Lost Ones: Donyale Luna

She was born into a turbulent Detroit household, with an abusive father who was murdered when she was 18. Her mother encouraged her to become a nurse. A relative once described her as being “a very weird child, even from birth, living in a wonderland, a dream.” Donyale Luna created her own dream. She made up a story to hide her painful upbringing, denied the reality revealed on her birth certificate and claimed that her biological father’s last name was Luna, and her mother was Mexican. Her grandmother became an Irishwoman who married a black interior decorator. And so the stage was set for this extraordinarily beautiful and troubled woman, whose created identity helped to bring her fame and fortune and all of the trappings that come with those things.

She was discovered by photographer David McCabe, and left Detroit behind for the lights of New York City. From all accounts, her rise was meteoric. A sketch of her appeared on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar in 1965, and Richard Avedon signed an exclusive contract to photograph her.

Time Magazine published an article about her, titled The Luna Year. The article already reveals the trouble she was already beginning to encounter: “A month after hitting New York, she married a young actor, divorced him after ten months, and now will not even give his name. “I love New York,” she says. “But there were bad things. People were on drugs or hung up on pot. There was homosexuality and lesbianism and people who liked to hurt.” Unhappy with that world but unwilling to give it all up and head back to Detroit, she fled to London and Paris last December.”

In 1966, she became the first African American model to appear on the cover of Vogue magazine, a photograph in which she covered her whole face with her hand, except for her boldly outlined eye. Reportedly, that shot was chosen so as to not offend the magazine’s regular readership.

Donyale Luna saw her heritage as a thorn in her side. She was known to wear blond wigs and obvious green contact lenses. The journalist Judy Stone wrote a profile for the New York Times in 1968, titled “Luna, Who Dreamed of Being Snow White,” and described her as “secretive, mysterious, contradictory, evasive, mercurial, and insistent upon her multiracial lineage — exotic, chameleon strands of Mexican, American Indian, Chinese, Irish, and, last but least escapable, Negro.”

When pressed about her African American identity and influence, Luna bristled. When interviewed about her groundbreaking roles in popular films, including the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, Fellini’s Satyricon, and Andy Warhol’s Camp, and asked about the fact that she was breaking down doors for her sisters to follow, Luna retorted, “If it brings about more jobs for Mexicans, Chinese, Indians, Negroes, groovy. It could be good, it could be bad. I couldn’t care less.

By the swinging sixties, she was living it up in London and hanging with the Rolling Stones. She expressed her love for LSD, saying “I think it’s great. I learned that I like to live, I like to make love, I really do love somebody, I love flowers, I love the sky, I like bright colors, I like animals. [LSD] also showed me unhappy things — that I was stubborn, selfish, unreasonable, mean, that I hurt other people.” Unprofessional behavior proved to unravel her illustrious career. In a New York Times interview, Beverly Johnson complained about Luna’s wacked-out mannerisms, saying “[she] 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.”

She appeared nude in Playboy in April 1975, as photographed by her lover Luigi Cazzaniga. Today, Luna is survived by a daughter, Dream Cazzaniga, who works as a professional dancer in Italy. I was able to find only this photo. She is just as beautiful as her mother.

Hopefully more people will learn about her when Jennifer Poe’s documentary about Luna and Pat Hartley, the only black women to be part of Andy Warhol’s Factory, is finally released. For now, if you want to learn more about the mysterious and tragic beauty, visit this amazing website, which was my source for these beautiful photos. Also, there’s a teeshirt of her Warhol screen test on sale for $43.99 at Rock Rebel.

Donyale Luna died in 1979, of an accidental pill overdose in Rome. She was just 33 years old. Despite her tremendous fame in the Sixties and Seventies, today, Donyale Luna’s groundbreaking legacy is primarily remembered by the African American community, the very community she sought to distance herself from her whole life.

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Comments

  1. Thank you for this Bella! It’s an amazing story. I’m hoping to find a large print of the first photo you’ve posted to hang in my studio. I’m LOVIN’ that hairstyle too.. so chic.

  2. First…I LOVE WHAT YOU’RE DOING!!!…I wish she knew what a beautiful BLACK woman she was and how proud she should have been…thanks for this little known black history fact!!!

  3. Donyale Luna was definitely a very interesting persona. I interviewed the model Pat Cleveland some time ago and she told me a little about her (they were roommates in Italy in the 70s.)

    I think she is better known in the (veteran) modeling world as the younger models think Naomi is ancient.

  4. Hi Bella! I was wondering when you were going to do another “Lost Ones” story! And you definitely didn’t disappoint. This one was very intriguing to me (as was the Phyllis Hyman post). Thanks for introducing me to Ms. Luna!

  5. Yeaaaahhhhh
    Thank you Bella for the post on Ms Luna. She is apart of my screen saver along with La Baker and Grace Jones! I have some really good shots of Donyale if you want them. Luna was really troubled it seems. I hope she found peace before her rest.

  6. oh BTW her real name was Peggy Freeman…Peggy. I think I would’ve changed my name, too.

  7. Fascinating. Thank you for sharing this story. She was a beautiful but troubled soul. So sad.

  8. This was a cool introduction to Donyale Luna, because honestly I have never heard of this woman before. She was a definite wild woman with an unsettled spirit.

