Though many doubted her, the bubbly and buxom blonde has been able to conquer Hollywood – all without losing her signature wacky (and often raunchy) sense of humor. Let’s take a look at how she became what one journalist referred to as “Carol Burnett trapped in Marilyn Monroe’s body”.
Born in a working-class suburb of Evergreen Park in Chicago, Jenny McCarthy seemed to be worlds away from the glamor of Hollywood. Jenny, along with her sisters Lynette, Joanne, and Amy spent their time roaming around their neighborhood. Though her last name sounds Irish, Jenny’s ancestry actually includes German and Polish ancestry in addition to Irish.
Jenny’s parents were hard workers, her father, Dan worked as a steel mill foreman while her mother worked several jobs when she wasn’t taking care of the children. We’re sure that little Jenny never thought she would become an international star.
A Strict Upbringing
Considering Jenny’s risque claim to fame, it would be surprising to know that before she was posing in her birthday suit, she actually grew up in a very religious household. Jenny’s family were staunch Catholics, meaning the girls spent most of their lives attending church services and adhering to strict catholic values.
Her parents often worked multiple jobs in order to send the girls to a prestigious catholic school and Jenny joked that she and her sisters would “lay with rosaries and statues all over our bodies because we thought that would protect us from Satan!”
Dreams of Stardom
Though she lived in a rough neighborhood, Jenny always felt she would become famous. As a child, she used to watch the classic game show “Wheel of Fortune” with her mother. Her mother, Linda, would tell the young star, “ "You can have Vanna's job - go walk like that," while showing her how to walk and act like the television personality Vanna White.
Jenny would also fantasize about becoming a famous celebrity like Olivia Newton-John, even dressing up like country superstar Dolly Parton for Halloween. Little did she know that she would soon become just as famous!
It might come as a surprise, but as a little girl, Jenny McCarthy actually dreamed of becoming a nun! In an interview, she explained that she wasn’t allowed to have “Fonzie posters on the wall growing up so I was stuck with Jesus, so I couldn’t help but have a crush on him.”
Her devotion to her faith quickly changed, however, when she found out that being a nun would mean that she wouldn’t be able to have her own family. The actress joked, “I had to take off the habit and put on my push-up bra.”
While we all know her as Jenny McCarthy, the star almost went by a different moniker. In a 1998 interview on “The Late Late Show With Tom Snyder”, the celebrity revealed that as a child, she planned on using a different name to make it in Hollywood - Rhonda!
Thinking that her birth name Jenny wasn’t fit for a career in showbiz, the Chicago native began requesting that people refer to her as Rhonda. She told the host that her grandparents would even make out their Christmas cards to “Rhonda” and not Jenny!
A Secret Brunette
When most fans think of Jenny McCarthy, they imagine a blonde and famously buxom woman. But as she revealed on an episode of “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee”, she was harboring a deep secret- she’s actually a natural brunette.
The star explained that when her brown hair began to come in, she tried to lighten it with a lightning spray which turned her hair orange. Jenny’s mother decided to let her bleach her hair to correct the color resulting in her signature flaxen locks! She looks practically unrecognizable with her dark hair!
High School Highs and Lows
Watching Jenny’s confident personality on shows like “Singled Out” and seeing her glamorous photoshoots, one would never think that she struggled to fit in as a high school student, but the star actually had a particularly rough time during these high school years.
Though she attended an expensive catholic school across town, Jenny was actually quite poor. Her father had to work extra jobs to afford the tuition, and Jenny often felt ostracized by her wealthier peers. Jenny often considered herself to be an outcast at the all-girls Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School.
The “Perfect Target”
Though Jenny often felt out of place because of her poor background, her looks often made her a victim of bullying. In an interview with Dr.Drew Pinsky, Jenny called her classmates in her all-girls school “vicious”.
Not only did she get made fun of, but she was beaten up numerous times by residents in her rough neighborhood. Jenny blamed this “very scary” point of her life due to her looks, especially her big, curly blonde hair which she says made her a “perfect target” for the bullies.
