Northeast Times

The girl next door

A few months ago, Tor­res­dale nat­ive Val Keil was tend­ing bar in North­east Philly. Now, she's Play­boy's Miss Au­gust 2013.

  • Miss August: Playboy’s Val Keil soaked up every minute of her homecoming to Northeast Philly before heading back to Los Angeles. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

  • Miss August: Playboy’s Val Keil soaked up every minute of her homecoming to Northeast Philly before heading back to Los Angeles. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

  • Miss August: The July/August 2013 edition of the magazine in which Keil is the August centerfold. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

  • Miss August: Playboy’s Val Keil soaked up every minute of her homecoming to Northeast Philly before heading back to Los Angeles. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

  • Miss August: Playboy’s Val Keil soaked up every minute of her homecoming to Northeast Philly before heading back to Los Angeles. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

“My blood runs cold

My memory has just been sold

My an­gel is the center­fold” — J. Geils Band, “Center­fold”

Step in­to any dive in North­east Philly and you’re likely to hear this 1981 single from an oth­er­wise for­get­table band on the juke­box. Odds are, you won’t give it much thought.

However, as I walk in­side Reedy’s Tav­ern in East Tor­res­dale, the song is play­ing in the back­ground and the fa­mil­i­ar tune slices through me like a knife through warm but­ter.

Like most folks in­side the dimly lit tap­room last Sat­urday af­ter­noon, I’m here to see Val Keil, who at the mo­ment is bet­ter known as Play­boy’s Miss Au­gust 2013. Less than three months ago, Keil was pour­ing beers and mix­ing drinks for the Reedy’s reg­u­lars; now, a long table is set up against a far wall, with stacks of Play­boys strewn about for her to sign. 

After about 20 minutes of wait­ing, the front door opens, and in walks Keil in a black tank top, skin-tight blue jeans and se­duct­ive black boots. A sil­ver Play­boy logo pendant hangs around her neck. 

“Sorry I’m late!” she ex­claims when she no­tices me, flash­ing a smile that looks slightly more ra­di­ant than I re­mem­ber.

It’s easy to for­give Keil, 22, who is soak­ing up every second of the spot­light now shined brightly upon her. It wasn’t long ago that my path and that of the Tor­res­dale res­id­ent-turned-Play­boy center­fold in­ter­sec­ted at Tor­res­dale-Frank­ford Coun­try Club. In the sum­mer of 2011, I was wait­ing tables, and she was driv­ing the cart that de­livered food and drinks to golfers out on the course. It was one of three re­l­at­ively an­onym­ous serving jobs (also at XFIN­ITY! Live) she held be­fore Hugh Hefn­er took a lik­ing to pho­tos of her­self that she sent to the magazine.

It’s hard to meas­ure Keil’s suc­cess story since it’s all happened so sud­denly, but it is safe to say go­ing from the North­east to the Play­boy Man­sion shat­ters the ba­ro­met­er for un­likely fantas­ies that some­how come true.

“I’ve al­ways worked around men, men who have told me that I’m pretty,” she says in a tone without a hint of con­ceit. “I nev­er modeled be­fore, and ini­tially my dad, broth­er and boy­friend at the time were against me pos­ing with my clothes off. But even­tu­ally, I just de­cided to go for it.”

Our chat lasts only about 10 or 15 minutes. Keil’s back home for an in­cred­ibly brief spell, mostly to thank people for their sup­port and to say good­bye to friends. A Tues­day re­deye back to her new life in Hol­ly­wood will be per­man­ent. Un­til then, she’s got dozens of magazines and head­shots to auto­graph, pic­tures to pose for with new fans and old friends alike and count­less hugs to dish out.

Keil gradu­ated from MaST Charter in 2009, and read­ily ad­mit­ted she wasn’t much of a stu­dent. She stayed loc­al, dream­ing of a bet­ter life, though at the time she didn’t know what that meant for her. On a whim in 2011, she sent some am­a­teur pho­tos in to Play­boy.com. After wait­ing for “the longest time,” she heard back from the magazine, which re­ques­ted ad­di­tion­al pho­to­graphs taken by a pro­fes­sion­al pho­to­graph­er. 

She tabbed loc­al pic­ture taker Joey Del Palazzo. It was a smart choice.

“With­in two hours of sub­mit­ting the new pic­tures, some­body from Play­boy called and told me that Hef liked them and wanted me to come to Cali­for­nia for a ‘Play­mate test,’” she said. “At that point, I told my­self that if I was go­ing to do this, then it’s go­ing to be Play­mate or bust.”