  9. Thank you for sharing this!
    For some reason she calls to mind Jospehine.

  10. Remember Mahogany (starring the classic bella Diana Ross)? Luna’s story sounds kind of like that, but I don’t remember Diana Ross’s character (in the movie) having probs with her ethnicity. The movie did have a happy ending though.

  11. HAHAHA… Empress, my MOM’s name is Peggy! Oh, she’s gonna flip. But it doesn’t have the ring of “Donyale”, and I think she’d agree with that. Nichelle, I’m fascinated by Pat Cleveland! Did you ever write a post about the interview? I’d love to read and learn more about her.

    Glad you are enjoying the Lost Ones articles, they’re pretty depressing to research. Especially the Phyllis Hyman, listening to her sing at 3 a.m. when I was writing about her sad ending was chilling. I’m cultivating a list of future Lost Ones, so if you’ve got suggestions, holla.

  12. Great post Bella! I had seen her picture in the book “Black Beauty,” but I didn’t remember her name. It hurts my heart to know that she was so ashamed of being Black.

  13. Nichelle, I’m fascinated by Pat Cleveland! Did you ever write a post about the interview? I’d love to read and learn more about her.

    Hey Bella,

    No, I have not posted about Pat Cleveland yet. Believe me, it’s on my to do list!

    I interviewed her for the (old) Honey magazine. I used to write their Honey Icon column quite frequently and she was one of them.

  14. Michelle says:

    Hi Bella,

    Thanks for sharing about Donyale Luna. I never heard of her, but she sounds fascinating. Though I’m sorry she felt she had deny who she was.

  15. The art historian Richard Powell at Duke University is also writing a book about her. It must be coming out pretty soon.

  16. Tiffany I immediately thought of Josephine as well. She lied a lot about who her father was, her up-bringing and other things.

  17. Marsha Hunt would be a good “Lost One” as well. She is still alive and well and a cancer survivor…..LIKE ME!

  18. Bella, thanks for hipping me to this woman. I’d never heard of her; she was extremely beautiful. Also thanks for the hrads up on nappy star. Are you a member?

  19. Thanks for posting a profile on this beautiful woman who was a trailblazer in many ways, but a lost soul as well.

  20. Ultimate says:

    Wow…..this sent chills up my spine. Such a beautiful and yet troubled soul. Too bad she felt so ashamed of her heritage. Black is Beautiful.

  21. LBellatrix says:

    Pat Cleveland was the first black model I became aware of as a very young child (60s)…and not just because I grew up in Cleveland, lol. I remember seeing pictures of her in the beauty shop my mother went to, and just thinking she was the most beautiful woman ever. Nichelle, I too would love to read your interview with her.

    Bella, thanks for this quick look at Donyale Luna, another fascinating model.

  22. There is a lot of talent in Detroit. I wish the area got more respect. I enjoyed the post on Ms. Luna, very insightful. For real, people need to say no to drugs, and get some help! We have too many artists being killed of by these toxins.

  23. Please keep educating the young ones on the Trailblazers both with happy and sad endings. It helps to remind ourselves there is so much more to being Black than BET will ever illustrate.

  24. I am really thrilled that you were able to use some of the photos and info from my site for your piece. It’s great to see that Donyale is being remembered in such a positive way.

    Indigo, I can get that photo for you in the largest size available. I can send it to the email address you left in the guestbook on the Luna site.

  25. I would just like to commend you on your daily works. You are indeed a teacher to younger people like me. You really do teach me a great deal about women and importantly African woman who do their thing but are wiped out of mainstream knowledge. So thank you for your pride and priorities.
    Much blessings and longevity.

  26. Women with the same psychological complex as Luna still exist. I have a friend who insist that she is part Dominican and White. She insists! However,she is not. I wish one day EVERY black person would just be PROUD to be black. We are a beautiful, culturally diverse and talented people. uhuru.

  27. That Vogue cover was really cool! I’m positive she would have NEVER been on the cover if she was a lot darker…how sad.

  28. Now THIS would make an excellent movie. I think Halle could definetly pull this one off…or some unknown talent out there!

  29. Jennifer Poe is one clever young lady, i wish her all the luck in the world. its great to see young black film makers doing their thing, hopefully people like Jennifer will help the film industry and its depiction of women of colour.

    Great post Afrobella!

  30. AndSoThen says:

    Bella…thank you so much for reminding us about this troubled Diva. I first ran across her name when a friend of mine was diagnosed with Marfan’s syndrome and she pointed out Donyale as an early example of it. The long thiness is part of the syndrome. Not sure she had Marfan’s but she was a beauty.

    I am sadden to know she did not embrace her culture, I imagine coming from a violent childhood was destructive to her psyche.
    Who knew wearing blue contacts was happening in the 60′s.
    I love my chocolate skin, my full lips and my cocoa eyes…I can’t imagine what we make me that ashamed.

    • Being ashamed of your race/ethnicity has nothing to do with looks. It’s about being resentful that you were born a second-class citizen. Disliking your eye color or hair texture (etc.) is just a symptom of the root problem: disliking being in a lower social caste.

  31. Thank you Bella for sharing this.
    I didn’t know of Donyale until I read this – what a troubled black beauty.
    Once again – cheers for the education!

  32. byrdparker says:

    Thank you Afrobella
    This made my day , i love the clothes.. I looked her up and found that she was in fellini’s film Satyricon . I love the embroidery she modeled in all the photos i found !!!!!

  33. Luna’s denial of her true racial mix reminds of Mariah when she was spinning some story about what her racial mix is and trying to lessen or negative her black antecedents..what do you think?