After graduating high school, Jenny McCarthy found herself in a place familiar to many - what should she do? Jenny enrolled at Southern Illinois University to study nursing but dropped out after two years. She returned home and began working at a Polish deli in her neighborhood.
Though she worked behind the deli counter, Jenny knew that she was destined for something bigger, and so did the deli’s manager. Jenny shared that she would often sign bags, which the deli’s manager would tape up on the wall, saying, “Some day, I'm telling you, it will be worth something."
Struggling to Make Ends Meet
Before returning home to work in a local deli, Jenny McCarthy worked as a bartender while studying at Southern Illinois University. Though she was working, she often had trouble making ends meet making her resort to some pretty drastic ways to survive.
Jenny said that she would often flirt with men in the bar where she worked, then go to their homes where she would sneak into their kitchens, steal their pizzas and “run home! We’re sure she’s happy that she no longer has to steal cold leftovers from strangers!
Confident with her looks, and less interested in slicing salami at a deli for the rest of her life, Jenny McCarthy decided to pursue modeling. Unfortunately, despite her Covergirl looks, the young star was rejected from agency after agency.
Though she had a very svelte figure, she was told that she didn't have the correct measurements for modeling. But just when she felt completely defeated sitting on the street corner after being rejected once again, she saw something that would change her life (and career) forever - the infamous bunny logo.
A Risky Move
Having been raised in a strict catholic house, the idea of posing for “Playboy '' magazine seemed like downright heresy. Calling seeing the playboy building an example of when “things in your life just happen for some reason”, the blonde decided to go for it.
She realized posing for the famous men’s magazine could help change her life. Though she used to be disgusted by the magazine when customers would buy it at the deli where she worked, she later thought, if those chicks could do it, why couldn't she?”
Nothing Can Stop Her Now
With a new career path ahead of her, it seemed like nothing could stop Jenny McCarthy from pursuing her dream of becoming a model for “Playboy” magazine. The only thing that seemed to stop her was a very bossy secretary at the magazine’s office who told her she couldn’t just waltz into the office and onto the pages.
Thankfully, just as she was waiting for the elevator, one of the magazine’s executives suggested that she try auditioning for a photo shoot to become a “Playmate”. This lucky break got her back on track!
Strike a Pose
After being told that she could audition to become a “Playmate”, Jenny McCarthy soon found herself in front of a professional photography team wearing not much. She explained” I put on a bikini... I didn't know how to pose; it was like a mugshot.”
Despite her lack of experience, within an hour of posing for the mag, she received a call saying, “You’re Miss October!”. That October of 1993, Jenny McCarthy was offered $20,000 by the magazine - a far cry from what she was making working behind the counter of her neighborhood deli!
The Big Photoshoot
Not only was her Playboy photoshoot controversial because of its explicit nature, but the shoot also got attention because of the schoolgirl uniform that Jenny McCarthy wore in the spread. To make matters even more eyebrow-raising, Hugh Hefner himself said that he chose the blonde beauty out of 10.000 other applicants to be a Playmate due to the “wholesome Catholic girl” persona she exuded.
It seemed to work - Jenny’s down-to-earth nature made popular with readers of the magazine. Though she said she “cried” about the experience, she later credits it with launching her career.
The Plan to Hide Playboy
With such a religious upbringing, it's only natural that Jenny McCarthy would try her best to hide her “Playboy” photo spread from her religious parents. She was so scared that she even took $2,000 from the $20,000 that she received to send them on a cruise the week the magazine came out.
Unfortunately, it was everywhere. Jenny told the late Larry King that her house was egged and her sisters (still attending catholic school) were tortured because of their sister’s actions.
A Nude Awakening
While Jenny McCarthy was feeling excited to have been selected as “Miss October'', it seemed that not everyone felt the same way. Her mother was apparently so disgusted by the news that she apparently would tell Jenny that she only had three daughters now.
Heartbroken, Jenny would try to get her mother to see why she decided to pose for the magazine saying, that this was her only option to get out. She said "I will be a Playmate that does something great, mom. Trust me and stand by me.'"
