New Yorker Wendy Stuart-Kaplan is a ’70s club kid and model who has done it all, from basking in the dazzling lights of the legendary Studio 54 and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Carl Bernstein, Andy Warhol and Calvin Klein, to saving elephants on treks to Thailand.
The Bronx-born Kaplan has been omnipresent in pop culture for 40 years and lived to tell about it.
Wendy Stuart-Kaplan Details Her Life on the New York City Club Scene in: She’s the Last Model Standing
The legendary New York Post gossip columnist Earl Wilson once wrote an entire column about her bedazzling presence. The column was titled “She Dances Alone.”
In 2015, She released her own book, “She’s The Last Model Standing,” about her 30-year career as a “fit model.”
Who else can say women’s underwear sold at Wal-Mart is modeled on their size eight bottom? Wendy can. “I cover the asses of the masses,” she boasts.
Kaplan is still going strong after 45 years in fashion. At just over five-feet, eight-inches tall, she still weighs 135 pounds, just as she did in the ’70s and ’80s when she partied hard at celebrity studded Studio 54.
These days, Wendy can often be found at The Explorer’s Club on Manhattan’s tony East Side, giving tours, or at the downtown New York City hub, Irving Plaza, hosting a Night of 1000 Stevie’s.
She’s also released, in conjunction with husband Alan Kaplan, the film “Witnesses and Whisperers.” It’s about fight to preserve the gorilla, chimpanzees and monkeys in Cameroon.
The movie was previewed recently at the Chelsea Film Festival.
Stuart-Kaplan sat down with IM to talk about her career and her new film in a Q&A.
IM: What was the first nightclub you went to?
Stuart-Kaplan: “My first nightclub of course was Studio 54. In the late 70’s after graduating college, I was standing behind the velvet rope in the freezing cold and slushy sidewalk with open toed shoes from Payless that cost $8.99; waving and yelling to Mark Beneke: “Mark, Mark, please please… and he would give me that cold Aryan stare and walk away. Well it didn’t take long to break him in, and within the month, I was a Thursday and Sunday regular.”
iM: Even back then, were you able to pick up on what the next trends were going to be?
Stuart-Kaplan: “I’ve always had my own Psychic Trends Network! While many of us were living out the shoulder padded dreams of shows like Dallas and channeling our inner Crystal Carrington, all of a sudden there were girls who “Just Wanna Have Fun” with huge crimped hairdos like Cyndi Lauper, and Madonna – not to mention “What A Feeling” we had as we “Flashdance” in off the shoulder tops and short dance skirts and tutus.
I was at studio 54 when Madonna made her debut singing “Borderline.” I despised that song. It had no edge. I was sure this Madonna would never last. I guess my Psychic Trends Network wasn’t working so well that night. With Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, and Jennifer Beals as the influencers of the day (a term that didn’t even exist back then).
I started wearing ballet tutus and dance slippers to Studio 54 with matching leotard tops. Earl Wilson the nightlife columnist for The New York Post wrote an article about me called “She Dances Alone”. Funny how now I have recreated that ballet dancer look for my current nightlife forays.”
IM: What were some of the clubs you went to back then.
Stuart-Kaplan: Studio 54, Crisco Disco, The Mudd Club, Flamingo, Paradise Garage, The Pyramid Club, Limelight, Xenon, Palladium, The Saint, The Tunnel
IM: Give us some bold-faced names you met and went to, back then?
Stuart-Kaplan: Andy Warhol, Calvin Klein, Liza Minnelli, Rollerina (still friends), Halston, Viva, Cornelia Guest, Diane and Egon Von Furstenberg, and Randy Jones from The Village People, who’s still on the scene.
IM: How would you assess the changes in nightlife; from then until now?
Stuart-Kaplan: “It was a level playing ground. You could, on any night, anywhere, dance with even the most famous celebrities or talk to them. Things are much more polarized now, compartmentalized. There are places you can still go where you can still intermingle freely. Brooklyn has a few dance clubs that are like that. Also, so much in the ’70s and ’80s were about dancing to great music, which eventually led to synthesizers that made you feel the music in your bones. Dance floors were sensualized and sexualized. Smart phones and texting changed all that. There is nothing more disruptive to a vibe on a dance floor than people texting on their phones.
