Babe Linkin'

Jaime Bergman is telling me her life story. "I'm from Salt Lake City, grew up there," she says. "Normal kid. Did ballet, did jazz, cheerleading, soccer, baseball. And then I moved to Los Angeles about three years ago."

There's a small silence, and she smiles at me, as if to indicate that's about it. And a smile from Jaime Bergman, former St. Pauli Girl, Playboy's 45th Anniversary Playmate, bikini-clad star of the TV show Son of the Beach, is enough to make you decide you've just heard a terrific anecdote. This happens again, later in the conversation, when the diminutive blond actress tells me how she got the gig on the Howard Stern-produced cable series she is touring to promote: "Well, I was sent out on a casting by my agent, like any other job I did," says Bergman. "And after two or three callbacks, I got the job." Again, the little silence.

And then the smile. Spellbinding! I think. The woman's a natural-born raconteur!

We're waiting for lunch at That's a Wrap!, the sunny little salad-and-wrap-sandwich emporium on Seventh Street just north of McDowell. With a little prodding, I get the pleasant, modest Bergman, who's in her mid-20s, to flesh out the details of her autobiography a little. The move to L.A., for instance, was to shoot a Playboy pictorial. "It's exciting, more than anything else," she says of that experience. "I mean, it's a legendary magazine. It's been around for years. It's a lot of girls' dreams growing up. I don't know why, but it is." Bergman was among those girls -- she first encountered Playboy, the cover of which she was to adorn three times, when she was 6 years old.

"I found my stepdad's," she says. "I think it's just the beauty, how they make the girls up and the photography and stuff, that makes it appealing. Plus, you think it's a stepping stone to a career, which a lot of times it is." Bergman was one such case. She spent a few tedious months as the spokesmodel for St. Pauli Girl beer -- "It was a learning experience . . . but I don't think I'll be a spokesmodel for a beer ever again" -- before making cheesecake history as Playboy's ambassador to Romania.

"I was the first Playmate in the country. They got their first Playboy issue ever," she recalls. Of the thunderously enthusiastic reception she received as a vanguard of Western capitalism, she says: "It was the most amazing experience I ever had. I felt like Madonna. I was like, 'C'mon guys. It's just Playboy.'" From there, she worked in a number of movies and TV shows, including Beverly Hills, 90210, before landing her regular job on Beach, the second-season première of which aired on the USA Network last week.

Despite the conservatism of her home state, Bergman assures me that the folks back home are delighted with her career path.

"Oh, they love it," she says. "My mom loves everything I've done. She loves the show. My family's not religious."

A teriyaki chicken bowl with fruit on the side is set in front of Bergman, and a Greek salad wrap with a side of pasta in front of me. While we eat, she tells me about what it's like to follow, with tongue in cheek, in the flip-flop tracks of Pamela Anderson and David Hasselhoff.

"When I first got the audition, I was like, 'What is this show?' It's so like over-the-top and like, gross," she says. "But then I read the script, and it made sense. It's stuff that you say behind closed doors, because you don't want to offend anybody. We're just bringing it to TV."

The show, you see, is a canny Baywatch parody that hinges on the double-entendre nature of just about every line. Tim Stack plays the hilariously sincere lifeguard hero "Notch Johnson"; Bergman plays his colleague "B.J. Cummings." Johnson's nemesis is "Mayor Massengill." You get the idea. It's actually sort of funny, because -- rather than in spite -- of the fact that you can see each Hooters-esque groaner coming a nautical mile away.

It's become popular overseas, says Bergman, particularly in the U.K. Along with the obvious factors, she attributes the show's success in other countries to the same sort of Yank-watching impulse that fueled Baywatch's notoriety there. "I think Europeans are fascinated by the American lifestyle," she says. "They think we just live on beautiful beaches, and we have money, and we're all in great shape, and, you know, we're free."

Bergman wasn't familiar with her notorious/beloved executive producer, Howard Stern, whom she's met several times since landing the job. "Coming from Salt Lake City, we don't get Howard Stern. I mean, I knew his reputation, but I didn't know him that well. But then I moved to L.A. and heard him, and I think he's hysterical. If he wasn't so smart, I don't think he would be as appealing. He knows everyone, he knows everything. Not just celebritywise -- he knows everything."

I've nearly finished my Greek wrap, and it's delicious. I ask Bergman how she likes her teriyaki bowl, and she's unequivocal: "It's great. I love it! It's really good! I'm so glad this is what we're eating, 'cause I wanted health food. It's hard bein' in a bikini all day."

Hard, that is, when you're contractually obligated to keep your figure. "Basically, you have to maintain how you were hired," she explains. "Which is really hard, because I love food, I love chocolate, I love drinking. I like doing all the stuff we're not supposed to do. And we're in a bikini four days a week for 15 weeks."

Bergman's regimen to stay bikini-worthy includes nearly constant workouts. It's more of a struggle than it was back home in Utah, where in addition to her other athletic pursuits, she was a competitive barrel racer.

"Actually, riding horses is the best toning exercise, 'cause you're using every muscle in your body," she says. "You know, the squeezing and the gripping . . . I miss that more than anything else. I don't get a lot of time to ride in L.A. But I go home to visit, and my horse is still there."

Working in the bikini is hard for another reason. Son of the Beach, it turns out, is shot on Santa Monica Beach -- the same place Baywatch used to shoot -- during the coldest part of the year. "I have learned to bring long thermal underwear," says Bergman. "On the master [shot], of course, we have to wear the full bikini, but when we're doing the close-ups, you put your pants on. That's my secret. That helps so much, because we're shooting in 30-degree weather."

With long-term prospects for the show looking good, it's likely that Bergman will be wearing those bikinis and long johns for the foreseeable future. After all, she notes with resignation, "We're lifeguards. There's scenes where we're in clothes, but very seldom. I'm pushing for more clothes! But the ratings might go down."

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M.V. Moorhead
Contact: M.V. Moorhead