Luna in a 1966 Twen shoot
Peggy Ann Freeman
August 31, 1945
|Died||May 17, 1979 (aged 33)|
|Cause of death||Heroin intoxication|
|Height||6 ft 2 in (1.88 m)|
Donyale Luna (August 31, 1945 – May 17, 1979) or Peggy Anne Donyale Aragonea Peugot Luna was an American supermodel and actress who gained popularity in Europe in the late 1960s. Generally cited as “the first black supermodel”, Luna was the first African American model to appear on the cover of the British edition of Vogue, in March 1966. She entered modeling in a period which favoured 'white passing models' and has been described as 'the first black model who really began to change things; to enable more diverse beauty paradigms to break through.'
She appeared in several underground films like the screen tests of Andy Warhol (1966), and had roles in Qui êtes-vous, Polly Maggoo? (1966), and most notably as Enotea in the 1969 Federico Fellini film Fellini Satyricon as well as Otto Preminger's Skidoo in the role of 'God's Mistress'.
Luna as she later became known, was born Peggy Ann Freeman in Detroit, Michigan, to working-class Georgian parents Nathaniel Freeman and Peggy Freeman (née Hertzog) in 1945. She was one of three daughters, Lillian, Peggy-Ann and Josephine. Her parents had moved to Detroit as part of the Great Migration. Her father worked in production at the Ford plant, being of African-American and South American (Quechuan) heritage, and her mother as a secretary for the Young Women's Christian Association, of both African-American and European heritage, been given the nickname 'Big Peggy' to differentiate her from Peggy-Ann, who was 'Little Peggy'. Luna's parents married and divorced on four separate occasions due to their 'headstrong characters' and Nathaniel's relatives alcoholism. They lived a 'financially stable upbringing in a middle-class neighbourhood of Detroit' on Scotten Avenue. As a child, she would frequently go on trips to local cinemas with her father and in summer to swim at the 'Kronk Gym' in Detroit.
As a child, she attended the Detroit High School of Commerce where she studied data processing and typing. As a teen, she attended Cass Technical High School, where she studied journalism, performing arts and languages and was in the school choir, local community theatre and the experimental Concept East Theater. It was during this time that she began calling herself "Donyale George Luna" aged 18, thought to have 'been her way of dealing with a turbulent home life' when her mother began raising the family as a single parent, and was also said to speak with an accent as 'Donyale' which Emeric Bronson recalled 'she spoke not with a broad A or a French R, but in an accent she'd invented', which caused his assistant to ask if "she was a countess". Her mother said 'its tone "was like she was singing". The name Luna has been speculated to be chosen for its 'symbolic dimensions, reflecting her yearning for complete, far-flung autogeny', being what Donyale described as the 'real' surname of her father, or a reference to the Space Race. At this time she wanted to pursue being an actress as a career. Luna's sister later described her as being "a very weird child, even from birth, living in a wonderland, a dream". She would routinely create fantasies about her background or 'origins' and herself. She was known then as an aspiring actress, a boyfriend, Sanders Bryant III, recalled first meeting her writing a play at lunchtime. She took roles such as Cherry in Paint Your Wagon, Ariel in The Tempest, Chastity in Anything Goes and Jean in Stage Door. After rehearsals, inspired by the Beatniks, would go to coffeehouses with her boyfriend dressed in head to toe black around Wayne State University. On weekends she would travel to Ontario, Canada. She became known by Roland Sharette, the managing director of the Detroit Civic Center Theatre, as a 'kook' because she had a habit of walking around barefoot 'even down the street'. During the 1963 run of Paint Your Wagon she feed popcorn to pigeons when they rehearsed outdoors.:88 
Contrasting her time in Europe modelling she later noted how "Back in Detroit I wasn't considered beautiful or anything". A fellow student at Cass Technical, Verna Green noted "She was such a striking image, I couldn't forget her ... She looked like an oddball to the run-of-the-mill student. Not enough people had told her how strikingly beautiful she was." She was not a 'fashion-conscious' student, her attire mostly consisting of 'simple black skirts and long loose sleeved tops'. She stated that at her time in Cass Technical, she "wasn't accepted because I talked funny, I looked funny and I was a weirdo to everyone. I grew up realizing I was strange."
She moved to New York to pursue acting and modeling in October 1964, and worked during this time as a junior secretary at an 'electronic cabling firm on Varick Street'. She eventually moved into her own apartment with another roommate by advertising for one on Broadway, having joined their actor's union. Her sister Lillian later recalled 'she packed so little it seemed like she was going on an overnight trip rather than to live in New York'.
In January 1965, her mother fatally shot her father in self-defence as he was reportedly abusive, coming to Luna's childhood home drunk and threatening her mother 'just steps away from the family home'. Lillian witnessed the incident, acknowledging the shooting to be accidental. Luna only received the news 3 months after the fact and stayed in New York which is said by psychologists to be a coping mechanism of familial loss and trauma.:92 In 1966, she reported to a journalist, "My mother is worried about me. She doesn't know that I have already been hurt."
