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10 Years Ago, Teri Polo Appeared Naked in 'Playboy'

By Dustin Rowles | Celebrity | June 1, 2015 |

By Dustin Rowles | Celebrity | June 1, 2015 |

Teri Polo turned 46 years old today, and when I saw that on the Internet, the first thing that probably shouldn’t have occurred to me about an actress with a lengthy career is that she once appeared in Playboy.

But that’s how the male mind works sometimes. Granted, many, many actresses have appeared naked in the page of Playboy, but there are only two women with whom I make that immediate association: Polo and, for some reason, Vanna White, the letter-turner on Wheel of Fortune. White appeared in Playboy nearly 30 years ago, and yet, when I flip past Wheel of Fortune and see her, it’s the first thing that pops into my mind: Hey! I’ve seen that woman naked. It was very tasteful.

The association perhaps makes more sense with White. I was young, impressionable, and befuddled to see Pat Sajak’s sidekick in Playboy, back before the Internet. My father was a faithful subscriber, and noted that he only subscribed for the articles. Given his sexual orientation, I believed him.

But Teri Polo didn’t flip letters. Yet, seeing her in Playboy still blew my mind. See, I’d developed an intense, all-encompassing crush on her from a movie I used to watch repeatedly in high school called Mystery Date with Ethan Hawke.


I have no idea why I developed such a fondness for that film, complete with Fisher Stevens — playing a variation on the paper boy character in Better Off Dead — and Brian McNamara, the brother with whom Ethan Hawke’s character was supposed to so closely resemble that the two were confused for one another, leading to a disastrous blind date that involved a villainous mafia type character played by BD Wong. In what universe could these two men have been so easily mistaken for one another? Who would’ve seen this guy and thought, “Oh wow! He’s a dead ringer for Ethan Hawke?”


What was wrong with the casting director on that movie? And why did I find this mystery so compelling, and Teri Polo so intoxicating?

Because I didn’t catch Northern Exposure until much later, in syndication, I didn’t see Teri Polo again until she popped up on Sports Night for two seasons as Rebecca Wells, the girlfriend of Josh Charles’ character. That was nearly a decade later. Seeing her, the crush I’d had on her at 13 all came flooding back, fully formed. The girl from Mystery Date was on one of my favorite shows! I was completely smitten with her because she was in that movie I loved that no one else watched, and because she was a very minor character in a show that few people watched at the time. It felt like one of those crushes I had all to myself!


Honestly, I doubt I even knew her name, although I do vividly remember thinking how upset I was that Christine Taylor landed the part of Marcia Brady in A Very Brady Movie, when the woman from Blind Date was so obviously better suited for the role (I don’t even know if Polo auditioned, but it was still an injustice.)

Polo showed up on The Practice later, a show I loved so much that it partially inspired me to go to law school. The next year, she was in a show called I’m With Her that was not good. But I watched it. Because Teri Polo was in it. The sitcom was based on Chris Henchy’s relationship with his wife Brooke Shields. Teri Polo played the Brooke Shields character. Brooke Shields was in a movie called Blue Lagoon that I saw when I was very young. Her character bled in the water. I didn’t understand why until I was much older. I thought she was dying. She was only menstruating. But it stuck with me, and that association also attached itself to Teri Polo. Because our brains are weird.

In 2000, Polo also appeared as Ben Stiller’s wife in Meet the Parents, obviously because she bore a remarkable resemblance to Stiller’s real-life wife, Christine Taylor. She was my favorite part of that movie, mostly because I had attached years of associations to her character. In reality, she was just an actress, playing a part.

Nevertheless, when — in 2005 — she appeared in Playboy to promote Meet the Fockers, it gave me the oddest sensation. This woman from Mystery Date and Sports Night, and The Practice and that sitcom where she played a character based on Brooke Shields, was appearing nude. It wasn’t subtle nudity, either, like with Vanna White. Teri Polo got naked (I’ll let you search Google for the images). It was like seeing an ex-girlfriend stripping in Playboy, only I’d never met Teri Polo. But it still felt strangely invasive — it transformed everything I thought I knew about her. Rebecca Wells! Naked in Playboy!

It also killed my crush. I don’t know why. It had to something with removing the mystery and allure around her — the mystique was gone. I’d seen her boobs. I couldn’t think of her as the woman from Mystery Date anymore. In fact, after her two seasons on the West Wing, I stopped tracking her career. I lost interest. She was just another actress appearing in Lifetime movies. It was never the same again.

As it turns out, despite 25 years of very steady work, Teri Polo filed bankruptcy last year, citing nearly $1 million in debt (mostly to the IRS) and only $50,000 in assets. According to People, she also owed $30,000 for not cleaning up after her pets when she vacated a rental home. How could the woman from Mystery Date become — 25 years later — a woman that didn’t clean up after her pets? It makes no sense, but I am going to blame Playboy.

At any rate, Teri Polo turns 46 today. We here at Pajiba wish her a very Happy Birthday.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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