  34. i read about donyale luna awhile ago, and i felt very ambivalent about her. while i thought she was stunning and i was elated to find that she was the first black model on a vogue cover, i was also disheartened by the fact that she bought into the white standard of beauty to the point that she denied her true heritage, wore contacts, and blonde wigs. i think you should write an article about model naomi sims, who was out around the same time but differed from donyale in that she was black and beautiful and reveled in it.

  35. Being a black women and being multiracial is two different things. If you are an immediate combination of things you are not a black women (in a genetic sense) and should not be classified as such. This woman was mixed and ashamed to be mixed (especially with negro blood) an in turn classifying her, as a black woman is false. Why embrace some one who was ashamed of whom they were and denied it as often as possible during her lifetime? Luckily the black community has a few TRUE black women whom we can be proud of, people who paved the way for black models and supermodels today and Donyale was not one of them. I apologize for being so impudent but this is the truth.

    • That is not the truth at all… a half-black/half-white woman (for example) is both a black woman AND a white woman.

      Yes, Donyale Luna was a black woman (among other things), and yes, she helped pave the way for other black models. I’ve read numerous articles about her from the 1960s, and they never failed to mention that she was one of the first Negro models. You might not consider her to be black, but the rest of the world did.

  36. No need to apologize for your comment, Daphne. Like I said, Donyale Luna was a lost one from the very beginning.

  37. nappygungun says:

    thanks for posting Ms. Bella. I agreed with eveyone else black is beautiful regardless of what shade we are and it’s sad that even today we still have people who can’t embrace that. Donyale was absolutly gorgeous.

  38. It’s a shame that such a beautiful woman was ashamed of her heritage. I’m very interested in her now though.

  39. Wow..I have never heard of her.

    That’s sad to when I hear about people denying their Black heritage. A lot of that goes on today.

    I see a lot of times when people of mixed heritage…they’ll be like yea “I’m German, Italian, Mexican, Indian, Asian…. oh and yea and black.” Like it’s not cool to be Black.

    Even African-Americans are quick to say what other blood they have in them.

  40. ^^^^^^

    Exactly, what’s wrong with just being who you are. What most of us really are in the first place. I am tired of seeing black women and men with Hawaiian silky weave talking about they have Indian and German in their bloodline. The majority of the time people who claim to be mixed are really lying in the first place. This is beyond sickening and absolutely laughable. It’s sad that many of us hate ourselves so much that we would rather ignore and deny our ancestors.

    • Actually, most people who claim to be mixed, really are mixed. How the hell would you know anyway?

      And if you think that a person acknowledging all of their ancestry instead of part of it is “beyond sickening”, then you probably have some self-hatred issues yourself.

      Don’t insult people just because they aren’t willing to pigeonhole themselves like you are.

  41. I have this odd fascination with people who’ve made the decision to “pass”. Not that I’ve ever wanted to myself, but because of the whole issue of how irritating and difficult it is to be defined by your outer appearance not only by whites, but by blacks as well (But I do feel that God chose me to be born a black woman for his purpose and I shouldn’t get caught up in trying to “prove” that I should be seen as an individual). Great article and it’s cool to see that two women of color were a part of Warhol’s Factory(am a Mod-aholic). If you do another “Lost One’s” article, you should look up Belle da Costa Greene–there’s a book being released on her life in June(and the author, if anyone lives in the NYC area, is going to be speaking and holding a book-signing at the Morgan Library).

  42. What a sad story but not uncommon during a time when anyone who didn’t “look black” dealt with identity issues within the black community. Sadly it sounds like the same mess we deal with today.

    My family is very diverse in it’s makeup because we aren’t 100% african (honestly in this day and age whose family is?)but we do identify ourselves as black.

    I love reading the different points of view on this site because it always reminds me that the “black” experience is very diverse and layered and never the same for anyone.

    I’m a “natural” bella rocking my long straight hair that I came by genetically and it’s interesting how color and hair are connected to each of our experiences.

  43. I have seen images of Donyale Luna and had no idea who she was. Thanks for sharing her story. We should have compassion for Luna because she was clearly pained by something that made her want to be someone else. Josephine Baker was proud of her culture (even though I think she would have preferred to be a lighter shade of ‘black’), so I see no parallels between her and Luna. Even so, and without consciously doing it, Luna was a link in a chain of black women who showed the world that black is beautiful.

  44. littlenappyannie says:

    Why is Beverly Johnson always credited as the first black woman on Vogue?

  45. Blisse says:

    What a blast from the past. I hadn’t heard that name in like forever. Thank you for the wonderful update. She was a troubled soul indeed. Keep the Lost Ones coming.

  46. EMPRESS says:

    Luna was not mixed.

  47. I am amazed at your selection of people for this series of ” Lost Ones” and this one was no exception. I had know about Luna for sometime and was amazed that she not mentioned more from that era. I glad that you profiled her on this section. I do hope to see more great pics for this series. Keep up the good work !!

  48. My goodness… so many “Judges”. Frankly. Until you’ve walked in someone else’s shoes, how would you “know” about any of their reasons for doing what one does. I knew Donyale and found her to be everything opposite to what this article reads? Enjoy your lives everyone!