Detroit and New York
Luna was discovered by the English photographer David McCabe on the streets of Detroit around the Fisher Building in 1963. McCabe noted he "was on a photo assignment in Detroit photographing Ford cars (and) there was a school nearby, I was struck by this almost 6-foot-tall beautiful girl ... wearing her Catholic uniform. She stopped to see what was going on” and he was struck that Luna was "so tall and so slender, and [she] had the most incredible bone structure." McCabe informed her that he was a fashion photographer who had worked with magazines like Mademoiselle and Glamour. She was then invited by McCabe to move to New York City to pursue modeling and to call if she wished. At first, her mother discouraged her from traveling to New York wanting her to become a nurse instead, but Luna persisted and her mother sent her to live with an aunt in New York Harbour New Jersey. In October 1964 she called McCabe and he sent out her photographs to various agencies. She was introduced to then-editor Nancy White and the photographer Richard Avedon by McCabe at Harpers Bazaar who was reported to have her under exclusive contract for the year (in 1964), McCabe in a phone call to Avedon said "you've got to see this girl. She's just unbelievable". Her first job as a model was set up by McCabe in Mademoiselle with Woody Allen. In November 1964 she moved out of her aunt's apartment into her own in New York.
During her time through networking she became friends with Sammy Davis Jr, Miles Davis, Mia Farrow, James Earl Jones and Andy Warhol. As an acquaintance from a party, Beverly Johnson described her as "an exquisite beauty. She was an ethereal, beautiful creature floating around the party. . . I remember she didn't have shoes on." Luna wrote home; 'New York is a dream... a man danced me down Fifth Avenue, and all up and down Broadway men were eyeing and whistling at me, and so many other unbelievable things. I'm really getting the works from head to toe by Harper's Bazaar's best! As soon as possible I'll send you a picture of the new me. I'll be on top of the world if it takes every breath I have, every muscle of my skinny body. I feel it, I know it. I'll be some kind of star real soon. Real soon.' Drugs such as LSD and marijuana were taken around Warhols Factory and seen to help the creative process of making artwork taking inspiration from their psychedelic experiences. Here McCabe recalled this was when she began to do 'things she shouldn't have' noting 'everyone was doing stuff, LSD and more harmful [substances]'. Initially, she would chastise other friends, Geraldine Smith recalled being '[lectured] about how disgraceful it was that we were smoking pot and taking LSD'. She would later claim of taking LSD that she "thinks it's great" and that she "learned that I like to live, I like to make love...I love flowers, I love the sky, I love bright colors. LSD also showed me some unfortunate things - that I was obstinate, selfish, unreasonable, I mean I could be harmful to others.” Jackie Kennedy was reported to walk up to Luna in a nightclub simply to comment to her 'You are very beautiful'.
Nancy White who at first meeting Luna in autumn 1964 described her a 'startling apparition' (connoting an otherworldly beauty) had her likeness immediately sketched into an illustration which ran on the January 1965 cover of Harper's Bazaar, this was the first black person ever put on the cover of Harpers Bazaar in 98 years of publication and replaced a pre-planned cover by White. Still dressed in her all-black beatnik attire, she also met art directors Ruth Ansel, Bea Feitler and senior fashion editor China Machado who upon first meeting her Luna recalled "just went crazy ... The editor said 'Bring furs! And hats! And jewelry! I spent about 3 hours just trying things on so that they could look at me." The sketch by the German Katharina Denzinger (1930 - 2019) illustrator was her first work for Harper Bazaar, totalling 7 illustrations for the 'chic 65 editorial. The cover of Luna in a lemon-chartreuse David Crystal tunic dress, a white pith helmet, over-the-wrist gloves seated in a wicker chair and 'pale Caucasian complexion' was left racially ambiguous in order to not offend White Americans. White requested Denzinger alter the drawing to make Luna's face less sharp, after "a total of forty brush and ink studies for that one session [...] the Bazaar editors came to the apartment with the clothes, and that uniformed cops watched while Donyale modeled and I drew her". In the April 1965 edition she was shot again by Avedon in the 'What's Happening' editorial along with Bob Dylan, Jean Shrimpton and Ringo Starr, Luna was featured in 3 page spreads dressed in James Galanos. This was considered the time when the 'Swinging Sixties' began in the US with less of an emphasis on the previous more mature audience towards teenagers and young adults (see British Invasion). In the editorial, she was described as a 'Masai Warrior' which was picked up in an article by the Sarasota Herald Tribune who then explored the work prospects of African-American women.
She began contacting her childhood friend, Karen Miller, begging her to board with her and complaining of 'men problems' on the 21st December 1964. Around April 1965, she received the news of her father's death by her mother but decided to not return for the funeral. She also began having problems with Avedon. In an interview with an Italian magazine a decade on, she recalled 'The more successful she became, the more controlling and possessive her fashion-photographer-manager became'.
Luna was known not to take commercial castings for advertisements, but "Modelling was not the commercial game it is today. She wasn't earning like Lauren Hutton" noted Polly Allen Mellen. Her career began to slow down when she met with the color bar of print publishing at the time. Southern US advertisers had reported complaints against the inclusion of Luna's images in Harper's Bazaar pulling their advertising revenue, with readers cancelling subscriptions, designers Mainbocher and Norman Norell refused to dress Luna in their clothes, and the owner of Harper's Bazaar; William Randolph Hearst; had stopped Avedon working with Luna after her contract finished. Even James Galanos whom dressed Luna did so only because he thought he was dressing a celebrity like Lena Horne Avedon noted. Richard Avedon believed that he was no longer allowed to work with Luna due to 'racial prejudice and the economics of the fashion business', indeed he was not permitted nor did work with her ever again. McCabe later stated he believed that "the magazine world really wasn't ready for photographing beautiful black women [then]". Black models were only shown through ' a racial script that brought together both primitivism and modernity as the material precondition for participation within the industry.'
