was already clear in 1993 that Charlize Theron is tough, resolute, and above all geared to do whatever is most profitable and satisfactory for Charlize Theron. Goody for her; I wish her even more luck and success.

Second, why did Theron make a throwaway comment about Afrikaans, her mother tongue, that has everyone in a tizzy? “There’s about 44 people still speaking it. It’s definitely a dying language ...”

Well, she does have a certain wit. Maybe she wanted to illustrate that Afrikaans is a “small” language in a big, wide world. (“O wye en droewe land,” as Van Wyk Louw put it.)

Or perhaps she’s been zapped by the PC bug and thinks that being silly about Afrikaans demonstrates her solidarity with those who say Afrikaans is the language of the oppressor. Or maybe as she heads towards her fifties, she’s scratching some of the scars of her troubled childhood.

Oh well, I wouldn’t worry about the comments of someone who’s an actor, albeit a fine one with an excellent chest. What after all does she know about Afrikaans and those who speak it?

Besides, I’d say – given all the material that’s surfaced in the wake of Theron’s odd moment – that Afrikaans is doing just as well as when I first made its proper acquaintance in 1969/70 and that, despite the attacks on it, it’s going to be just fine.

Here’s one of my favourite Afrikaans poems. It’s called “Puck” – as in a mischievous sprite, not the thing used in ice hockey – and it was written by Barend J Toerien. (There should also be a kappie on the “o” in the word Sondagmore.)


Die wind het opgekom die Sondagmore
my hare gekam dat dit gekrul het,
gepaddaspring oor die koringare,
my hemp gebol soos hy gewil het.

En toe kom jy na kerk verby
met ‘n Sondagstrek op jou gesig;
die wind het gerunnik, neergespring op jou af
en jou lang wye kerkrok hoog, hoog opgelig.


[i] According to Wikipedia, Brecht contracted rheumatic fever as a child, which led to an enlarged heart, followed by life-long chronic heart failure and “Sydenham’s chorea”. Obviously, this is not to be confused with the suburbs found in Joey’s, Durban or London.

Ah, London. Will we never escape the omnipresent, colonialist reach of Perfidious Albion? Though, btw, also according to Wikipedia, the animal dubbed in 2005 “The Beast of [London’s] Sydenham” was a large, panther-like black [sic] animal, which had been spotted around the area, and attacked a man. The beast was said to be 6 ft in length and 3 ft in height. Wakanda forever, I say!

[ii] © JF Gordin.

[iii] These rationalizations would have included: I was inadequately breastfed; some Afrikaans-speaking boys at the Brakpan swimming pool beat me up for being inter alia a bumptious Joodjie (which was probably true, though that’s surely not the point – anyway, I don’t have a faribel about it now); I not only had wiry curly hair during the Beatles era but definitely bore no resemblance to Mick Jagger; the quintessential Belle Dame sans Merci in my matric year at Damelin College (Annie H) never gave me a second thought; I despaired deeply at the World’s illiberality and penchant for war; my friends gave me far too much hash; I didn’t know (until I was about 55) that I was/am ADHD; and so on and so forth.

[iv] Ian Raper holds a master’s from Wits and a doctorate from RAU (now UJ). He taught for several years at English-medium schools in Johannesburg, namely Highlands North Boys’ High and Damelin College, before being seconded as a senior lecturer to the Johannesburg College of Education ... He later held a post at the University of South Africa and was recruited by the newly established University of Venda (professor, head of department and later dean). ... He has published a biography of opera legend Mimi Coertse: in English A Life to Sing and in Afrikaans ‘n Stem vir Suid-Afrika. He has compiled two anthologies and produced a volume of his own poetry, Oorlopers, published by Cordis Trust ... He owns Rosslyn Press Publishers.

[v] Which book, some might argue, was a prime example of a “giant rationalization” – but that’s a discussion for another day.

[vi]Jy,” some folk would shout at me on the main concourse of Johannesburg train station, “jy lyk soos jou ma maar jy pis soos jou pa”. Hate speech we call it now, don’t we?

[vii] A sort of Barbie doll look, I suppose. But about which Hefner remained very strict – he still looked at all the pics, from all over the world, even though his daughter was then running the company and he was lolling about in LA at the Playboy Mansion.