  49. Before today I had never heard/read/seen one single, solitary thing about this woman. Now, I am fascinated by her!! Her story would make an incredible movie! I would love to hear from her daughter. Thank you so much for bringing our attention to this forgotten woman. :)

  50. XcentricPryncess says:

    So we are honoring someone who did not honor herself and cringed at the African American piece of herself? oooooooooo K

    • She equated her pain with being black. We were so oppressed during her time it must have been hard as a child. You either embraced your culture/race or ran from it as many do today unfortunately.

  51. XcentricPryncess says:

    Ericka you are right though…it would make for good cinema.

  52. XcentricPryncess, I wrote about Donyale Luna because she represented black beauty in a time when we were not being represented anywhere prominent, she broke down doors for others to follow. But her reported lack of self-acceptance is what makes her a “lost one,” rather than an “Afrobella of the Week.” Feel free to judge my decision to feature her, but she is an indelible part of the history of black beauty in America, regardless of her (or your) feelings about that.

  53. Unforgettable Donyale. She left a daughter here in Italy who is a dancer. Her name is Dream Cazzaniga

  54. Jennifer Poe says:

    Thank you kawaii for your kind comments about me.
    Hello everyone. I am the young filmmaker making the doc on Donyale. I have a big job ahead of me but I have dedicated myself to this project 100 %. I think it is important for us to document our history (especially on film) regardless if it involves someone denying their race, because wether we like it or not that aspect is apart of black history. Hopefully with my film I can make people understand and see the wonderful side of Donyale, and show she was someone who just wanted to live and have respect. The lack of respect for her race in America is what made her go to Europe. well Iam off (I was just preparing questions for an interview relating to Donyale)

  55. Would be nice if you credited that much of the information and all the quotes you cite came from the Wikipedia article about Luna.

  56. Actually, djellabah, I often use (and cite) Wikipedia, but “much of the information and all of the quotes”, I actually got from the site that I linked to, http://donyaleluna.tripod.com. Wikipedia also includes the same information, so I have no idea which came first in that particular case. But I researched this article mainly through the Tripod site, and most of the quotes are contained therein. Thanks for commenting.

  57. Actually, I wrote most of the Luna article for Wikipedia last year, so it seems that the other site you describe took most of the information from that. I have continually updated the Luna article for Wiki, most recently today, returning original quotes that somebody has tinkered with. By the way, Luna appeared on the March 1966 cover of BRITISH Vogue; Beverly Johnson was the first African American model to appear on the cover of US Vogue.

  58. We started that Wikipedia Article – because there was nothing there even after all of these years

  59. Hi Afrobella
    Love the details in your story of Donyale. She was an icon of mine since I was a teenager in Detroit.
    I hope you won’t mind but I borrowed the Vogue cover shot from you. I had one on my original post back in Sept 06…but when I looked recently it had disappeared.
    Thanks again, David

  60. Thank-you for updated information on Ms.Luna. I enjoy reading about her since I was named after her. I know several who were born in the 70′s whose parents were drawn to her. I feel honored.

  61. Just as an update, I am Donyale’s first cousin. Question – Have you ever met my cousin? You really have shared a very inaccurate viewpoint. Shame on you.

  62. You can find me in a book the “THE PACT” by the three doctors Dr. Sampson Davis, Dr. Rameck Hunt and Dr. George Jenkins. My chapter is Earth Angel.

    I loved my cousin and found her trailblazing to be inspiring, empowering, and gracious. I gave her homage in my work with these young men and others… You see I knew they could make it because I knew her…….

    Something really amazing about knowing someone…

  63. P.S.

    By the way I loved my grandparents too!!!! And my aunt and uncle etc.. MY FAMILY THAT RAISED ME AND DONYALE
    opps…. you don’t know them either…… IN THE FUTURE WRITE ABOUT YOUR OWN PEOPLE.. INACCURATELY OF COURSE!!!

  64. Hey Carla, I did a hell of a lot of research on this post, and everything was written based on the information that’s been released about her. So when you write in to accuse me of inaccuracy, I also hope that you’ve also sent mail to Wikipedia, Time magazine, and the New York Times to set them straight about your cousin. Is this book The Pact actually about your cousin? Why mention it? Care to set some of these so-called “inaccuracies” straight? Let me know what I got wrong. Tell us the positive perspective before you start making accusations, why don’t you?

  65. youtube video with Donyale Luna…a bit weird…but you can see what a graceful beauty she truly was:

  66. jasmine the jigsaw says:

    It’s almost exactly a year ago that you posted this…I just heard of her today and I was googling around and found your piece on her…thanks for profiling this very interesting bella… <3

  67. jasmine the jigsaw says:

    Hey…anyone notice that on that Vogue cover her hand is hiding two very distinctively African-American features…the nose and the mouth?

