Is this the sexiest woman in Dallas? Who could ask such a question? And who would even try to answer it? Sexy is difficult, but sexiest is ridiculous. How do these things ever get started?
Somewhere in the idle recesses of a media-muddled mind, a brain cell twitched. "Centerfold," it said. A centerfold in D Magazine. No. No? Why not? Not why not, but who? Who indeed.
Enter research. The city was combed. Eyes were peeled. Questions were asked. There were many names, many favorites. But from out of the din, one name sang out louder than the rest. "Chantal," they cooed in awe. "Chantal," they winked cavalierly. "Chantal," they moaned with broken hearts.
Chantal? Chantal who?
Chantal Westerman is an American girl of average height. She is 30 years old, has rosy cheeks, and eats more than she wants to. She’s a 36-27-38, drives a white Toyota, and has a nice job as house manager of the Dallas Theater Center. And she’s sexy.
How sexy is she? Consider the words of a few of the multitude of her admirers. "Chantal is so sexy," says Kevin McCarthy of KNUS, "that despite warnings from all of my friends, I proceeded full speed ahead. She had a very vexing effect upon me. Chantal is the first woman since the sixth grade to break my heart."
"If Chantal wants your attention," says Cadillac dealer Carl Sewell, "she’ll get it."
Thorn Jackson, who photographs Chantal often for the Tanya Blair Agency, says "Chantal is not a girl and is not a lady; she is so much a woman. She exudes woman-ness. She really has too much soul to be a fashion model. She’s more an artist’s mode — her beauty is Rubensesque. She’s so ... so healthy."
"Chantal is so sexy it makes me mad," laughs her close friend Suzanne "Snow" Blackerby. "She makes me bite my nails. But the men ... why do you think I follow her around all the time?"
The question of Chantal so inspired Billy Porterfield of Channel 13 that he was moved to wax poetical: "Chantal is never with you. You are with her. She is tough, too much for the weak. Strong women are drawn to her, and of course men buzz about her like bees bearing pollen, furious to fruit her flower. But the macho moth had better watch it. She will singe his stinger as sure as the sun melted the wax wings of Icarus. She may eat pasta like a peasant pope and guzzle expensive wine like a lord, but she isn’t earthy and fecund. She is a star of her own making, a self-illuminating body in this bank vault called Dallas. Fantastic. We need people like Chantal."
• • •
It is opening night at the Theater Center, a special Tuesday night production of Something’s Afoot for theater board members, press, and assorted local dignitaries. Chantal, as part of her job, is playing hostess for the pre-play champagne reception. She is wearing a silky, black, low cut gown. Four silver sequin stars glitter from the bare curve of her right breast.
This is our first meeting. "Hello, Chantal." "Hi," she sings, grabbing my hand. Chantal always touches. "Come with me," she says, pulling me through the lobby, then suddenly stopping beside the buffet table. "Look," she smiles proudly, pointing to a large platter. "I made 400 cheeseballs today." It’s a pleasure to meet you, Chantal.
Her silver stars are the talk of the reception. "I just love your stars, Chantal," says a stately, gray-haired woman, whose slightly wrinkled brow silently completes her statement ("...but why are you wearing stars on your breast?"). "Maaahvelous stars, dear," bellows another woman in her best theater lobby voice. The men are more clever. "Four stars," says one. "If you were a restaurant, you’d be excellent." Chantal laughs loudly. She loves it.
Chantal carries a schoolbell, which she now begins ringing to send people into the theater. She supervises the seating and coordinates signals between backstage, the orchestra, and the light men. Things become somewhat confused by latecomers, and Chantal is momentarily harried. But a student usher passes by, and Chantal’s face suddenly, startlingly, changes as she grabs the girl by the arm. "How is your cold?" Chantal whispers. "I’m okay," says the girl. "If you’re feeling bad at all," says Chantal, "I want you to go home right now and get some rest." The young girl beams a smile as big as Chantal’s. "Hit it," says Chantal to the lights man. The play finally begins.
At intermission, Chantal has donned a silver sequined turban ("My hair got hot," she explains) and looks quite different now. Older, perhaps. More sophisticated. She darts through the lobby like a dragonfly. Chatting here, hugging there. Her style changes with every encounter, her face a spinning prism of personality.
A balding gentleman is standing in line at the bar, looking uncomfortable as the perspiration beads on his forehead, looking edgy as the line fails to move. "Be patient, now," says Chantal, squeezing his arm. He smiles broadly: "I can be patient as long as I have you to look at." "Why, thank you," coos Chantal. "That’s the nicest thing anyone’s said to me all night." A moment later she turns to me. "Wasn’t that nice?" she says. "I should have kissed him." Chantal rings her schoolbell.
After the play there is a reception for guest Burgess Meredith and the cast, the third lobby gathering of the night. Chantal is still moving with great energy when suddenly she turns and says "Let’s sit down."
"So this is what you do," I say, looking around the crowded lobby. "Yes," she says, "I’m that woman at the Theater Center, the one that doesn’t wear a bra and wears too much perfume. The one the men all love and the women all love to talk about. That’s my role here. Sexy is part of my job."