Due to the death of her father and a failed marriage of 10 months in New York, she then had a nervous breakdown and spent time recovering in hospital at the end of 1965. Two years later she told the New York Times that she fled from New York when she found “they said beautiful things on one side and turned around and stabbed you in the back.” She would later remember of the move to Europe, "I wouldn't have to be bothered with political situations when I woke up in the morning - I could live and be treated as I felt, without having to worry about the police coming along" and left at the end of 1965.
Avedon (who had moved over to Vogue in 1966) requested Luna again for a shoot around Northern Japan featuring furs, he told Doon Arbus he had requested her specifically because of his association with her as an "extenuated black girl" given "there was no way of not being reminded of Egypt and not being reminded of Watusis and Africans", again using the primitivist iconography which Luna had been portrayed in her shoots with him in Harper's Bazaar. Diana Vreeland who at first encouraged, but eventually also with Alexey Brodovitch, stopped Avedon from using Luna as the only model in the shoot and suggested Veruschka instead for the 27 page Great Fur Caravan shoot published October 16, 1966. 'Ironically, in 1966 [American] Vogue named Donyale Luna "The Model of the Year".' Living in London, she was described Jet magazine as 'the most photographed girl of 1966 ... challenging Jean Shrimpton for position (and bankroll) as the model most in demand in Europe's haute couture houses'.
In November 1966 she appeared in Cosmopolitan (magazine) and in American Vogue in August 1969.
Arriving in December 1965, London proved to be where Luna would make her name as a model, emerging in Swinging London, part of a youth cultural revolution associated with Beatlemania and in fashion Mary Quants miniskirts (see second wave feminism), the stylised-bobs of Vidal Sassoon, Mods, Teddy Boys and bright colours and patterns and fashions like those sold in shops like Barbara Hulanickis Biba or seen in the street culture of Carnaby Street or Chelsea. She was photographed in London by David Bailey, William Klein, Helmut Newton, Charlotte March and William Claxton. Keen to join the London arts scene, she would become friends with Mick Jagger, Julie Christie, Micheal Caine, Iain Quarrier and Yul Brynner. She rented an apartment by the Thames and bought a pet Maltese dog she named 'Christianne'.
She became the first African-American model to appear on the cover of any Vogue magazine, the March 1966 British issue, shot by photographer David Bailey, only months after arriving in London. Bailey described her as "extraordinary-looking, so tall and skinny, ... She was like an illustration, a walking illustration." Shooting her for the cover he noted "I didn't care what she was – she could have been a fucking Martian for all I cared." He thought the editorial staff at Vogue House were happy about using a black model but states that “the sales people always had a problem [with using her]." She was chosen by Beatrix Miller, the-then British Vogue editor for "her bite and personality", also describing her as "[happening] to be a marvellous shape ... All sort of angular and immensely strange and tall". The shot composition was inspired by Spanish surrealist Picasso's ocular-centric portraiture with 'one of Luna's eyes peered suggestively from between her fingers'. She was wearing a Chloé dress and Mimi de N earrings in the shot. In the editorial images she was dressed in Christian Dior silk tunics, Mod dresses by Pierre Cardin and a silver Yves Saint Laurent dress.
In popular internet lore such as on blogs, it has been speculated that the shot was angled so "Luna's face, most notably her lips and nose, are ... obscured on her British Vogue cover, also somewhat hiding her race" a proponent of featurism coded in privilege and Eurocentric beauty standards. However, in 2019 her family revealed the shot was chosen as "a single heavily lined eye ... visible through her fingers, which form a V for Vogue".
She was shot for the German magazine Twen in a jewelry shoot of March 1966. Fellow model and friend Pat Cleveland noted "she had no tits, but lots of presence, we'd walk down the street and men's mouths would drop open in awe. When we walked into restaurants people would stop eating and stand up and applaud. She was like a mirage, or some kind of fantasy." She also went on to work for French Vogue. Bethann Hardison stated of Luna that "no one looked like her. She was like a really extraordinary species." Time magazine in an article titled "The Luna Year" (1966), described her 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." She also appeared in London Life, a monthly fashion magazine, in a shoot as a shop window display model for a London department store of Wallis.
In April she appeared again in Vogue UK shot by David Bailey in a feature called This Summer's dancing patterns in mod styled luxury brands. She then appeared on the cover of Harpers Bazaar UK in June 1966, her features and skin colour had not been edited out in this cover, shot by Bill King. In the October 15 edition of British Vogue, she was featured in a Klein shoot with Audrey Hepburn.
In 1967 the world-leading fiberglass mannequin designer Adel Rootstein released a model based on Luna's statuesque figure, the previous figure been the popular model Twiggy. Jet described them as "unmistakeably Negro, excellently sculpted and posed, and dressed in the London Mod styles" and that Adel Rootstein had paid Luna to pose for the work at $105 per hour ($830 per hour today). She was also noted to be working in New York for a short period in September 1967 but her flatmates 'thought they were all going to get kicked out soon because Donyale was making about 500 dollars' worth of calls to Europe every month'. Another mannequin model was made by Lester Gaba, who made both a black and white version.