  68. Yea, the nose and mouth was covered because of fear of racial backlash of white readership and subscribers. Which is a fact!! Afrobella do the research for your bloggers. She left to go to Europe because Richard Avedon and Harpers Bazaar was threatened racially by the segregated subscribers in the South and they were afraid for their lives. She didn’t have a Black agent or a father because he was dead. She continued on her path alone at 20 in 1966 without any people professionally or family to look out for her. And managed to secure the cover and command a salary higher than any other woman of any race in the world internationally or domestically.. WOW VERY NOTEWORTHY !!! Yes she supplied interviews to Judy Stone a investigative reporter of Jewish Russian descent in 1968 dressed in SATIRE like Josephine Baker her role model did in the 1930′s. In a Blonde wig and contacts look at me now America still afraid to take my picture because of racial prejudice. I look beautiful as a white woman…Definitely more beautiful than you Judy and look I even have a white boyfriend… By the way I am spiritually enlightened and believe that all races should have an opportunity to showcase there talent not just whites or blacks…I do not support the oppression and hate that you do.. I am a artist not a model..I am well studied and intelligent to negotiate all this with the makeup I do myself which is Egyptian..
    Yea, several years later Beverly Johnson would play the game as the Black race loves to do and trash her for her own opportunity which would not have existed without Luna trailblazing.. Really sad to see that we are the only race that continues to discredit our leaders which is why we are so disrespected.. Our ignorance is unbelieveable? During our Black history of the sixties it was and is a known fact the Media is not on out side. Who is the family member that called her weird to white media.. Family and community of Detroit would have been thrilled to see one of our own on a cover of a White Magazine in 1965 and 1966.. Especially , since Black solidarity did not come about until after this lady had left this country as so many of our artists had prior to her because of racism.. Stokely Carmichael and the NAACP fought during 1968 about the term Negro and colored to establish BLACK.. You know Afrobella the Black Movement and then in the seventies the African American classification. It really doesn’t matter the point is that she got on the covers!!!! So that all the doors could open for ethnic fashionistas and artists… Unfortunately, she lost her life achieving this.There were no black people in this industry at the time that she came domestically or internationally.. So who was she supposed to hang with? She was in Pain and the white industry stole her ideas and took credit for them. They never asked her about her training her passion her interest as an artist …. Just the drama of her race every time.. What a BORE!!! While her less interesting and beautiful white girls received real interviews… I think I want to get high too!!! This woman was talented, smart and beautiful.. She was inspirational to the LEADING ARTISTS of our century Salvador Dali called her a GOD!!! Pat Cleveland called her a GOD!! Warhol took her to Harpers Bazaar!!! Fellini one of the greatest directors of all time heralded her!!!!! I don’t know who you are or how well educated but there is something very wrong with your commentary about such a high achiever in the art world!!!! Folks did drugs during this time period and still do big deal.. She was a visionary and you can still see her influence from makeup to the catwalk today she was AHEAD OF HER TIME!!!!! How about she brought movement to the catwalk prior to her there was none..Check that history!!! Everything was original and groundbreaking,,. Her personal life heartbreaking… But she still paved it for you……

  69. Donyale was sweet and lovely and never wanted to hurt anyone or anything… She really wasn’t a diva she cared about animals and nature.. Thought music and dance and paintings were beautiful much more beautiful than any people she ever encountered… Passionate about acting because she could create more beauty…She was creative and talented and loved the arts more than she did herself…She found it difficult as most artists do to accept the harsh reality of society…Where is the LOVE???? We hear the lyrics , we see the paintings, we love ornamental jewelry, fine fabrics for the way they feel, fresh food because of its taste and textures, romantic stories of true love and intimacy, Hopefully, we Love DIversity because it is cool… from Japanese kimonos to Egyptian Hieroglyphics, to Buddhism, to the variations of dialect, to the architecture of Rome to the green fields of Ireland… She was exposed to multiculturalism and the demographics of the world… to film and what it does…various religious beliefs and mores… She loved to walk barefoot and so do I like most ethnic people.. Because the sand and clay and even concrete feels good under your feet..Shoes can be restrictive when you are a dancer which she was trained in Ballet, Modern and Jazz…With tapered toes and narrow feet with length there were no shoes in the sixties that fit properly.. and culturally from the south it was fun to run through the water and sands and clay barefoot…..Beauty is all around us all the time and we cannot accept it… She loved to write and did beautiful stories for children… It was cool to be a butterfly and have wings and fly… She was a Phoenix!!! And no racist , sarcastic, caucasian writers from noteworthy American magazines or newspapers will ever have my allegiance over her beauty or people of color beauty ever….And black people as a race did not want the Tuskegee Airmen to fly or the black panthers to wear AFROS and refer to themselves as Black.. Or Donyale to be a model because it was considered low class, or Hip hop to do music and videos.. or the slaves did not want the other slaves to run from the master… BUT SOME OF US WILL BE FREE…Even if it kills us…..

  70. I find it absolutely amazing that comments continue to come in for this post that I wrote so long ago. Some commenters have come at me with accusations and anger, but all I did was research Donyale Luna’s life exhaustively. I am sorry if my words don’t gel with your personal experience.

    I love reading the perspectives of those of you who seem to have known Donyale Luna in her fleeting and marvelous life. Please feel free to continue sharing your knowledge and experiences — it’s good to learn more than what has been previously reported in the mainstream media.

  71. Empress says:

    I’m quite interested about Carla’s (Donayle’s cousin age). Right now Donyale would be a little over 60 and since Carla is her 1st cousin that would put her around the 50-65 age range being that you were raised with her and all. Now I really don’t know a woman of this age to be posting on a blog or even speaking the way Carla is. Hell I would think you would have arthritis by now. How do you even know about the internet? In any event, I didn’t notice Bella speaking ill of the Legendary Luna. I have about two interviews of Ms Luna and, well, she does contradict herself a lot. But hey so did my idol the incomparable Josephine Baker. But how many times are you going to say you knew Donyale….Hmmmm
    What’s understood doesn’t need to be said right?

  72. Very well done presentation here, and happy to read about the Detroit connection. There are obviously many more stories about fascinating people like her to be told.

