“I love to get naked. I love to be naughty. I love to be real,” says Mandy, who used the word “love” a lot during our interview, and we love that about her! “I love road trips to nowhere in particular; the northwest is great for that. I love the water; anywhere there’s sun and a beach, I’m in heaven! I also own two kinds of bikes—a dirt bike and a Honda CBR 600. Love to ride!” What does she love in a man? “Muscles. Especially the calves. A fetish, maybe? A guy can get me going by flexing his sexy calves. And if he can make me laugh, he’s in!”
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Text by George Gurley
I came here to take the pulse of Wasilla and to discover the truth about its most famous citizen. I feared the small-town rubes would spot me as a cheechako (Alaskan for “newcomer”). I feared subzero williwaws and clouds of bloodsucking insects. I was terrified of encountering a moose, billed as the most dangerous animal in North America.
Sure enough, when I walked into the Mug-Shot Saloon I was ridiculed by the regulars—middle-aged men with enormous heads, thick necks and linebacker shoulders—for using ChapStick. They made degrading jokes about my long johns and Ugg boots. They chided me for overuse of the word dude. They referred to their ultra-Republican, family-friendly saloon, where the worship of Sarah Palin is rivaled only by a devotion to God, as “the only gay bar in town.”
But when I asked one patron what had brought him to Wasilla, I acquired an instant friend. I was besieged by welcomes, with offers to take me bear hunting and ice fishing. People smothered me with testimonials about the wonders of life in Alaska.
I asked the cabbie who drove me from the Mug-Shot back to my motel that first night if there was anything bad about Wasilla. He fell silent. Then he said, cryptically, that there was good and evil in Wasilla—and not much middle ground. I remembered a blog I’d read, written by the 19-year-old sister of Levi Johnston, the young man who’d become famous for having gotten Bristol Palin, Sarah’s daughter, great with child and for having made a politically charged appearance with the Palins at the Republican National Convention in 2008.
Since May 2010, Mercede “Sadie” Johnston had been waging a war of words to “expose the truth” about the Palins and to defend her own family, the alleged victims of harassment, setups, conspiracies, vandalism and the attentions of the Secret Service. I wondered if the war between the Palins and Johnstons was the subtext of the cabdriver’s dark comments.
Sadie has committed to be my guide in Wasilla. I realize this arrangement almost guarantees attracting the wrath of Sarah Palin herself, a formidable polemicist who could summon thugs to silence me. My thoughts are probably already being monitored by cold-blooded assassins.
She shows up at the Grand View Inn for our interview the next morning. The dash of her VW is decorated with a picture of her nephew, Tripp, at five months. Sadie laments having missed so much of his life—his first crawl, first walk, first words. “The second I found out Bristol was pregnant, I went to Anchorage and spent more than a thousand dollars on baby clothes,” she says. Since then she’s been pretty much excluded from Tripp’s life. “I never knew I could love someone so much until the day he was born,” she says.
We head to Evangelo’s restaurant. I tell the waitress I’d like to sit in a corner, away from the window. Sadie reassures me I have nothing to fear from eavesdroppers—or snipers. “You’re completely safe, I promise. I haven’t told anybody you’re here, so you’re good.”
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The Queen of Hearts / Leeann Tweeden
If you’re a professional poker player, you know not to chase an inside straight and are careful not to get bluffed out of a pot on the flop. But some dangers will blindside you—like appearing on NBC’s Poker After Dark and finding yourself completely distracted by the vision of your hostess, Leeann Tweeden.
“A lot of the poker players are math whizzes, MIT grads with multiple doctorates,” Leeann reports. “They’re brilliant, and they’re cool people, but a lot of them are not socialized. They spend their time online.” So when she interviews the players, she says, the reaction is often hormone-induced paralysis: “Ooohhh, pretty girl.”
Leeann may not have advanced degrees, but she was smart enough to graduate high school early, at the age of 16, in Manassas, Virginia. She then won a model-search contest and moved to Hollywood. “I never had to be a waitress or a call girl,” she says. Instead, she became a model for Frederick’s of Hollywood, a regular on ESPN2’s Fitness Beach and, for nearly seven years, a correspondent for Fox Sports’ Best Damn Sports Show Period. On segments for that show, Dontrelle Willis taught her how to throw a curveball, Jeff Gordon instructed her on the fine points of driving 200 mph, and the Golden Knights (the Army’s parachute team) let her jump out of an airplane with them. “I’m definitely a daredevil,” she says with a winning grin.
Leeann’s latest thrill: posing for Playboy. It’s not her first time. Back in 1996 she appeared on an Olympics-themed cover but declined to do a pictorial. “Growing up, I was sort of prudish about being nude,” she explains. Now, at 38, she’s ready: “I’m secure in who I am now. I’ve always been a goody-two-shoes girl, but I’m making a choice to shake things up. Posing for Playboy is iconic. All these women I look up to have done it, like Cindy Crawford, Elle Macpherson and Bo Derek.”
One person Leeann hasn’t told yet about her Playboy adventure: Sean Hannity, the Fox News host. She frequently appears on his show. “I don’t know if he’ll look at me differently now when I’m sitting next to him, talking politics,” she says. Leeann is fiscally conservative and socially liberal and a full-on American patriot. “I’m more libertarian than anything,” she says. “Gay marriage is fine with me, and I think women should have a right to an abortion. But I would like to have more accountability for the welfare system, which is really breaking the bank.”
Leeann would love to have her own talk show one day. Other goals: hosting a travel show, writing a book, visiting Tasmania. She’s dated sports stars Josh Beckett and Dale Earnhardt Jr., but a year ago she married a JetBlue pilot. “When we started dating, he was still in the active-duty Air Force,” she says. “He has flown me over Iraq with Robin Williams, John Elway and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.” That sounds like the setup for a joke, but it was actually during a USO tour, one of 16 Leeann has done.
Her most memorable one involved flying into Baghdad two weeks after the statue of Saddam Hussein had been pulled down. She sang backup vocals with Rebecca Romijn on “Sweet Home Alabama,” with Kid Rock on guitar and vocals. “We were the first civilians in,” Leeann says.
The celebrities stayed in Kuwait, a dry country—which didn’t stop Kid Rock (“Bobby” to his friends) from sneaking in some liquor. “I was thinking, We’re going to get kicked out of this country,” Leeann says. “But the boy just has a good time.” She laughs. She doesn’t have to say it: The girl has a good time too.
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- Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II
- • Aperture: f/6.3
- • Exposure: 1/125th
- • Focal Length: 38mm