Around the 10th November 1968, Luna and a party of five including Iain Quarrier and Mia Farrow went for breakfast at the Mayfair Cavendish Hotel, Jermyn Street, St James's, London, when at 4 a.m. they were asked to leave due to because the men being informed they were 'not properly dressed' in not wearing ties. When Iain pointed out that other seated men were not wearing ties, Luna asked the managers if it was because she was colored. Eventually, all five were denied service in the hotel restaurant and kicked out by police for causing a disturbance. In her usual extravagance, she 'arrived in a maroon-coloured Rolls Royce wearing a yellow coat of Mongolian wools lamb ... [and] knee high blue suede boots ... [where] Luna accused the police of lying, but her claims went unheard'. Quarrier defended Luna in the London Bow Street court noting when the judge, Kenneth Harrington, said: “I am quite sure it had nothing whatsoever to do with Miss Luna's colour” Quarrier shouted from the dock in the courtroom “that is not true[!].” Quarrier would eventually be charged £10 for disturbing the peace.
Working in the spring of 1966 she was modelling for Paris Match who had 11 different photographers doing shoots for the magazine including on 'the landing gear of an airborne helicopter' and underwater with 'her robe streaming behind her'. She was shot for Guy Laroche for Match on a skating rink for the Spring/Summer collection. By this time of her modeling she was quoted as saying "Being what I am, I can get what I ask". Paco Rabanne had her model in his 'debut Paris show, entitled "12 Unwearable Dresses"' designed for dancing in. She also worked with the photographers Guy Bourdin and Frank Horvat in 1966.
Luna appeared in the Italian magazine Amica in a number of animal print and fur coats in 1966. Then as a model in a number of camera advertisements in 1968. She bought an apartment in Italy in 1970, and would drive around in her Cinquenta car, 'fold herself into like an accordion, squeezing her knees up to her chin' to get to new modelling shoots. In January 1970, she appeared in the Italian adult magazine Playmen in a number of fishnet style outfits, in a multiple-page spread.
When Luna moved to Italy in 1974 she was a collaborator with her husband in photographic shoots and other media such as a 'hand-illustrated fairy tale, avant-garde film scripts and beautiful coloured prints' which remain unpublished. She was said to be the most creative as a content creator of art in this period of her life. However historians have also noted she is said to have felt a deep sense of 'existential aloneness' in this period. In a short prose piece entitled LUNAFLYLABY, she wrote a self-aware 'part confessional [work which] alludes to an insular and at times stifling childhood, the excitement and challenges Luna experienced in the fashion world [and] her move to Europe' and how as a biracial woman, these 'societal forces conspired to render black women INVISIBLE ' versus her VISIBLE LIFE, which is heavily present throughout the work in the motifs of VISIONS (her spiritual visions as other black women in history) and 'succumbing to VISUAL MISTAKES' (her desire to achieve her own form of beauty which she considered her art, such as modelling photographs or films) due to her conflicting position as a biracial woman in her environment in her career. She also modeled for artist Peter Beard in 1977.
Return to America
By the end of the 1970s, however, Luna's modeling career began to decline due to a dependency on drugs like heroin, LSD and her eccentric behavior and her shifting into a career as an actress. A designer for whom Luna once worked said, "She took a lot of drugs and never paid her bills". Beverly Johnson later said, "[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." Johnson later acknowledged that Luna had "made it possible for models like me and others" and that "Luna is one of several black models everyone needs to know" being "one of those legends in our industry; one of the shoulders I stood on."
Between October 1974 and June 1975, she would return to the US to do runway modeling in New York and California. She appeared on the cover of Warhol's magazine Interview for October 1974. Luna then appeared in a nude photo layout in the April 1975 issue of Playboy; the photographer being her husband, Luigi Cazzaniga. In the shoot she depicts herself as "characters of her own devising - as an angel soaring over the Los Angeles skyline or as a mermaid perched on a rock by the Pacific Ocean". Powell notes, 'Although fulfilling Playboy's prerequisite for female nudity, the photographs were far from titillating or sexually explicit. Luna seemed not only at ease with her nudity, but completely beyond societal structures and moral rectitude.' She was also noted for defying the usual body type portrayed in the magazine of more 'voluptuous' women with her smaller build, placing more emphasis on her spiritual 'visions' which occurred on her photography shoots such as in Playboy.
Whilst Luna did have a regular walk for the catwalk defined as 'a free-form, hip-popping strut' but she was also known among the high fashion circles for her unconventional walking styles still used by models like Pat Cleveland. Luna was known for her eccentricity since childhood which derived from her time in acting doing local and experimental theatre in Detroit. She was often drawn to 'radical creatives', avant-garde artists such as Dali and Warhol and she extended these influences to her model career. In a method she developed based on method acting known in internet lore as method modeling, she developed her own theatrical style of catwalk walks such as 'crawling like a lion, grooving to the music or suddenly freezing and making direct eye contact with journalists','walking like a robot, stopping abruptly midway through a promenade, crawling on all fours','like a stalking animal','sometimes slither like a snake' or simply having 'laid down and rolled from one end of the runway to the other'. Method modeling was more rooted in theatre technique, and as such was more like performance art. Bill Cunningham described watching the experience as how "Her body moves like a panther, her arms, the wings of an exotic bird, the long neck suggests a black trumpet swan. ... The audience responds with shattering applause - for the model's performance rather than the designer's clothes. It is the birth of a new fashion era - that of the spectacular show that rivals any on Broadway." 'The coterie of international designers for whom she often modeled (André Courrèges, Yves Saint Laurent, Rudi Gernreich, Mary Quant, Paco Rabanne) encouraged such displays, equating them to their own exuberant designs and to the rebellious conduct of their youthful ... clientele'.