  73. LOLROF @ some of these wacky comments coming about over a year later. Bella where do they come from. I a lot of your more popular posts, crazy folks have posted comments a year after the fact.

    Empress said:
    since Carla is her 1st cousin that would put her around the 50-65 age range being that you were raised with her and all. Now I really don’t know a woman of this age to be posting on a blog or even speaking the way Carla is. Hell I would think you would have arthritis by now

    *dead*

  74. Karen Miller says:

    Donyale was a good friend of mine before she went to NY. I am 64 years old and DO know how to use the internet!We were in the Detroit Civic Center Theater together. She was very sweet and troubled. She loved fanticy, it was a good escape. She seemed to suddenly disappear, when I got a letter from her in NY. She wanted me to quit my job and come there.I was too practical and thought this a bad idea. I have an engraved invitation to her wedding at the home of Miles Davis. After that, I became a military wife and moved around alot. Actually had 2 military husbands, so really moved, lost track, except for occational news articles sent by my Mom.I started having dreams of searching for her when I found out she died. SKIDOO was just on TV, which made me think of looking her up on the internet. It filled in a lot of questions about her. Thank you for keeping her memory alive.

  75. I find that it’s very hard to believe anything that “GEE” said in his/her comments, due to the fact that he/she can’t even use the right form of there/their/they’re. Plus, he/she can’t use a/an correctly. Jeez, people, GRAMMAR!

  76. I found this article and information about Donyale very interesting. I ran across it after googling African American First. I agree with other writers, that most of us then and even now have to do what we need to in order to succeed and fulfil our fustrations. She was ahead of her time, and bold and beutiful and smart. Bless the ones who knew and loved her personally. Other models of today should pay homage to a great and troubled (only because of society). If she was free to be her, she would not have been labeled weird, etc…
    by the way, I will be 55 next month, and yes I do know the internet very well. Haven’t you heard, the 50′s are the new 30′s and because we were baby boomers, the creaters of the hip generation, we are just as in tune with hip-hop, internet, ipod, black berry and everything you kids know, and we just love to see what’s next with you fabulous generation.

  77. Donyale, thy wings of innocence really did ascend to Heaven. For many years I have prayed for your little girl that I only felt as unborn. For I adored Donyale, first in New York, then later in Los Angeles. Playboy honored her universal beauty as did Donyale. We were very much alike in our mutual love for freedom, I suppose that is why we felt comfortable, although I held her in unearthly awe.Imagination is the fine virtue that elevates us from our roots, yet the sentiment remains. For those who remain amoung the living, She is ageless Guardian Angel Of Beauty, limitless & truly infinite. With love to her child, Barbara. HerNewGod@aol.com

  78. don strachan says:

    I dated Donyale for some months in 1963/64, before she became famous. This winter I finally wrote it up, and then as a lark I googled her, and found this site, along with so many more! I knew she had hit the big time (we got together twice in Beverly Hills in 1967), but had no idea how big she was in Europe, or that she is still regarded as an icon today. It has been a very emotional experience for me.
    I (a whitey) want to comment on her denial of her roots. Two incidents come to mind. Once I took her to eat at the Famous Italian Cafe on Woodward, where I worked. The next night when I came to work, I thought the staff would be impressed. When I asked one of the waitresses how she liked Donyale, she called me aside and said, “We don’t like them coming in here.”
    “She’s not Negro,” I said. “She’s Polynesian.” (Donyale had told me that, and I believed her.)
    “It doesn’t matter,” said the waitress. “We don’t like them coming in.”
    Another time I brought her over to my slum apartment near Wayne State University. It was late at night and the outside door was locked. I roused the manager to let us in.
    The next morning he called me aside. “We don’t allow them in here,” he said.
    “She’s not Negro,” I said. “She’s Polynesian.”
    “Don’t matter,” he said. “We don’t allow them in.” Yep, almost identical words.
    A week or two later, she came unannounced one night to visit me. The manager wouldn’t let her in.
    This was 1964. The Civil Rights movement was just getting underway in the South, and it hadn’t reached Detroit yet. Donyale was not a trailblazer. I used to think she lied to me about things in her life, and eventually decided that she couldn’t separate fantasy from reality. Now I can see that she dealt with the painful aspects of her life by making up more comforting stories and proclaiming them to be true.
    You figure, she was probably 6 feet tall by the age of 12, and skinny as a rail, and endured a lot of humiliation about her looks before becoming so exotically beautiful. I think she did whatever she could do to avoid further humiliations—like being turned away from her boyfriend’s apartment building.
    As for continuing the charade once she was famous—she had a very fragile personality. I haven’t seen any documentation for the allegation that her father was “abusive” (physically? emotionally? sexually?) and she never mentioned her family to me, but in retrospect I feel sure that *something* pretty serious happened to her in her childhood that she never recovered from.
    I’d like to know more about the drug allegations. To say she was a druggie and support it with her quote about what she had gotten from LSD shows a real ignorance of drugs: LSD enhanced the lives of most people who took it in the Sixties and Seventies. She had red lines in her eyes when I saw her in Beverly Hills, but she could have just been tired. On the other hand, she was running with the cultural high-rollers, where drugs were everywhere. The obituary from the Detroit paper said she died of “undisclosed causes,” which I suspected meant drugs. Now all the websites say it was an overdose. Only one says it was accidental. Does anyone know more about this?