IM: How did you meet your husband (photographer) Alan Kaplan?
Stuart-Kaplan: “I came to New York City to pursue a modeling career. In 1977, you would get with an agency, even a small one, and they would give you a list of test photographers. On that list there would actually be some well known photographers. They would answer their own landlines when you called them. You would make an appointment to see them called a “go see” and if they liked your look they would test shoot you for free!
They would test out an idea for a shot and you would get free pictures! Can you imagine! I called Alan’s studio and made an appointment. I came with my pathetic portfolio shot by college students, friends and a few pros. Alan looked at my portfolio and said, ‘this sucks.’ He offered to take test shots of me if I agreed to get serious enough to realize I would need to go to Europe eventually to get started as that was the trend then.
He also berated my wardrobe choice, lack of hairstyle and the fact that having no income and trying to rely just on modeling jobs would leave me with no money for anything. He advised getting a 9-to-5 job. I listened. Tested with him on the weekends. Got better clothes, a haircut, makeup lessons and in a year was ready for Paris and Milan. Unfortunately they weren’t ready for me.”
IM: Tell us about the ‘Model With A Mission’ concept
Stuart-Kaplan: “About 12 years ago I went on a casting for a show called ‘Ms Adventure.’ I had all the qualifications, having filmed short pieces in Africa, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, India and The Amazon. They were short vignettes involving indigenous people, or wildlife. I was totally qualified to be Ms Adventure. But I was not even called to audition!
Thus ‘Model With A Mission’ was born. I would be the on-camera host. Alan would shoot the segments. We could go anywhere cheap flights or frequent flyer miles could get us. I would do the research based on either an article I found that was interesting, but didn’t generate a lot of attention, or a particular animal, or local person, or tribe and their customs that I would read about on the internet.
And so we began shooting short pieces, including, two women with an elephant sanctuary in Thailand where I went to take care of elephants; a remote area of India where the local villagers are protecting the one horned rhino and a woman radio collaring sloths in Costa Rica.”
IM: Tell us how ‘Whisperers and Witnesses’ came about.
Stuart-Kaplan: “I met three different women speakers at The Explorers Club in New York City. I had just become a member after doing a panel on Visiting Tribal People: Exploration or Exploitation. The speakers I met were fascinating, Robin Huffman was a wildlife portrait artist who gave up a corporate design career to paint and volunteer to take care of Primates in Africa. She’s been doing that for 12 years. Rachel Hogan runs a sanctuary called ‘Ape Action Africa,’ where you can find over 300 primates including gorillas, chimpanzees and monkeys. And Dr Sheri Speede runs a sanctuary with 74 chimpanzees called Sanaga Yong.
Why do they need sanctuaries? Because in Cameroon, as in much of Africa, the bushmeat trade is a problem. Bushmeat is the term for killing a primate for food, or a non-proven belief that a part of that primate could medicinally cure an ailment. These non-profits deserve to have both corporations and the public find out about the wonderful work they are doing and be supported by donations and philanthropic efforts.
IM: Give us a trend or two to watch for
Stuart-Kaplan: “Oh my god, those fitted-above-the-knee shorts are showing hugely going forward and very hard to wear if you have hips or thighs. Lifesaving trends for those without those straight, up-and-down bodies will be shaped waist, but big shouldered, jackets (yay Kristal Carrington lives); plunging necklines and mixing prints, like florals with animals, not to mention those very forgiving trapeze dresses. In my mind upcoming trending fashion will be more forgiving and hide a multitude of sins, and if you have some junk in the trunk it will be strategically concealed!”
IM: Tell us about ‘She’s The Last Model Standing.’
“Coming to New York City in the late ’70s, I certainly survived, not only the crazy world of modeling and acting, but managed to emerge smelling like a rose and still standing. The book title is a double entendre for I’m still standing, I’ve not only survived, I still have a great career. In the fashion industry, I am still well known as “the perfect size 8” and as a “fit model.” So, I spend a lot of time standing!
The book itself incorporates my career success and growth, while sharing every mishap that has happened along the way in a tell all tale about the fashion industry. I wrote this book to do the same things my films do: inspire, educate, and of course like everything I do, entertain.”