Luna had initially planned to work in theatre having done work in local theatre in Detroit after school hours, doing bit parts in Detroit's repertory theatres, inspired by actress like Anna Magnani. When she joined theater camp in 1964, she was remembered by her acting tutor David Rambeau as '"warm and naive. he recalled. "She believed in acting as children believe in fairy tales."' "I never planned to be a model when I was in Detroit,” she told a reporter in 1966. “I wanted to be a starving actress in New York." She soon also began moving in circles associated with experimental theater like the The Living Theatre. 'Luna soon became a familiar face among the city's ambitious young actors, dancers and other performers and personalities, bringing her exuberant dancing ... [to] all night parties and other New York soirees'.
At a point in the 1960s, she appeared on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson having 'emerged wearing a floor length, white evening gown, her long black hair piled on her head'. She engaged the host in small talk and use a lot of hand gestures which helped engage the audience, both in-house and at home, including her ocular assault which she employed by spreading her fingers like a fan across her face and pausing to enrapture the audience.
Luna appeared in several movies produced by Andy Warhol including his Screen Test: Donyale Luna (1964), in which critic Wayne Koestenbaum described Luna as "pure diva, presenting a delicious mobile excess of mannerism"; Camp, "Warhol's 1965 satire of his own world, in which she dances in a backless dress and fur stole to The Ramsey Lewis Trio’s hit The ‘In’ Crowd" and walking a catwalk in the fur stole. Then Donyale Luna (1967), a 33-minute color film in which the model starred as Snow White wearing blue contacts. The Screen tests engaged 'Warhol's stars if only in his selections of film wothy subjects.' Each of the screen test, around four minutes long are notable for being one of two only African-Americans of the stars along with Pat Hartley.
In 1966 upon having moved to London, she appeared in a scene in Michelangelo Antonionis Blowup (1966) satire of fashion photography, posing as a model being photographed on a rooftop in Hoxton Market, East London. Luna also appeared in The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus (1968) as the assistant of a circus performer's fire-eater act.
In the French film Who are you Polly Magoo? (1966) she starred as a model dressed in conical and 'almost unwearable' abstract silver dress constructions shot by William Klein. The work 'began with a fashion show parody' in which Luna was seen rotating on a lazy rotating pedestal for 'french audiences' all set in a 'proto-Frank Gehry structure'.
Otto Preminger comedy Skidoo (in which she was featured as the mistress of crime boss "God", who was portrayed by Groucho Marx), this was her only Hollywood role. Preminger also signed her with MGM for 3 years after she secured the role at a party for Twiggy. By this period, she had sold her apartments in London and Paris to live full-time in Italy and focus on acting.
In the 1969 Federico Fellini film Fellini Satyricon an Italian film portraying the fall of Ancient Rome, she portrayed the witch Oenothea, who according to one commentator, "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."
She then appeared in the 1970 happening Soft Self-Portrait of Salvador Dalí, a documentary biography narrated by Orson Welles for French TV. Luna starred as the title character in the 1972 Italian film Salomé by director Carmelo Bene.
In May 1973 at the Cannes Film Festival, considering herself as an international star, she pitched her life story to European and American film production company executives, like Berry Gordy at Cannes who was supporting Diana Ross promote her new film Lady Sings the Blues (film). Interest was sparkes in relation to The Battle of Versailles Fashion Show, but the pitch was never taken any further. In the Italian publication Panorama in an interview she claimed that Gordy based the 1975 film Mahogany on this pitch.
Art and Eccentricity
Luna was known to be a muse of Salvador Dalí, and acted in many of the ways Dali did in accord with the philosophy of Surrealism. The American photographer William Claxton introduced Luna to Salvador Dali when he met her in Catalonian village of Cadaqués, becoming Dali's lifelong muse whom he would refer to as 'the reincarnation of Nefertiti'. Artworks show how she would stand on a half-submerged piano which Dali has submerged himself for her to stand on, Claxton shooting 'Dali drawing impromptu traceries on Luna's body' (a line art piece on a cream dress) whilst she wore it or emerging from a human-sized egg full of red paint which made into an 1 hour long surrealist film being "a sciptless series of happenings, all centred on images of birth and creativity" in plastic costumes designed by Paco Rabanne. She could be found 'lying on a bed of fresh fish' in Dali's home. She was also known to carry around a $1 million check according to the supermodel Pat Cleveland, 'a legitimate cheque from her model agency' which she never took out and would try to pay with for a single meal, or her 'entourage of boys who followed her everywhere' behind her in file, and because 'she'd never sat in chairs, she'd always lounge' whilst her entourage would lay at her feet and with her penchant for going barefoot everywhere, Luna became known as an eccentric.