  79. never heard of her before but the comments yrs later on this blog have made an interesting read

  80. This is an interesting article purely for the fact that this woman’s attitude to her racial identity is exactly the same of so many many black women today. These are the ones who are completely devoid of any self pride in being black. They’ll say things like their great grandmother was 1/2 Arabic just so it mitigates being black. It sickens me. These types of blacks are still seen as “negroes” by white people, yet they wanna deny being black in any way possible. Fuck them, I say. They’re not worth dealing with, especially by black women who are proud of their blackness.

    This woman was beautiful but she shouldn’t be celebrated by black women at all. Her mentality is what years of slavery did to the mindsets of people and it should not be followed. Why glorify Ms Luna if she hated being black?

    • That’s an awfully cold-hearted viewpoint. “Fuck them”? Really?

      People don’t deny their race to spite other people, they do it because of shame and low self-esteem. They need love, not scorn.

  81. don strachan says:

    For a book I am writing about Donyale, I would love to contact Karen Miller and Carla. Is there a way to do this?

  82. Gee, it is too clear who you are…
    Seems still can’t forget about your ex-wife, it is really a shame. Mr Gee! LOL

  83. Wow!I never was crazy about my name, or how it was spelled anyway. When I expressed this to my mother some 30 years ago, she told me that my name holds special meaning! She told me that I was named after someone that she went to High School with and how although Donyale Luna was a few years older, she admired her style and grace!! She also showed me a newspaper article in the 70′s about this woman. I just started seaching for information about her, and now I am honored to know that I was named after someone who made great stides for african american women although that was not her goal!!!!

  84. thanks for posting so much info about a beautiul and inspirational black woman.

  85. She’s mesmerising in ‘Rock n Roll Circus’.

    Such a young age to die- rest in peace, lovely luna.

  86. Clearly, she was mixed. Back in those days…mixed and did not know anything about her background. This was not unusual among Mixed Americans of older generations.

    We looked exotic, different than other Black and White Americans and because of the extreme racism from both races….Mixed people kept to themselves.

    This child should have been taught to love who she was and told the facts of her racial background. To be mixed is a beautiful thing..just as being Black, White, Asian…or any other shade of the human race.

    Donyale Luna was a beautiful flower of the human race. She was far bigger than a stupid term “race.”

    No one can challenge her supreme beauty and gentelness. RIP angel.

    • NEWSFLASH, Cino!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, “BLACK” IS MIXED!!!!!!!!!

      • I think Cino means OBVIOUSLY mixed. Not my “great-great-grandfather was half Portuguese” or something. In the pictures with her white boyfriend, she’s almost as light as he is.

        Mixed-race people do have a different experience than non-mixed people, especially back in those days. Maybe she didn’t feel completely at ease with other black people because they didn’t accept her. I’m not making assumptions, just pondering.

  87. Robert Marc Fortier says:

    This is to don strachan, you said you worked at the Famous Italian Cafe in Detroit which was located on 2224 Woodward Ave, in front of the Fox Theater. My father Marc worked there as a cook and manager. He meet my mother Reda there. Do you remember them? Do you have any pics of the restaurant? I’m finding it’s hard to find pictures of such a popular restaurant of the time.
    Thanks.
    Robert.

  88. Karen Miller says:

    Don Strachan wanted to contact me about Donyale, can you please give him my e-mail?

  89. Hey, I am checking this site from my IPHONE and it looks kinda peculiar. Thought you would want to know. It’s a enlightening post though, didn’t mess that up.

  90. Well what more can we say about racism?..Its simply fear..Lokks whats happening in Arizona?New York city in relastion to building the mosque on the 911 graves.I too have experienced my share of racism. For I am of mixed race,born in louisiana…As a entertainer I have experienced racism from causcasian,african americans. Many people still harbor a dislike towards mulotto and creoles.I generally laugh it off and reply in gibberish.I have heard of many persons passing for what ever races to be excepted.I have friends that are latin,greek,armenian,turkish,etc.Sometimes they will remark”I’m white”. I guess do what you have to..we all must live with these decisions.Every race has stereotypes that know one wants to be associated with?

    • I really don’t think racism has much to do with fear. It’s about human beings’ megalomaniacal need to dominate other people. Straights do it to gays, the rich do it to the poor, men do it to women.

      Human beings are just plain sadistic. Not all of them, of course, but we all have that animalistic inclination to dominate.

  91. That is my first time I’ve visited right here. I discovered a great deal of intriguing facts in your blog. From the volume of feedback on your posts, I guess I am not the only a single! keep up the extraordinary work.

  92. Reading this post it is amazing what retards will add to a article, Really what is the point? Give the blogger a break and stop adding so much rubbish.

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  94. I totally agree with this post. you have just made me to bookmark this article

  95. Dear Afrobella, Back in the day when people had manners they used to say if you don’t have anything nice to say about someone then don’t say nothing at all…I wish you had remembered that adage because you just trashed Donyale Luna…like you knew her, if you had known her you could have never passed on idle gossip like this…I met her a couple times back in the day and yes she was freaky and weird but that was her persona…she worked at being unique…She was as fabulous as they come…she was as gorgeous as a human being can get…all 6’2″ of her…she was exotic creature and a sensitive artist that was apparently misunderstood in this sweet old hard life….that is why she left us so young she had to deal with haters like you…Donyale Luna opened doors on the international stage for models that came after her like Naomi Sims, Princess Elizabeth of Toro and Miss Beverly Johnson too…ya’ll better recognize!

