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Jenny McCarthy's Dating Dame

How the bombshell beat the Catholic-school Heathers, posed for 'Playboy' and got 'Singled Out'

June 26, 2012 2:55 PM ET
jenny mccarthy rolling stone
Jenny McCarthy on the cover of 'Rolling Stone.'
Mark Seliger

This story is from the July 11th, 1996 issue of Rolling Stone.

You'd think that the life of Jenny McCarthy, former Playboy Playmate of the Year and co-host of MTV's dating show, Singled Out, would be one long beer commercial, filled with good friends! poolside high jinks! windsurfin'! Instead, to hear her tell it, McCarthy's life has been more like a Jackie Collins novel.

Part 1

Chances

As these novels invariably start out, McCarthy's early years were happy ones. The second of four look-alike sisters, she was raised in a "very middle, middle class" Polish neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. She remembers her tightknit block as "the kind you see on TV where kids play kickball on the street." Dad was a steel-company foreman who worked two other jobs to put the kids through school; Mom was a hairdresser. Jenny, a bubbly, outgoing girl, naively thought she was going to attend the neighborhood high school with all of her friends. Her parents had other plans: Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School, a moneyed, ultraconservative Catholic girls school across town. McCarthy, bearing the cross of being pretty and blue collar, was immediately shunned. "Let me tell ya, it was like Cell Block H," she says. "I'm not trying for sym-pathy, but as an example, for your birthday, the girls would decorate your locker and put Dunkin' Donuts inside. Well, every birthday I would miss school. Everybody knew it was my birthday, and nothing would be there." Occasionally, McCarthy's classmates would enlist male friends to call Tony, her boyfriend. "They'd say, 'I fucked Jenny last night,' " says McCarthy, whispering the F word. Or the girls "would take my maxi pads out of my purse as a practical joke and tape them all over the school and write my name in lipstick in the middle of them."

An eternity passed, and it was time for graduation. "I remember walking up to get my diploma," says McCarthy, "and there was no applause except my little mom and dad. I wanted to say, 'I've been nothing, nothing but nice. I've given you my heart, and you've given me... coal.' "

Free at last, McCarthy headed for Southern Illinois University. After two years she ran out of money and tearfully returned home to work in a Polish grocery store, "slicing meat and smelling like a big Polish link." "I've got to get out of here," she thought. She tried local modeling agencies. "There's no way you will ever model," said one rep. "You look like you work in a bar." Dejected, McCarthy started for home. Now what? "I was walking down the street," McCarthy says, "and I looked up."

The Playboy building.

Fifty guys, 50 girls. It doesn't sound like many people. Yet in the Los Angeles studio where the first shows ofSingled Out's third season are being taped, the room is seething, boiling with kids. They're here to compete for a date with a member of the opposite sex, known as the Picker. To do this, they will answer various up-gross-and-personal questions and perform such stunts as belly dancing and butt-cheek basketball.

Commandeering this ship of fools is 23-year-old Jenny McCarthy. Blond, blue-eyed and suffused with the energy of a 2-year-old in critical need of Ritalin, she is the perfect host of Singled Out. As she puts it, "I'm not trying to be a supermodel up there. In fact, I make a complete jackass out of myself." She yells her lines. She mugs for the camera in a way not seen since Uncle Miltie. She pummels the male contestants. She's superapproachable, creating the illusion that shemight even date you!Yes, she may be a babe, but she can also hoist a coupla Red Dogs with the fellas.

Jenny McCarthy is poised to take her place in the thin blond line of teen fantasy objects that stretches back at least as far as Jean Harlow. MTV may cast her in a sitcom. She's fielding movie offers. A recent Internet tally reveals that McCarthy is No. 2 on a list of the people whom users want information about. Pamela Anderson Lee is No. 1 Madonna is No. 6.

Onstage a not-altogether-healthy energy is building as a sideburned announcer, standing next to a board marked Body, Nose, Hair Length, Intelligence, Commitment and Body Hair, further riles up the twitching, hooting contestants. "Remember to be very animated!" he says unnecessarily. "So! We have a new thing called a redemption ticket! Can I have six guys stand up!" A group duly rises – among them a Teva-sandaled surfer dude, a recently goateed Hootie fan and a sullen cool guy with an interesting sunglasses-on-baseball-cap ensemble.

"OK!" shouts the announcer, pointing at one guy. "You won the ticket! Even if you're not happy, be happy! Everybody say, 'Make believe!' "

"Make believe!" they shout lustily.

"Then you come over here," says the announcer, "and Jenny McCarthy's going to be there to greet you!"

A deafening cheer goes up.

Off to the side of the stage, McCarthy, wearing high heels and shiny blue rubber pants, is chatting with her co-host, stand-up comedian Chris Hardwick. Soon she'll kick off the show in the middle of the Pit, surrounded by the aforementioned 50 guys. "Usually they're crowded around me and pressing up against me," she says, "and it's so hot. You'll feel their eyes undressing you. They'll fart. That has happened so many times."

McCarthy, who has a fear of public speaking, remembers her first time in the Pit: "I was scared, and because I was so polite, they were abusing me. I realized I had to stand my ground. I said, 'Listen, move your ass before I kick it.' Then they respected me and didn't abuse me anymore – like push me or make fun of me." Once, however, McCarthy was closed in on and felt up by many hands: "I was saying, 'Security! Security!' into the microphone." She says the recent gay version of Singled Out was very... freeing. "It was so nice not to feel that pressure," she says. "The guys all wanted to be reincarnated into me." She pauses. "Although from the girls I got the same vibes as guys."

Understand that the reason most people are here is that it is fun. Only about half of the winners actually go on dates. ("Yesterday a girl was about to face her date," says McCarthy, "and she was whispering, 'Is he cute? Just tell me if he's cute.' I said, "Well, he's really sweaty.' ") After 130 shows, only 13 couples are still dating.

Basically the kids come to gaze at McCarthy, glom freebies and schmooze. "I gave my card out to a few people," says Michael, 23. "I came here because of the positive energy, everybody laughing and, well, Jenny."

"On this show, the big question is, 'You havin' sex with Jenny?' " says Hardwick, who in all probability is having sex with his girlfriend, Jacinda, from the London cast of The Real World. "That or, 'You havin' sex with contestants?' Next comes, 'What are you, gay?' Or they refer to Jenny by using a pronoun. They'll say, 'Hey! Can you hook me up with some of that?' As if she's a shipment of crank or something."

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