The video: “867-5309/Jenny” by Tommy Tutone.
The girl-now-woman: Karen Morton.
I wish finding Karen was as easy as calling 867-5309.
And I wish she was here to see this interview publish.
But on 2/11/14, before I followed up on our August 2013 interview to ask a few more questions, Karen died.
A note from Facebook:
At approximately 3:10 p.m. PST, Karen Elaine Morton Forsey passed away at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Burbank, CA. Cause of death was allegedly organ failure as a complication of Karen’s long struggle with Stevens-Johnson syndrome. She passed quietly and without pain. Present were her family.
RIP, Karen. Though I knew you only shortly and from afar, it was clear what a good soul you were.
How old were you when you appeared in the “867-5309/Jenny” video?
Where were you living at the time?
With my husband Keith Forsey in Giorgio Moroder’s house in Los Angeles. [Keith] is British and we were living together a long time. There was a band called Sparks that I knew really well. They worked a lot in Europe. That’s how I met Giorgio.
What music videos, shows, or movies had you appeared in prior to that?
I was discovered in the produce section in a Von’s supermarket in Toluca Lake with my grandmother. I was tan in a white tank top. Someone asked, “Would you be interested in auditioning for Playboy?” [I thought about it.] My grandmother said, “Have you called those people back? Elaine [Karen’s cousin, a 1970 Playmate] did!” But she was a totally different circumstance, living in Burbank. She lives in Hawaii now. She works for the school district and travels a lot.
I was working with two modeling agencies. I got the “Jenny” interview through them. I did a video with Keith who did his own album at one time, “Take Me to the Pilot.” It wasn’t his thing but he did it. He always said “It’s all luck.” It went top 10 in France. I danced on The Sonny and Cher Show in high school.
How were you cast in “867-5309/Jenny”?
Interview. I actually did two videos on that album and one was with a girl from Saturday Night Live, a redhead whose name I don’t remember.
Do you remember what your reaction was when you were cast?
I didn’t know what I was going to do. I just went to do the job. I still have the dress—I just have to find it. But not the wrap that goes around it. I think it might’ve been my own dress.
What kind of music did you like?
I’ve always loved Led Zeppelin, Rod Stewart, the Stones. Seventies music. That was where my head was geared. I was a big fan of the Knack. All Billy Idol.
Where was the video filmed?
I don’t remember.
How long was the shoot?
Three or four days.
What was the hardest part of the shoot?
None. It was fun.
How was it to work with Tommy Tutone? What were they like? [NOTE: Tommy Tutone is the name of the band, not the lead singer.]
They were great. I guess I really only know Tommy [Heath, the lead singer] and one other. I knew everybody in Van Halen. [see below]
Any funny stories from the shoot?
I can’t think of any. I know we all had fun backstage, doing makeup. Backstage at Van Halen was off-the-wall.
[did not get chance to ask]
Anything go wrong on the “Jenny” shoot?
What did you think of the video?
I would do shows and turn the TV on when I was getting ready and say, “There I am!” I always remember putting my hand on the table. I remember combing my hair in that mirror. I didn’t know I would have to kiss that guy.
Yeah, it was probably my first video.
What did your parents think of it?
I honestly don’t think my parents had MTV. Or cable. I don’t think they ever did see it.
I don’t think so.
What did your friends think of it?
They were like “Wow.” Now friends call me when people karaoke it.
Have you ever seen someone karaoke it?
No—I’ve heard it on the background. When she was ten, my daughter said she had a friend who had that phone number and she said “Do you know how much it would cost to get that phone number? $50,000.”
I didn’t know you had to pay to get a phone number?
I don’t get it either. Now if you call that number with any area code, it doesn’t exist. I think one time I called and I left a message. (laughs) Probably in the ‘90s.
No. I would show friends at parties. Not in ‘81, probably later, on videotape.
Did any guys recognize you from the video?
Probably right after.
Did you receive fan mail?
I don’t think so.
What were you paid?
Most were flat fees. I don’t remember. Maybe $5,000—approximately what I got paid for a lot of things.
Were you ever recognized in public?
People would say, “Who’s this? She’s one of the prettiest girls I’ve seen in my life!” (laughs) I wish I was now. I did promotions when I was doing Playboy but it wasn’t like it is now, when it’s more socially acceptable.
I had a stalker and it was really scary—religious letters. He was an English teacher in South Carolina and I even got a letter from his mother in Colorado. I turned it over to Playboy security. He actually showed up where I lived with Keith. One time I was going to take an exercise class and he was at the door. It was way early. He was off to the side so you couldn’t see him through the keyhole. He was six foot two. I slammed the door, ran to my bedroom, and called the police. They escorted him out. One time I was at the MTV Music Awards in New York with Billy Idol, as a friend. This guy showed up at the door!
How did you stop him?
[did not get chance to ask]
Did you appear in other music videos after “Jenny”?
I did a lot of videos in the ‘80s.
Van Halen’s “Dance the Night Away.” [NOTE: I could not find a video of this 1979 song that featured Karen.]
“X-Ray Vision” by Moon Martin was filmed in Griffith Park and then in Chinatown. That was a fun shoot but people don’t remember the song.
A heavy metal one I can’t remember.
