Alexis Hunter was a tall, beautiful, blonde 20-year-old– a self-proclaimed “Navy brat” and aspiring actress who had recently moved to California from Kansas– whose life changed forever in 1969. That was when Hunter made eye contact with the popular Hollywood star Joi Lansing: a model, actor, and singer. The two met, appropriately enough, on a movie set. That movie was Bigfoot, a low-budget science fiction film. Joi was almost 40 at the time, and she had already had over 100 TV and movie credits to her name. Hunter and Lansing struck up a friendship which quickly turned into a passionate albeit strictly secret romance. The two were inseparable for the next three years, despite the taboos over same-sex relationships both in Hollywood and in American culture at large at the time. As difficult as it may seem to believe in 2021, even the rumor of homosexuality could destroy an actor’s career a few decades ago. If there was an underground network of gay and lesbian actors in Hollywood back then, Ms. Hunter certainly wasn’t aware. She didn’t even know any other LGBT people in the entertainment business at the time. Hunter was often identified in the press as Joi’s little sister “Rachel Lansing”, a name which Hunter still occasionally uses today. Joi Lansing died in 1972, at age 43, although the news shaved seven years off her age at the time. The official cause of death was cancer, which Hunter believes Lansing’s silicone implants and use of estrogen were significant contributing factors toward. In 2015, Hunter wrote about her true love story: a never-before told memoir entitled Joi Lansing: A Body to Die For. The title of the book was inspired by the price that the Hollywood sex symbol paid to stay young and beautiful, two characteristics demanded by starlets from the entertainment industry both then and now. Hunter stated, “Joi died to have that body. She was in competition with Marilyn Monroe, Mamie van Doren, Jayne Mansfield– all the blonde bombshells.” While Lansing’s personal struggles (health and otherwise) are indeed explored in the book, Joi Lansing: A Body to Die For is first and foremost a love story: a detailed, lovingly written memoir of a short but passionate and committed relationship between two women. Today, Alexis Hunter lives in Palm Springs, California and happily works as an artist, with exclusive, unique handcrafted jewelry being her specialty. She was very close friends with the late Kaye Ballard up until the funny lady’s death in 2019.
On October 18th, 2021, Alexis Hunter appeared at New York City’s famous Stonewall Inn, the birthplace of the LGBTQ liberation movement, for a discussion of her book. The event, hosted by Laurie Towers, included a revealing Q&A with Hunter, some truly jaw-dropping “old Hollywood” gossip, and a panel discussion featuring Hunter with the projected mini-series producer Vincent DeSalvo and screenwriter Joe Doherty. In the same descriptive style she used in her book, the author and artist eloquently spoke about what attracted her to Joi: In addition to her physical beauty, Joi was also a sweet and kind person. But life as a star was not always glamorous. In addition to the aforementioned constant pressure to stay young and beautiful, there were other challenges. One of the subjects Hunter spoke about was the exploitation that went on in old Hollywood, decades before the #MeToo movement even had a name. Hunter recalled, “She was eye candy. Whenever they needed eye candy, especially on TV, they would have Joi. But there was a price to be paid. Every time Joi was cast to do a show, there was always payoff: ‘You gotta come to my office.’ It’s very sad when that’s you’re whole life, and that’s what you care about. Those were the rules of the game at the time. If you were gonna work, you were gonna ‘put out’. There were too many good-looking women, too many talented women out there. So, you were gonna have to make somebody happy.”
Even though the actress born Joy Rae Brown has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was poised for even greater stardom as “Mrs. Superman” on TV (before actor George Reeves unexpectedly died in 1959), The name “Joi Lansing” may not be cemented in pop culture the way Lansing’s fellow sex symbols Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield are… but that may change, as Joi Lansing: A Body to Die For is in on the way to becoming a miniseries. Hunter declares, “I want people to know her. I want people to love her like I did. I want to keep her memory alive.”
Attendees at the event had the opportunity to purchase autographed copies of Hunter’s book as well as Hunter’s handmade jewelry. And, yes, there was cake!
Alexis Hunter’s Joi Lansing: A Body To Die For is available in printed and Kindle versions. You can see more at Hunter’s official website at www.AlexHunterPalmSprings.com; or visit her on Facebook or Instagram.