    • I agree. If you cannot say something nice about someone; don’t say anything at all. I did not know Donyale Luna. Her accomplishments are amazing. As you said she opened doors for Sims, Johnson, and others to this present day.

  96. afrobella paid tribute to the woman by posting this article, many years ago. She did not TRASH anyone, she merely copied the information that is listed under the woman’s wikipedia profile. she has been accused of speaking negatively about Luna as if she is the one who proclaimed these statements to be true. please get it straight. thanks.

    • Thank you, Pat. I turn a blind eye to these comments because so many of them are clearly from people unfamiliar with the internet or with my blog. I hope they direct some of this vitriol to the Wikipedia page or others who have posted information along these lines long before I did…

  97. blkwomannucleus says:

    Uptown magazine just featured Luna in their Feb/March 2012 Detroit issue. I had never heard of her until now. I was so struck by her beauty that I’ve been searching all evening on the web to learn more. Every communication I’ve read has been consistent with Afrobella. I hope someone brings her story to the small screen or via a documentary. No wonder she was a muse for many – stunning woman!

  98. I went to school with Donyale Luna, a.k.a. Peggy Freeman, we had a journalism class together. She may have taken some classes at Cass Tech., I know her from the High School of Commerce, which Cass and Commerce had a connecting bridge to the schools. We would take classes at Cass and Cass students would take classes at Commerce High School. She was discovered walking through the beautiful Fisher Building not wearing shoes. This girl was really naturally beautiful. Yes, she was sometimes strange, but I really liked her. Her eyes were simply beautiful. I have her high school picture. She is also featured in the Uptown Magazine, Tracy Ross picture is on the front cover, and yes Diane Ross went to Cass as well or should I say Diana, sorry.

  99. The world will know of her again!

  100. Thank you for this very well written ind insightful article. I knew Donyale Luna in Paris when we were both models. The British Vogue cover, contrary to Urban Legend, was NOT chosen so to not offend the readers. First, there were plenty of photos inside which showed Donyale’s face and figure, and no one was “offended” at that.

    This pose, with Donyale peeking through her long fingers was chosen because it is a great shot, accentuating the make-up and Donyale’s exotic beauty. I have many pictures of her in my collection where she is posing with her hands covering part of her face. It was one of her signature looks. When this cover was shot, Donyale had impeccable credentials with pictures in her portfolio by Richard Avedon.

    I am looking forward to the documentary, which I did not know about.

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Trackbacks

  1. [...] I was reading the recent NY Times article on “IT” celeb-of-sorts Andre J, the bearded Vogue covergirl, and in the piece it said that (s)he spends time on Google looking up tragic lost model Donyale Luna. So of course, I am so drawn to the tragic lost variety of story, and had to go straight to Google myself to see what’s up. (There are a ton of links, but I decided the one I used was the most thorough.) Well, I didn’t know that Donyale Luna was in fact a Detroiter (my homegirl!), who rose to fame it the 60s as the first African American on the covers of major fashion press, and also was part of Warhol’s factory, among other film appearances. Having read tons about Warhol, going to the museum in Pittsburgh, and seeing every type of movie possible, I must have somehow missed her. Anyway, she was a tragic and mysterious character, with a sketchy background that she got away from through fantastical stories about a global history. There are some great shots of her in Paco Rabine clothes and much more, and Adel Rootstein even did a mannequin of her. However, she died of drugs in the late 70s, after fading into obscurity and has been mostly forgotten as people credit Beverly Johnson and Iman as the first women of color to make an impact on the fashion scene. Glad that the NY Times put that little side thought in, as I really enjoyed learning about a lost icon. All the sites seem to describe a biopic en route, but who knows when. [...]

  2. [...] Donyale Luna born Peggy Anne Freeman in Rome [...]

  3. [...] This brings me to the topic of this post, Ms. Donyale Luna.  Ms. Luna was the first Black model to grace the cover of Vogue magazine in 1966.  Born in Detroit with the birth name Peggy Ann Freeman, Ms. Luna was discovered by photographer David McCabe and quickly moved to New York to start her career.  In addition to a modeling career, Ms. Luna was also a party of Andy Warhol’s Factory and starred in a Federico Fellini film.  As a model, Luna supposedly demanded $60 a day for bookings, which was a pretty hefty rate during those times.  During my research, I saw an excellent post from Afrobella, who excellently summed up her life and career. [...]

  4. [...] like Adrienne Fidelin, Dorothea Towles Church and Donyale Luna may have paved the way, but Halston called her the first black supermodel. She posed with Andy [...]

  5. [...] posts I’ve written in these past four years and choose the top five most popular…the Donyale Luna: Lost Ones post would definitely rank high on the list. I wrote it in 2007 and to this day I still get [...]

  6. [...] Patrice Grell Yursik aka @Afrobella tells the story of DONYALE LUNA HERE [...]

  7. [...] Afrobella: Lost One: Donyale Luna /* [...]

  8. […] modelling presence. Her tragic demise was summed up succinctly in a profile done on the model by AfroBella, “Despite her tremendous fame in the sixties and seventies, today, Donyale Luna’s […]

  9. […] modelling presence. Her tragic demise was summed up succinctly in a profile done on the model by AfroBella, “Despite her tremendous fame in the sixties and seventies, today, Donyale Luna’s […]

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