Donyale Luna Biography


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Donyale Luna
  • Date of Birth: 01 January, 1945
  • Place of Birth: Detroit, Michigan
Donyale Luna was the first notable African American supermodel and the first black cover girl. She also appeared in several films, most notably as the title character in Salome, a 1972 film by director Carmelo Bene, and several films by Andy Warhol.

After being discovered by the photographer David McCabe, she moved from Detroit to New York City to pursue a modeling career. In January 1965, a sketch of Luna appeared on the cover of Harper's Bazaar. She became the first African American model to appear on the cover of British Vogue (March 1966); the photograph was by David Bailey. According to The New York Times, she was under exclusive contract to the photographer Richard Avedon for a year at the beginning of her career. An article in Time magazine published on 1 April 1966, "The Luna Year", described the dramatically thin and tall (6' 2") model with the hallmark bright blue contact lenses and occasional blonde wig as "a new heavenly body who, because of her striking singularity, promises to remain on high for many a season. Donyale Luna, as she calls herself, is unquestionably the hottest model in Europe at the moment. She is only 20, a Negro, hails from Detroit, and is not to be missed if one reads Harper's Bazaar, Paris Match, Britain's Queen, the British, French or American editions of Vogue." In 1967, the mannequin manufacturer Adel Rootstein created a mannequin in Luna's image, a follow-up to the company's famous Twiggy mannequin of 1966. Unprofessional behavior signalled the decline of Luna's career, which was effectively over by the early 1970s. As recalled by another black model who came to prominence toward the end of Luna's heyday, Beverly Johnson, Luna "doesn't wear shoes winter or summer. Ask her where she's from -- Mars? She went up and down the runways on her hands and knees. She didn't show up for bookings. She didn't have a hard time, she made it hard for herself." Luna appeared in a nude photo layout in the April 1975 issue of Playboy; the photographer was Luigi Cazzaniga.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Luna appeared in several films, and her appearances tended to be decorative rather than dramatic. She appeared in several movies produced by Andy Warhol. These included Screen Test: Donyale Luna (1964), in which critic Wayne Koestenbaum described Luna as "pure diva, presenting a delicious mobile excess of mannerism"; Camp (1965), and Donyale Luna (1967), a 33-minute color film in which the model starred as Snow White. In Federico Fellini's Fellini Satyricon (1970), she portrayed the witch Oenothea, "who in a trade-off with a wizard long ago ended up with fire between her legs. And it's real fire too, because Fellini shows us a scene in which a long line of foolish-looking peasants wait with unlit torches at Oenothea's bed. When their time comes, each devoutly places his torch between her legs to her sex, and, Poof." Luna also appeared in The Rolling Stones: Rock and Roll Circus, the Otto Preminger comedy Skidoo (in which she was featured as the mistress of God, who was portrayed by Groucho Marx), and the British documentary Tonite Let's All Make Love in London. In 1972 Luna starred as the title character in the 1972 Italian film Salome, by director Carmelo Bene.

In the mid 1960s, Luna was married to an actor for 10 months. Later she reportedly was engaged to the Austrian actor Maximilian Schell, to an unnamed Danish photographer, and to Georg Willing, a German actor who appeared in European horror films (such as 1970's "Necropolis") and with the Living Theatre. Around 1969 Luna was also romantically involved with German actor Klaus Kinski. Both posed together on several photographs. The relationship ended abruptly when Kinski asked her to leave his house in Rome after being annoyed by her drug abuse. Luna had a daughter, Dream (born circa 1976), with Italian photographer Luigi Cazzaniga. Dream Cazzaniga is based as a singer and dancer in Italy.

Filmmaker Jennifer Poe is working on a documentary about Luna and Pat Hartley (an actress who later married the English documentary filmmaker Dick Fontaine), who were the only black women to be part of the Warhol studio.