Paul Baker, Theater Center director and Chantal’s boss, catches her eye, and she snaps to, gone without a word. She approaches me later carrying an empty Bremner Wafers tin. "Isn’t it beautiful?" she says. "I collect cans."
As we leave the Theater Center, Chantal grabs her black feathered boa and swirls it showily around her neck, cocking her hips in mock sashay, the starlet out into the night, grinning mischievously all the way. In one arm is a large book, The Hite Report: A Nationwide Survey of Female Sexuality; she cradles it like her Bible. "It’s fantastic," she says. "Every man who’s interested in women should read it. It opened my eyes. I thought 'God, I’m glad to know other women do those things, too.’ And," her eyes twinkle, "I even learned a few new things."
• • •
On a Thursday night, in the bar at Arthur’s, Chantal sips on her vodka martini ("with an olive"), enviously eyeing the girl singing on stage. "Sometimes when I’m nervous about something in the morning," she says, "I’ll put on a Donna Summers record, stand nude in front of my mirror, and sing into a wooden spoon. It’s very restorative. But I always wish I could sing into something besides that spoon."
Tuesday night’s dragonfly is Thursday night’s pensive philosopher. She is wearing a red silk blouse. No stars tonight. She looks different again. She is reflective. "I’m an army brat. You take a crusty Pentagon colonel, mix in a mother who’s a flamboyant movie actress, toss in three or four moves to different army bases, a few affairs, a divorce ... and out falls Chantal. And besides that, I’m a Catholic convert."
No stranger than her name, I remark. Why Chantal? She smiles. "My father was in France in World War II and had an affair with a Parisian fille de joie. When he left he promised he would never forget her. She didn’t believe him. How would she know, she asked. He said he would name his first daughter after her so that every time he said his daughter’s name he would remember her, Chantal.
"We actually returned to live in France for several years. I spent my adolescence in France. Maybe that has something to do with my nature. But I wish I’d spent my pubescence in Paris. Instead of Arlington, Virginia."
She orders another vodka martini ("This time with a twist of lime"). She sits quietly for a moment, gently fingering the large silver heart pendant that has an almost permanent place around her neck. She is, as she says, "utterly sensual, but entirely approachable." Hers is a volatile intelligence, one that feeds on the moment and consumes it.
The topic for this moment is sexuality. "I don’t know if I can say what sexuality is. But I know what destroys it — and destroys marriages. It goes bad as soon as one or the other or both start to take sex seriously. When someone starts to take sex seriously with me, I lose interest." She pauses, then continues. "Sexy to me is a man who can make me laugh and smells good." Smells good? "Not Aramis. I mean smells clean when I put my head in his neck. Smells soap clean. Like Dial. I love Dial. Men lose their sex appeal hiding behind turquoise and Aramis. I’m a lot more turned on by denim and Dial. And I like a man who likes to kiss. The most important part of the physical man is the mouth. Then his ass. But first the mouth. Kissing is vital. Absolutely, totally vital. Kissing is everything. My goal in life is to find a man who can kiss as well as I can." She chuckles at her own enthusiasm. "And I like a man who talks in bed. A man who doesn’t talk in bed is like going to a symphony with earplugs. And — this is for all the wives out there — I avoid married men like the plague."
The waitress returns to the table. "I’ll have a brandy and soda," says Chantal. The waitress leaves. "Brandy and soda," says Chantal, "I’ve never ordered that before."
"Do you think I have a pretty face?" she blurts suddenly. "Or do you like daintiness? You know, when I was younger, I used to have a thing about Audrey Hepburn. I used to think I wanted to be like her — all of the frailty, the vulnerability. But somehow I didn’t turn out like Audrey at all, did I? I was invited to a party the other night. Everyone was supposed to come as their suppressed desires. I had trouble though. I wanted to go as a Dalmatian." A Dalmatian? "Yeah, I always wanted to be that Dalmatian sitting in the fire engine with his head up in the wind. But I couldn’t create a Dalmatian costume. So I didn’t go to the party."
"I’d like a cigar," says Chantal. She gets one, a very large cigar, the only kind they have. She puffs away, toying with various styles. "It’s too big," she says, fondling the hefty stogie, that twinkle in her eye.
When we leave it is raining — a driving, pouring rain. "Oh, I love rain," says Chantal. "I love rain and waffles."
• • •
It is a Monday evening when Chantal answers the door to her Oak Lawn apartment. Yet another Chantal. She is wearing blue jeans and a long-sleeved green rugby jersey with a 5 on the back. Her hair is pulled back in a ponytail. Her cheeks even seem rosier. She has just returned from a "director’s workshop" at the Theater Center, a project in which she acts for a young student director. She does so on a volunteer basis, like her other similar projects, lending support to her own analysis that she is "service oriented." Before coming to Dallas six years ago, she worked as a VISTA volunteer in Corpus Christi. Each September, she does volunteer work for Timberlawn Hospital, where she serves as a "mental patient" for the doctors in training, acting out various psychoses so that the doctors may analyze in a testing situation. "It’s like their final exam, their oral examination," she explains. "Funny, I never thought of myself as an oral exam before." She laughs, pleased with the notion.