Things Are Looking Up
Though Jenny McCarthy’s devout catholic parents didn’t approve of her photoshoot they soon decided to embrace their daughter’s risque career choice - especially when she was paid $100,000 to be Playmate of the Year in 1994!
Jenny used that money to help her parents move out of the rough neighborhood where she grew up and into the wealthier suburbs of Chicago. Jenny explains that her conflicted parents were happy and sad all at the same time because they didn't envision the daughter having to do that to help them out.
Welcome to the Playboy Mansion
Not only was Jenny McCarthy a popular centerfold model for Playboy magazine, but the model was even invited to live with the magazine's founder, the late Hugh Hefner.
Though many have said that living in the mansion was one nonstop party, Jenny has referred to it as a catholic school. Jenny shared that Hugh, who was married to his second wife Kimberly Conrad at the time, ran the famous mansion like a strict dormitory - a far cry from the wild stories many others have shared about the famous residences.
Onwards and Upwards
By the early ‘90s, Jenny McCarthy seemed to be on a roll. But although posing nude had awarded her fame and fortune, she decided to make the hard decision to leave and move on from the magazine.
Hugh and her fellow playmates were mad at her for leaving, she explained that the best one can be is 'Playmate of the Year'. There was no 'Playmate of the Century'. Recognizing her shelf-life, Jenny decided it would be better for her career if she went on to do other projects - a move that would pay off.
Stereotyped and Stuck
One would assume that becoming “Playmate of the Year'' would open all sorts of professional doors, but apparently, that wasn’t the case. Jenny McCarthy revealed that no one wanted anything to do with her because of her past.
Though Jenny wanted to pursue comedy, she was told she would be better in shows like “Baywatch”. The stereotyping and typecasting were so bad that she had to audition 12 times and her manager had to make seven phone calls in order to land her co-hosting gig on “Singled Out” because MTV thought she was too wild!
The Girl on TV
Though she had hosted the Playboy channel’s “Hot Rocks” music show, Jenny soon found herself faced with an opportunity too good to pass up - she was selected to be a co-host (alongside Chris Hardwick) on MTV’s reality dating show “Singled Out”.
The Chicago native was shocked not just because of the opportunity to take part in such a popular program, but also because she finally got to be herself while on a major network. The star said she was handed a microphone and was told by the channel that they hired her to be her!
TV Dreams Almost Go Up in Flames
After being chosen to co-host one of the most popular shows on MTV, Jenny McCarthy’s big Hollywood break almost never happened. The night before she would assume her co-hosting duties, Jenny’s hotel room caught on fire after she left some candles unattended.
The celebrity says that she was woken up by a guardian angel screaming at her in her dream, which she still remembers causing her to wake up and leave the room. Scarily enough, firefighters told her that had she stayed in the room five more minutes, she would've been dead!
MTV’s Surprise Hit
While dating shows have been a part of television for decades, MTV’s “Singled Out” was unique in how entertaining it was. The now-cult classic was known for its unconventional (and often hilarious) contestants and moments.
One of the biggest appeals of the show, naturally, was co-host Jenny McCarthy’s larger-than-life personality and outrageous peak-’90s wardrobe. Though Jenny says, “No one thought that show was going to be anything other than bad TV, but it became a huge cult classic.” so much so that the show was even revived years later, but it just wasn't the same without Jenny!
Competition of the Blonde
If you ask most people who grew up during the ‘90s who their favorite blonde was, many would find it hard to decide between Pamela Anderson and Jenny McCarthy. Both blondes owed their fame largely in part to their popular shoots, but their careers tended to go in different directions despite both being repped by the manager (and Jenny’s boyfriend at the time, Ray Manzella).
Though Pamela dropped manager Ray, the two were still in competition - even appearing on two different covers for the September of 1997 issue of the famous magazine.
All Good Things Come to an End
If there’s one thing to know about Jenny McCarthy, it’s that she has often departed from projects at unexpected times. For example, at the height of the popularity of MTV’s dating show “Singled Out”, Jenny decided to leave the show in 1997, only to be replaced by fellow ‘90s star, Carmen Electra.