The eccentric character of Donyale Luna can be seen as both a hyperbolic alter-ego and an extension of a fake it until you make it persona which Luna may have thought of as a 'metamorphosis'. Luna used camp to give off a larger than life character, using hairpieces, lengthened eyelashes, and 'a collection of blue, green, yellow, purple and orange [coloured contacts] ... which she changed like underwear' to play fast and loose with defined boundaries she may have had as Peggy-Ann. She would both employ others and use her own designs for her clothes (such as David Crolend), experimenting with bindi's on her third eye, and often wearing loose-fitting or flowing garments. These two (Peggy-Ann and Donyale) were succinctly distinct to Luna though as a person however, she said 'If I had seen something like me in a magazine as a child, I would have died laughing, or been scared ... I find my own photographs weird, terribly sophisticated and different from anything else".
Exemplified in an advert for a polyester peasant blouse in 1966 for Ebony magazine, the iconography work was said to evoke the black and white images of Man Ray, acknowledging the shift of the early 20th century 'visual modernism' morphed into the 'disjuncted body' (see Mikhail Bakhtin's theory of the grotesque), a moving away from the classical Western notion of what a body should be, to one of 'distorted corporeal forms' originating in African Arts, Expressionism and Cubism and the body language of Josephine Baker which Luna emulates in the advertisement to create a more 'dynamic' image of herself and African-American visual imagery. Her imagery is also said to transcend gender dynamics to present a 'paradigm through which one can look at race, gender and beauty in the construction, exhibition and eventual dismantling of a woman's life'. As a content creator, 'Luna's referencing of [Baker and Nefertiti] within the European context signaled her identification with them', as black women 'heroines and tropes' which Luna used as a model to emulate what black success could be presented as in an environment which responded to both figures to by 'primitivizing, sexualizing and ultimately dehumanizing [them in] ... exotic or erotic roles that did not provide occupational transitions to more fulfilling, post spectacle lives'. For instance in her 'primitive' shoot with Harper's Bazaar dressed in animal print in 1965, she 'construct[s] and perform[s] an oppositional black glamour' by using the clothes, 'things- not just words- [to] interpellate us in specific ways, combining narrative with history and materiality to structure specific gestures and movements ... [by] working with her own effective engagement with the material as "dances with things", undoing the work of glamour as a white racial project', creating an aspirational lifestyle for potential black audiences. 'Her gesticular poses in print magazines emphasized her angular frame, while her assertive body language—including a powerful stare called “the Look” by fashion magazines and later described as “ocular assault” ... became her signature [pose]' used to entrance her audience.
She was believed to have met the artist Mati Klarwein (who made psychedelic album covers for artists like Jimi Hendrix) through Miles Davis at an 'occupational gathering' in New York in 1964 where her likeness appears in his painting Time, of a circle of gold leaf surrounded by scimitars representing the earth and sky. In the circle sits a 'polymorphous figure ... an aggregate of fire, water, multiple faces of beautiful women, female breasts, male genitalia, rainbow patterns, animal heads, skulls derived from Tibetan and Hindu religious imagery ... topped off by Donyale Luna's trimorphic head', also being portrayed in 1967 as in a self-portrait. 'Klarwein dedicated Milk n' Honey (1973), his book of reproduced paintings'.
In her 1975 Playboy interview, she held the belief that beauty was 'something not physical but something beyond that', she also noted that children were more readily accepting of her form of 'beauty' and said she had 'come back not to help but to show America a different kind of beauty ... because it's been going backwards [with] people getting into their own little groups - and no one is communicating'. This form of beauty related to her visions, and an 'armageddon' she called 'The Great Division' due to a lack of people who 'don't know what life's about, [who] don't know how to give, how to love [and] nor do they want to.'
Throughout her life and career, Luna claimed to be of various, mixed ethnic backgrounds, often playing down her African American ancestry since being a teenager in Detroit. Later on in her life she insisted that her biological father was a man with the surname Luna and that her mother was Indigenous Mexican and of Afro-Egyptian lineage. According to Luna, one of her grandmothers was reportedly a former Irish actress who married a black interior decorator, however, the historical accuracy of this is questionable. She would also claim to be of 'Polynesian' descent in highschool. A common practice at the time for immigrants and minority groups was to 'give themselves makeovers to better assimilate into modern [American] society.
She 'grew up in an America that rendered black skin second-class, and the only black faces she would have seen in the media would be those of actors playing servants or maids in films. The few black models who did make it – mostly possessing features that could easily be mistaken for something more ‘acceptable’, such as Mexican – were confined to appearing in black women's magazines like Our World and Ebony.' Dream Cazzaniga on her mother leaving Detroit for New York writes: "there were virtually no modelling opportunities for non-white faces anywhere other than dedicated African-American publications such as Ebony. I'm still amazed at how brave my mother was to leave home for Manhattan at that point in history, with no clear plans or steady income - just a telephone number hastily written down by a stranger. As a girl of colour at that time, simply believing in her own worth and following her true calling were great revolutionary acts [as a POC]." The only other industries which used models of colour included the soft drinks industry such as Coco-Cola in 1957 or the Tobacco industry.
Due to the prejudice she faced in New York she moved from North America to Europe "where she likely found an audience more accepting of her skin color", describing herself as "multi-ethnic". She often made up tall tales to make her seem more grandiose, part of the character of Donyale Luna she began in her teenage years, including beguiling stories designed to shock or amuse such as losing her parents in a car accident and being adopted, or replying to the question of her heritage with the line "I'm from the moon darling" which some have construed to mean she denied her heritage as a black woman. With 'her penchant for wearing blue contact lenses, was seen by some as race betrayal ... was probably part of a process of reinvention that had begun in her teenage years. In fact constructing a new identity [as Donyale Luna]'.