I worked on The Young and Restless as an extra. I did the Humanoids from the Deep trailer. That was Roger Corman. I was in the trailer but not the movie. I don’t know why. I remember asking “When’s the monster coming out? It’s getting dark.” I did History of the World Part II with Mel Brooks and Madeline Kahn. I was the flower girl. There were a lot of Playmates in it. Madeline picked me as the flower girl. That was a really fun shoot, too.
I did a lot of commercials—Levi’s, Clairol. A lot of work for Japan, shot here. A Broadway ad.
Did you ever meet other women who were female leads in a mainstream ‘80s rock video?
Yeah—“Hot for Teacher.” I knew the girl in that video but I don’t remember her name. I think I tried out for that video and I was mad that I didn’t get the job. I didn’t know whether or not to say I was or wasn’t a Playmate. For “Hot for Teacher,” the first question was “Are you the Karen Morton who was a Playmate?” I said no—and didn’t get the job.
Not a woman, but I am friends with Billy Idol. I was a big Clint Eastwood fan and I was set up on a dinner date with him at the Playboy Mansion on a Muhammad Ali fight night. This was before I met Keith, maybe [first half of] 1979. We had two helpings of peach cobbler. I was too shy and now I kick myself. I thought Clint was a lot taller than he is, but he’s still pretty tall. I didn’t push it—no second date.
© PlayboyMick Smiley was married to my girlfriend. [It had come up that I’d interviewed Mick.]
If you went to college, where and what did you study?
I went to North Hollywood High School. It’s amazing the actors and people that have come out of there—Nick Cassavetes, Erin Moran from Happy Days, Denise Crosby (Bing’s granddaughter), Rita Wilson was two years older than me. I’ve met Tom Hanks and he’s so nice. My daughter and I met him at a fish market in the late ‘90s and I told him I went to school with his wife. Then I went to Valley College. It’s a community college.
What have you been doing since “Jenny”?
I worked for Cosmopolitan. I can’t find the magazine. The pictures were very, very pretty. I did another ad for Cosmo in a negligee.
After that I got a job at a bank and got fired the first day. I don’t remember why! Then I went to Long Beach State and learned makeup.
Since 2006, I’ve had this rare disease. I was allergic to a sulfur medication and came down with something called Stevens-Johnson syndrome. It’s named for two doctors in the twenties who recognized this. It sometimes goes undiagnosed. You burn from the inside out.
I’d hiked that morning with my dog. The first thing I noticed was that my face had a bit of a rash. I went to the emergency room. I’ve had eye infections from makeup so thought it was that again. But I was unlucky.
I was the first patient of this doctor’s residency. I sued the doctor because I was misdiagnosed. I lost because they didn’t want to ruin a young doctor’s life. I was like “What about my life?”
I had a 103-degree fever and the burn center was eight feet away and he sent me home. He also didn’t see the rash. I came home and I imagined I kissed my daughter goodbye in the garden and out by the tree. Keith said, “No, you were under your covers.” Keith thought I had cirrhosis.
Four days later, Keith called an ambulance and I went back to the burn center and they gave me a spinal tap, which is supposed to be incredibly painful but I don’t remember.
They put me in an induced coma. Everyone had to wear suits to prevent me from getting more sick. Hugh Hefner wanted to send me roses but couldn’t, so he sent me a sweet little 1950s card.
The burn center saved my life. Amazing. Angels from heaven.
I was in a coma for eight weeks. I woke up and said, “Did anyone water my roses?” (laughs) Everyone said “She’s back.”
After, I couldn’t leave this house for two years. I had to be creamed down with this special cream eight times a day. It was a fortune. I was always a sun worshiper and now I can’t do that like I did.
How are you doing now?
I need surgery on my left eye—actually, probably three surgeries. This year has been one thing after another. I didn’t think it could be worse than last year.
Are you driving?
I can’t drive right now. I sold my car.
Can you read?
I can read a little with a magnifier. Everything I love I can’t do right now—bike ride, hike, snorkel, beach, sun.
What are you doing for money?
I would like to start the mail order again—selling autographed photos myself. My cousin Elaine [1970 Playmate] does signings. I haven’t done a show since the eye issue started. I’d like to start doing them again.
California. My daughter’s in college and I’m separated. My mother’s staying with me and my father passed away in 2002, after I moved into this house.
What was Keith’s reaction when he learned you were in this video?
I met Keith sometime before “Jenny” because I found letters he wrote dated November 1979. I walked through the door and he was playing guitar in jeans and T-shirt at Giorgio’s house. I spent my 21st birthday with him.
What does your daughter think of the video?
She liked it.
What did you think when you first heard from me?
I didn’t know who you were. I don’t have a sister named Lisa. (laughs) [MTN: When I first called Karen answered but as an initial precaution said she was Karen’s sister, Lisa. I got suspicious when I came across an archival article from a newspaper in Iowa—Karen had lived there at one time—describing Karen as an only child. “Lisa” had told me that doing this interview “will make Karen happy.”]
Not that much.
Has anyone else ever interviewed you about this?
How do you look back on the experience of being in the video for a famous song?
Is it really that famous?
The song certainly is. Anything you’d like to add?
I was born in California at the hospital where Neil Armstrong’s kids were born. My dad had gas stations there.
I was real good friends with Dorothy Stratton.
People said I should’ve been Playmate of the Year, but I was too shy. But my centerfold [Miss July 1978] is a classic.
Karen Morton 1958-2014
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Next: John Cougar, “Jack & Diane” (1982).