Though her time on the cult-favorite show was brief, Jenny didn’t want to limit herself. She wanted to explore the world of acting with her variety sketch comedy show “The Jenny McCarthy Show” and her sitcom, “Jenny”.
Jenny’s Bathroom Humor
Though she may have been one of the most desired women of the ‘90s, Jenny McCarthy always made it a point to not take herself too seriously. Though she had told Howard Stern about her bathroom habits in graphic detail, few would have thought she would star in a national campaign for Candie's shoes (remember them?) sitting on the toilet.
Naturally, this toilet-themed photoshoot irked many who found it vulgar and distasteful. Candies, however, weren't complaining. The controversial ad boosted sales by a reported 19% No wonder, they invited her back for more bathroom-based ads!
From Playboy to Network Television
Described by one journalist as, “Carol Burnett trapped in Marilyn Monroe's body,” Jenny McCarthy had an undeniable talent for humor and shocking audiences. Her two television projects launched in 1997 after her departure from “Singled Out” were no different.
Unfortunately, critics and audiences didn’t quite appreciate the blonde’s unique brand of humor. “The Jenny McCarthy Show” was universally panned especially because of the often disturbing scenes. Her sitcom, “Jenny” didn’t fare too well either - it was canceled after just one season. Jenny’s time in Hollywood suddenly seemed to be under threat.
Old And New Career Paths
1997 marked an especially interesting point in Jenny McCarthy’s life - though she once again appeared on the cover of Playboy’s September issue, she had now embarked on a new career path - writer.
With her attempt at television shows not being as successful as anticipated, the blonde decided to release her first of many books - an autobiography called “Jen-X: Jenny McCarthy's Open Book”. The book, which gave a candid look into the media personality’s mind became a hit and would inspire her to write several other bestselling books.
Jenny’s “Playboy” Comments Rustle some feathers
Though her “Playboy” photo spread helped launch her career, Jenny McCarthy has often tried to distance herself from the famous men's magazine - a move that bothered other former Playmates like Shannon Tweed.
In reference to Jenny’s decision, the 1982 Playmate of the Year coldly said, "I'm not one of those who did the magazine, then tries to hide it for the rest of your life.'' She even said that she didn’t believe that Jenny was losing opportunities because of the risque photos, insinuating instead that the blonde didn’t have anything to “deliver”. Ouch!
From Magazines to Becoming a Movie Star
Having proved she was more than comfortable in front of the camera, Jenny McCarthy decided to channel her charismatic personality and centerfold looks into a film career. In 1998, she appeared alongside South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone in the sports comedy “BASEketball”.
Then, in 1999, she had a role in the comedy “Diamonds” starring film legends Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, and Dan Aykroyd. Though there was no lack of star power, both films were universally panned. While her movie career was off to a bumpy start, audiences still loved Jenny.
Plastic Surgery Regrets
Having posed in her birthday suit various times, you would think that Jenny McCarthy would be comfortable with every inch of her body. But in a revealing interview on “The Late Late Show With Tom Snyder”, Jenny revealed that one of her biggest regrets was actually getting her chest augmented - a surgery done at just 19 years old.
She initially thought that the surgery would enhance her life, but it actually had the opposite effect. The celebrity explained that her bodacious bosom has resulted in her being taken less seriously.
A New Love
Her appearance in the films didn’t result in Jenny McCarthy walking away with any acting awards, however, she did end up getting something out of it - a new love interest in the form of actor and director John Asher.
John, known for his role on the television series Weird Science (based on the classic John Hughes film of the same name) was instantly smitten. Jenny, who had previously dated her manager Ray Manzella who was almost twice her age was now dating someone just a couple of years older than she was.
Jenny Says “I Do”
Just as her career was heating up and going on in a new direction, so was her love life. After meeting on the set of her film “Diamonds”, Jenny McCarthy and the film’s director, John Asher began dating. Not long after, in 1999, the two exchanged vows.
In an interview with Bruce W. Cook, John praised his wife’s performance in “Diamonds” as “flawless” and that she told him, “I love you and I’m going to marry you”. To her credit, Jenny called feeling like "electricity hit me” when she met her future husband.