Europe at the time was seen as more accepting of white-passing black models such as Ophelia Devore who had modelled herself and had her own agency's models working in Paris such as Dorothea Church in the 1950s. Darker models such as Helen Williams later became more accepted by the 1960s. In the Sunday Times Magazine in 1966, Harold Carlton hailed her as "the completely New Image of the Negro woman. Fashion finds itself in an instrumental position for changing history, however slightly, for it is about to bring out into the open the veneration, the adoration, the idolization of the Negro".
The US, on the other hand, supported segregation through discriminatory policies, one facet being the modeling industry. Industry in this period would treat African-Americans as a kind of second class citizen, often excluding them from many different spaces and markets. An example in another industry like housing or the state school system is Redlining or the school-to-prison-pipeline. So "until the advent of the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s the fashion industry operated its own kind of apartheid, which entirely excluded non-white models from its magazines, advertising and catwalk shows."  'Luna had skipped modellings apprenticeship stage of endlless castings and rejections from racist fashion magazines, and come straight in at the top ... she had made the cover of a top fashion magazine, worn the world's most expensive dresses and commanded a day rate of up to $100-an-hour - all by the age of 19'. She worked alongside models like Jean Shrimpton and Veruschka, but was thought of as exotic, becoming a victim of Othering (also see Dominance hierarchy), somehow both 'girl-next-door' and 'exotic'. "As the civil rights movement gathered pace, so too did society's fascination with the “exotic” and “alien”. ... Almost against her own will, she became a symbol. Some people declared her a Masai warrior, Gauguinesque, Nefertiti reborn. Others claimed she was another species entirely - or from outer space!". Time in 1966 called her a "creature of contrasts", “One minute sophisticated, the next fawnlike, now exotic and faraway".
She reported in 1966 to a reporter "Fashion photographers saw me as something different but I'm certain it has nothing to do with my color. I never think of myself as a brown girl", but by then 'the prestige of her modeling jobs had now shifted, from photo editorial work for Harper's Bazaar to the secondary ... advertising market [in Ebony magazine]'. The so-called secondary market, however, was worth an estimated $15 billion so women such as Luna, who Jane Hoffman described as (after referring to white-passing models who advertisers picked up first in 1950s advertisements) "the Negro girl you'd think of as something else. She wasn't even beautiful-just a weird creature, some kind of space thing, She had to be so bizarre that no [black person] could identify with [them]", noting how this typecasting of black models limited Hoffman's own chances because she was 'not Negro enough' to be black under the respectability politics of white industry standards of what a black model should look like. Luna's 'otherworldy features' (her long limbs, 'oval-shaped face and almond eyes') not being traditionally readily associated with black women, provided white advertisers with a manufactured sense of racial superiority and which may be considered as tokenism on the behalf of the advertising agencies involved, who would prefer Luna over women like Hoffman as they provided an existing false narrative which helped fuel their own media biases about blackness, which only favoured women with extreme features and beauty which reinforced existing stereotypes excluding other black women and narrowing the definition of what black beauty could take the appearance of and how an acceptable negro would appear (in opposition to whites who would be seen as the default of acceptability and whose appearance would not be called into question so easily). She further stated: "Most of my publicity has been because I'm dark-skinned. But I think the reaction would have been the same if I were white because of my features" referring to her uncommon height and bodily proportions which these companies regarded as exotic.
The American print journalist Judy Stone wrote a now-infamous profile of Luna for The New York Times in 1968, describing Luna as "secretive, mysterious, contradictory, evasive, mercurial, and insistent upon her multiracial lineage—exotic, chameleon strands of Indigenous-Mexican, Indonesian, Irish, and, last but least escapable, African". Luna responded that "the civil-rights movement has my greatest support, but I don't want to get involved racially". Dazed reporter Phillipa Burton notes how it today "makes for uncomfortable reading; the interviewer's obsessive probing of her multiracial lineage jarring with Luna's obvious displeasure at talking about it." When Stone asked her about whether her appearances in Hollywood films would benefit the cause of black actresses, Luna replied, "If it brings about more jobs for Mexicans, Asians, Native Americans, Africans, groovy. It could be good, it could be bad. I couldn't care less" which may also be indicative of the quality of jobs she could take on.
Comments such as those have meant that she has been widely forgotten in favour of Beverly Johnson, whilst revealing the complex dynamics that she refused to be defined by in being typecast in the roles such as Diana Ross in Mahogany that she may have been trying to avoid or caused her conflict in her identity, such as the protagonist beung referred to as an 'inanimate object' and the misogyny in the film. After her death, Luna's widower Italian photographer Luigi Cazzaniga said that Luna self-identified as a “mulatta" and that she "felt rejected by the black community and the white one". Her daughter notes "people longed for her to become a symbol of the African-American resistance; a role she struggled with as someone who identified as mixed race."  Penultimately with regards to the racism she faced in the US, Luna believed that questions surrounding her blackness and how she fit into American society being 'a quarter black' were "America's problem", often attempting to escape labels major publications placed on her, replying to the Times: "Yeah, I'm an American on black and white, but I'm me, I'm me." (See also Brown Paper Bag Test.)