Chantal’s apartment is small, old, and simple, neither eclectic nor typical. There are a great many books lining a back wall and several handsome prints here and there. It is, more than anything else, comfortable. Her bed seems almost symbolic of this, the less-public Chantal: an antique Victorian, white iron bed, dressed in a patchwork quilt — hardly the seductive lair of a glamour queen. The most prominent fixture is a huge, double-stalked dracaena standing by the front window. Its size alone provokes curiosity: "Where did you get that?" Her face lights up. "I’m so glad you asked me that. I’ve been waiting weeks for someone to ask me that. Burt Reynolds sent it to me." Burt Reynolds? "We met during the filming of Semi-Tough. In fact the story has been a little distorted. A newspaper article said that I had ’vowed’ to get a date with Burt Reynolds and that after I did, lo and behold, I got a part in the movie. Not true. I didn’t seduce my way into Semi-Tough." She winks. "I don’t need a roll to get a role."
She goes to the stereo and puts on a Randy Newman record, though much of her collection is jazz. From the music, talk turns to New Orleans. "I once worked in New Orleans," she says. "In a strip joint. I wasn’t a dancer, I was a B-girl. I’d sit in men’s laps and get them to buy me a drink. Then I’d drink tea and split the profit with the bar. The Candy Bar. Linda Brigitte used to take a bath in a six-foot glass of champagne. And goddamn, did she dry off. I got fired though." She stops. Chantal is a marvelously enticing storyteller. "Well, why did you get fired?" I ask. "Because I wouldn’t strip. One of the dancers got sick, and I told the manager I’d fill in for her and dance. Strip. I was excited. But then when the time came, I had my costume on and everything, I couldn’t go through with it. Something held me back. I really regret that. I think every woman fantasizes about doing a strip tease. Just once. Taking it all off. I think all women fantasize about being either a stripper or a hooker. I wish I’d stripped. I think some night I might go to one of the local strip clubs and dance, just for one night. I won’t tell anybody I know. I’d just like to do it for myself. I think I will. I will." She will.
She’s in a story telling mood. She recalls the time she became a birthday present at the prankish request of Erle Rawlins III. Chantal appeared at the office door of Erle Rawlins Jr. clad in very little besides a large tag hanging from her neck. It read "Happy Birthday, Dad. Because I care enough to give the very best."
"Go look at my bathtub," she says abruptly. (It’s a big square tub, dominating the small bathroom.) "That’s why I got this place," she says. "Because of the bathtub. Bathtubs are sexy." She is pouring glasses of a Spanish red wine. "Spanish wine is sexy," she says. Chantal is intrigued by this notion. "And fettucine. Fettucine is sexy. Breakfast at the Red Moon is sexy ... The Den is sexy ... Trains are very sexy. And auctions. Auctions are a sexy thing to do. The New York Times on Sunday morning is sexy. Boxer shorts are sexy ... Bass Weejuns are sexy ... Lubriderm is sexy. And smoking is not sexy.’’ Ah. New game. "Double-knit pants are not sexy. Right Guard is not sexy. A man who calls a woman ’my old lady’ is not sexy. A man who whispers tenderly in my ear ’Chantelle’ is not sexy. In fact, come-on lines, hustle lines, are not sexy. The worst one I can remember was a guy who said to me, ’You’re a groove. We could make beautiful music together.’ Can you believe that? But there was a best line, too. Dick Hitt gave it to me. He leaned over to the floor near my shoe and said, 'Excuse me, miss, but I seem to have dropped my Congressional Medal of Honor.'
"Let’s see now. Who is sexy?" she says. Another variation. "Henry S. Miller is sexy — kind of a sophisticated Telly Savalas. Henry has macho that makes me stammer. Billy Porterfield is sexy — a bright, intelligent, human sexy. Tom Garrison at the Stoneleigh P. is sexy — a natural, country sexy, a loping sexy."
"And what about you Chantal?" I ask, trying my own game. "Are you sexy? Are you perhaps the sexiest woman in Dallas?" No answer. "Are you sexy, Chantal?" "Yes." What is it? "My spontaneity. Nothing about me is rigid, though some might call it a lack of discipline. And there’s nothing about me that’s perfect. I’m a little overweight. I’m clumsy." She shows me a scab on her leg. "That’s where I fell down at the Junior League Ball. I mean, anyone who drinks contacts isn’t suave." Contacts? "We went swimming one day. This guy put his contact lenses in a glass of water by the pool. I didn’t know. He went inside. I got thirsty. I drank his contacts.
"I’m a little overweight, I’m clumsy ... I’m approachable. And I’m funny in bed."
"Are you the sexiest woman in Dallas, Chantal?"
Smile. "Let’s just say I’m a blithe spirit of sorts."