Back to Television
Jenny McCarthy didn’t quite find success with her own television show and sitcom, but audiences still loved her and loved seeing her onscreen. By the late 1990s and early 2000s, Jenny seemed to be everywhere on television. From “MADtv” to recurring roles on shows like “Just Shoot Me!” and “The Drew Carey Show”, fans couldn't get enough of the blond!
But while things seemed to be going well, and Jenny seemed to light up the screen with her charismatic and hilarious personality, behind the scenes, the actress and model was going through some very difficult times…
Yes, she has a natural talent for comedy, but it turns out that Jenny McCarthy’s favorite movie genre is actually horror. The blonde star shared she always dreamed of starring in a horror movie, even pretending to act out suspenseful scenes.
In 2000 her dream came true when she starred as a pretentious actress named Sarah Darling in the horror film “Scream 3”. In true Jenny form, she later starred in the parody film Scary Movie 3 where she poked fun at some of the most famous horror movies (including the “Scream” film series) alongside fellow Playmate, Pamela Anderson.
A Devastating Discovery
Most parents would agree that there’s nothing worse than knowing that your child is having issues with their health - especially when you have to try to address your child’s health concerns in the public eye.
When her son Evan was just two years old, Jenny McCarthy and her husband John Asher’s son began to have a series of serious health complications resulting in hospital stays and even fears for his life. Then, news that would change everything - at just two years old doctors diagnosed Evan with autism. Jenny was devastated, saying that nothing had prepared her for that.
Following in Her Sister’s Footsteps
Though her first photoshoot probably sent shockwaves in her strict catholic family, it seems that it may have opened the door for her siblings to follow in her famous footsteps. In 2004, Jenny McCarthy’s sister Amy decided to strip down in front of the camera and become one of Playboy’s “Cyber Girls'' wearing not much but some carefully placed jewelry.
Not only did she pose for Playboy, but Amy also appeared in Jenny’s 2006 film “Dirty Love”. Though the two have about four years between them, they look like identical twins!
A Busy Girl
In between being a mother and world-famous celebrity, in 2005, Jenny McCarthy added yet another job to her resume - travel television host with E!’s travel reality show called “Party at the Palms”. The reality show, which was hosted by Jenny, followed the wild and crazy antics of guests and celebrities who frequented the Las Vegas Palms Hotel.
Though the show lasted just one season, fans were happy to see Jenny back as a host, while fans of the famous Vegas venue were excited to see the hotel’s rooftop Ghost Bar and Rain nightclub featured.
Baby Book Author
After breaking into the blonde centerfold scene with her controversial schoolgirl-themed photoshoot, few people could have predicted that Jenny McCarthy’s career would go from skimpy photoshoots to writing best-selling books about pregnancy and motherhood.
But like most of her life, Jenny has defied the critics. In 2004, Jenny wrote a book about her pregnancy experience called “Belly Laughs” followed by a 2005 book about motherhood called “Baby Laughs” like most of her books, the two offered a no holds barred look at the often-less glamorous side of becoming a parent as told in Jenny’s hilarious way.
An “Outrageous Comedy”
No stranger to gross-out humor, Jenny McCarthy decided to write a script for a comedic film called “Dirty Love”. The film was actually intended to be a television show but was deemed too “raunchy” and “outrageous” for network television, so she turned it into a movie.
Despite Jenny’s hard work and a supporting role from fellow late ‘90s “babe” Carmen Electra, the film flopped and was universally panned. To make matters worse, the film, which had been written and directed by Jenny’s husband John Asher, came out just as the couple had filed for divorce.
A New Love
They may have been one of Hollywood's least likely couples, but during their five-year-long relationship, actor Jim Carrey and Jenny McCarthy were completely smitten with one another. The two met in 2005 and somehow managed to keep their relationship under wraps until the following year when they went public.
Though they seemed like a bit of an odd match, fans soon fell for the unique couple, especially because of how doting Jim Carrey was to Jenny McCarthy’s son Evan. Though many speculated that they would tie the knot, their highly publicized relationship, unfortunately, ended in 2010.