With the en­cour­age­ment of friends and a now un­con­di­tion­ally sup­port­ive fam­ily (namely dad and broth­er, both named Ken, and mom Maur­een McGow­an), Keil went for it. She flew to Los Angeles in May, was picked up by a limo at LAX and whisked to a pho­toshoot, where a bunch of Play­boy rep­res­ent­at­ives were there to cater to her every need. She had her pick from a lit­any of out­fits and jew­elry to try on, so the cam­er­as could cap­ture her best looks. 

“Everything was for me,” she re­called ex­citedly. “I couldn’t be­lieve it.”

‘A CLASSY GIRL’

A sign out­side Reedy’s ad­vert­ised Keil’s Sat­urday home­com­ing party, and by about 2:30, a steady line has formed in­side. Keil greets fa­mil­i­ar faces with a smile and hug, and asks strangers for their names so she can per­son­al­ize every sign­ing. For most of these people, it will be the last time they see her for awhile. Keil wants to run with this op­por­tun­ity and milk it for all it’s worth. Mod­el­ing, act­ing and a line of boots in her name are all fu­ture pos­sib­il­it­ies, she hopes.

“She was al­ways a classy girl,” said bar own­er John Reedy. “All of this, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer per­son.”

A bar pat­ron who iden­ti­fied him­self as Mike re­called late nights in­side Reedy’s, with Keil ag­on­iz­ing over her Play­boy de­cision.

“I’d be in here late at night, just me and her, and she would say ‘I don’t know, I don’t know,’” he said. “I told her it was a once-in-a-life­time op­por­tun­ity, she had to. She’s a beau­ti­ful girl, but it’s her per­son­al­ity that makes her twice as beau­ti­ful. Look at all these people who came back to see her. And she hasn’t for­got­ten them or where she came from.”

Keil ac­know­ledged how drastic­ally her life has changed. She’s swapped Reedy’s and the coun­try club for the Play­boy Man­sion, Malibu homes with breath­tak­ing views of the Pa­cific and be­ing flown to Las Ve­gas for per­son­al ap­pear­ances. She of­ten eats din­ner at the same table as Hefn­er and has mingled with KISS front­man Gene Sim­mons.

But like most people from this part of town, she knows the North­east has a way of sink­ing its claws in­to you to the point that no mat­ter how high her Play­mate stock rises, these streets lined with red brick row­houses will al­ways feel like home.

“It has changed me, but not in the ways you might think,” she said. “Have I made new friends? Sure I have. But I’ll nev­er for­get the people here.”

HUST­LING FOR TIPS

When I knew her from our days of hust­ling for tips at the coun­try club, Keil al­ways struck me as kind, genu­ine and un­der­stated. She al­ways was dressed in the coun­try club’s uni­form of green polo and khaki shorts, and was pretty without openly flaunt­ing her nat­ur­al beauty. I no­ticed her, sure, but as a Play­boy sub­scriber of many years, I nev­er an­ti­cip­ated open­ing the magazine and see­ing my old ac­quaint­ance star­ing back at me in a mix of col­or and black and white pictori­als that are as el­eg­ant as they are stun­ning.

As Keil has found out, life has the abil­ity to change on a dime. 

It is weird, a bit un­nerv­ing really, to see a former cowork­er in the buff, and then to see her again with all her clothes on. Be­fore I de­part Reedy’s, as the crowd swells to 50 or so people, I reach in­to my back­pack and pull out my own Ju­ly/Au­gust 2013 copy of the magazine. I clutch it in my hands, which are sud­denly sweaty as I wait in line. When I get to the front, I nervously stam­mer some words I can’t re­mem­ber. I don’t know wheth­er to open it up to the center­fold, or to leave the magazine closed. She takes the pub­lic­a­tion from me, first sign­ing the cov­er be­fore ask­ing if I’d like her to sign the in­side, too. I eagerly af­firm.

Ed: Too bad we can’t work to­geth­er any­more. Love, Val Keil.

I de­pos­it my new treas­ure in­to my back­pack and we pose for a photo to­geth­er. Two years ago, I doubt this mo­ment was on either of our radars. Now, for some strange reas­on, it al­most seems fit­ting. We’re both go­ing for it, chas­ing our re­spect­ive am­bi­tions in our own ways, which makes it im­possible to feel any pangs of jeal­ousy for Keil’s met­eor­ic rise to star­dom. Un­ex­pec­ted? Yes. But un­deserving? No way.

I ask her one more time to re­flect on this most un­likely of roller coast­er rides and where she thinks she’ll be when the jour­ney comes to a halt.

“I want to get mar­ried and have kids even­tu­ally,” she said. “But for now, I’m just go­ing to en­joy this and all that comes with it.”

With that, I’m out the door, and like most of those in­side Reedy’s Tav­ern, the an­gel in the center­fold be­comes an­oth­er memory from the past. ••

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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