By 1974 having not found full acceptance in Europe either, she 'caught between the insinuating effects of racial/cultural renunciation [and] sexual stereotype ... Luna's response was to wear the mask [of one of Giacometti's skeletal sculptures] and ... to become a negligible component of life, hovering between existence and nothingness' in Italy in the public eye. From this time on, she had problems figuring out who she was as a black woman eventually becoming a '"soul on ice": a entity encased and obscured by its own false image, which only hinted at the naked power and creative potential that lay beneath the surface', or a shell of the former aspirations she held in her identity in youth.
In the mid-1960s, Luna was married to an anonymous German actor for ten months. Later she reportedly was engaged to the Austrian-born Swiss actor Maximilian Schell, then to an unnamed Danish photographer and Georg Willing a German actor who appeared in European horror films (such as 1970's Necropolis) and with the Living Theatre. In her time in London she was rumoured to be dating actor Terence Stamp and Brian Jones of the English rock band the Rolling Stones. She was also reported to have dated a Prince at one point. She would frequently stop 'short of making any lasting commitment to her suitors' though may have had this history as her history with men was checked, model Geraldine Smith recalled that in 1967, "Donyale had this crazy boyfriend who came in last night and smashed her over the head with a beer bottle" for instance.
She would later move to Italy and continue her acting career there in the 1970s. Around 1969 Luna was also romantically involved with German actor Klaus Kinski, however, the relationship ended when Kinski asked her entourage to leave his house in Rome concerned that their drug use could damage his career.
Luna later married Italian photographer Luigi Cazzaniga after having met him at a party in Italy. For the first 2 months of their relationship they did speak to each other as Cazzaniga only knew how to speak Italian, he noted he "liked ... her [for] her love of creativity and for everything that wasn't square." They eventually married in California in 1976 and in 1977 they had a daughter, Dream Cazzaniga. The couple eventually separated and, while still legally married, were estranged at the time of Luna's death.
During the early morning hours of May 17, 1979, Donyale Luna died of an accidental heroin overdose in a clinic in Rome. She was 33 years old. Luna was survived by her husband, Luigi Cazzaniga, and her 18-month-old daughter, Dream. The name Dream took inspiration from Martin Luther King Jr's famous I have a dream speech.
The designer Stephen Burrows noted "She was ahead of the black model thing. There weren’t too many around [in the US for the times]." Due in part to the timing of the black is beautiful movement only gaining traction later on towards the end of Luna's career as "black models didn't truly enjoy their coming out until the seventies" and as such it believed models such as Beverly Johnson now feature more prominently on black-firsts lists, even though Luna's cover in 1966 predates Johnson's by 8 years. Dazed reporter Phillipa Burton, writing in 2009, notes how 'clean-cut models like Beverley Johnson and Iman, whose lives were not to end murkily through an overzealous use of heroin, were louder and prouder ambassadors of the “black is beautiful” message. Their more palatable versions of black womanhood loom large in the public consciousness today. Eccentric Luna, on the other hand, who was eternally cagey about her racial identity, waxed lyrical about LSD in interviews and had an endearing habit of not wearing shoes, has, for the most part, been forgotten ... depressingly, the biggest triumph of Luna's career – her groundbreaking Vogue cover of 1966 – represents a war that is very much still being waged. Sarah Doukas, founder of Storm model agency ... grimly admits that a black model gracing the cover of a mainstream publication is “still unusual”' and it has been noted she may have been part of the tokenism of advertising agencies to lure in black consumers.' British Vogue up until 2013 had only had 3 black women on its cover for example. 'Being an object of ... flat, one dimensional character ... [who was] unable to move beyond the external and self-imposed limitations for someone of her idiosyncratic temperamental and tenous lifestyle ... [and despite] been a key player in the mid- to late 1960s fashion, film, and experimental theater scenes, none of this guaranteed the reimagining of herself in the broader cultural context of the 1970s, in which her gender and racial identity might have favorably ... fortified her [work]. These impediments united to diminish and obscure her once impressive figure, which then led to her public erasure".
Her career has been described as a 'meteoric ascent to fame and frefall into anonymity [which] frequently morphs into bodily speculation and social isolation'. In her role as the first black model the cover of a major print magazine, Luna has had 'renewed interest' in her modelling career on social media, fashion bloggers and among black business owners. She has also appeared in the 2008 all-black vogue issue and was in recognised by Naomi Campbell in her CFDA acceptance speech in 2019.
|1966||Screen Test #3||Herself||Uncredited|
|1966||Screen Test #4||Herself||Uncredited|
|1966||Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?||Mannequin/Model||Alternative title: Qui êtes vous, Polly Maggoo?|
|1967||Tonite Let's All Make Love in London||Herself|
|1968||Skidoo||God's Mistress||Credited as Luna|
|1969||Fellini Satyricon||Enotea||Alternative title: Satyricon|
|1970||Soft Self-Portrait of Salvador Dali||Herself|
|1976||Il Festival del proletariato giovanile al Parco Lambro||Herself|
|1979||The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus||Herself||Uncredited|
- Black is Beautiful
- Civil Rights Movement
- Quechua people
- Class Discrimination
- Domestic Abuse
- Glass ceiling
- Swinging Sixties
- Beauty standards
- Racial inequality in the United States
- Vogue US
- Condé Nast
- Fashion Photography
- Altered state of consciousness
- Vision (spirituality)
- Psychedelic art
- African American Art
- Modern Art
- Performance Art
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- See external links
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