Jenny Goes Behind the Scenes
There’s no doubt that Jenny McCarthy is comfortable in front of the camera - whether it's acting or modeling, her natural confidence and charisma shine through. It turns out, however, that she is also interested in taking part in the behind-the-scenes action too.
In 2005, she got behind the camera and became Playboy magazine’s first Playmate to serve as a celebrity photographer where she snapped pictures of model Jennifer Madden for the magazine's online Cyber Club feature. Host, model, author, and actress? It seems like Jenny is comfortable taking on any job in entertainment!
Sealed With a Kiss
While many of us have our own New Year’s Eve traditions, for a decade, many viewers would tune in to watch the Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve set in Times Square hosted by Ryan Seacrest and Jenny McCarthy.
The bubbly blonde was known for kissing a lucky member of the U.S. Armed Forces as soon as the clock struck midnight. After ten years of locking lips with men in uniform, Jenny announced in 2020 that she was going to be staying at home with her family instead of hosting the renowned event.
Though her controversial photospreads initially caused some tension within her family, Jenny McCarthy is actually extremely close with her family, especially her sisters. While one of her sisters followed her career by posing for the men's magazine, her other sister actually followed a different path.
Sister Joanne (JoJo) McCarthy played basketball professionally for the American Basketball League’s Chicago Condors before studying makeup artistry. She has done makeup for shows like “Pretty Little Liars”, and for her sister’s reality show “Donnie Loves Jenny”. Jenny has stated how happy she has been to have her sister on set!
Jenny Isn’t the Only Famous McCarthy
There are many McCarthys in the entertainment industry, but only two are actually related - Jenny McCarthy and Melissa McCarthy. Melissa is Jenny’s cousin and while they’re not the closest today (Jenny once referred to them as living in “opposite worlds”), they were quite close as children.
Jenny also helped Melissa enter show business by hooking her up to her first acting job - a cameo on Jenny’s sketch comedy series “The Jenny McCarthy Show”. Jenny also rushed to Melissa’s defense when a movie critic published a particularly critical comment about Melissa’s appearance.
A New “View”
As a long-time host and one of the most outspoken women in Hollywood, Jenny McCarthy seemed like a natural fit for the long-running daytime talk show, “The View”. In 2013, after appearing on the show more than a dozen times and even co-hosting, Jenny got a seat at the show's popular table.
Sitting alongside “View” veterans like Barbara Walters, Jenny’s warm personality quickly made her a fan favorite. Unfortunately, Jenny didn’t feel the same - after being let go after just one year, she referred to her time on the show as “miserable” because “I couldn’t be myself”.
Road to Love
Though many fans wanted her relationship with actor Jim Carrey to work out, it seemed that fate had other plans. In 2012, while appearing on Bravo’s “Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen”, Jenny McCarthy met former New Kids on the Block singer and “Blue Bloods” actor Donnie Wahlberg.
Though Donnie was admittingly shy when they first met, they were soon dating and later tied the knot in 2014. Today, the two have shared their love story on reality television shows like “Donnie Loves Jenny” and on their many heart-warming adorable social media posts.
A New Gig
If there's one thing that Jenny McCarthy knows, it’s how to entertain a crowd while still staying true to her humble and funny self. It’s no wonder then, that the musical reality show, “The Masked Singer” would add Jenny to be one of its judges.
Since 2019, Jenny has been a judge on the Fox musical reality show competition. On one 2021 episode, Jenny’s own husband, Donnie Wahlberg even performed (in a costume of course) and Jenny had no idea thanks to some seriously sneaky planning by the network. Fans and viewers found it hilarious!
From Model to Make-Up Maven
With a sister who works as a professional makeup artist, and decades of experience getting makeup applied for films and magazine shoots, Jenny McCarthy knows what it takes to look her best.
It was this love for beauty products and playing around with her looks that led her to launch her own brand of cosmetics called Formless Beauty - a line she calls “something that really came out of my heart,” Considering how driven and talented she is, we wouldn’t be surprised if she conquered the world of cosmetics next!