Ashley Doris Wilson, who now goes by the name Ashley Doris, didn't set out to be the first Connecticut woman to be featured as a centerfold model in Playboy. She didn't even plan to attend a casting call for the magazine at all.
The 23-year-old West Hartford native was in Las Vegas last summer, competing in a "Miss Hawaiian Tropic" bikini contest, when a friend convinced her to go to the Playboy casting being held at the same hotel. Doris was selected to pose for Playboy.com, and then was asked to attend a Playmate casting call.
"Heff [Hugh Hefner] himself had to point me out," Doris said Wednesday from San Diego, where she has spent most of her time since she finished up her centerfold shoot at the Playboy Mansion in December. Playboy gets as many as 15,000 applications a month for the opportunity to be a Playmate, Doris said. "The fact that they randomly chose me is crazy."
She didn't tell many people at first – not even her mom. On day 19 of 21 at the mansion, she said she texted her mother. "At first when I texted my mom she said, 'What? Playmate?' but then she said, 'OH WOW, CONGRATULATIONS!' all in caps in the text when she realized," Doris said.
Doris was surprised to learn that she was the first Playmate from Connecticut, since the magazine has been around since 1953. "I wasn't thinking about that until an interviewer told me I was the first. It was a huge surprise," she said.
Modeling was not part of Doris' career plan when she graduated from Hall High School in 2007. She was a dedicated dancer, a member of Hall's Jazz Dancers, and studied ballet and other forms of dance for 15 years with Miss Estelle Jones and the Hartt School in West Hartford.
"I graduated at 17, I was thinking about college and working," Doris said. She was attending Central Connecticut State University and working at Lane and Lenge Florists on Park Road in West Hartford when her first modeling opportunity arose.
"She came to work for me right after high school. She was a good worker, and always very pleasant to our patrons. I wanted to promote our wedding work, and asked her to pose for me as a bride in an ad," said Lane and Lenge owner Bob Dinucci.
The photos turned out beautifully, and he told Doris, "You really should be modeling."
Dinucci contacted his close friend Gerard Barrieau, whose daughter-in-law had been a top model and was working on growing her photography business. Cheyney Barrieau created a portfolio for Doris — free of charge — and made some introductions.
"She started to get quite a bit of work," Dinucci said.
Doris is not tall — only 5'5" — and she knew she couldn't make it as a New York model. She did a lot of work in the Boston area, while continuing to work at Lane and Lenge when she could.
Doris has appeared as a young mother in ads for Toys R Us and Coppertone. She has modeled for Adidas and Reebok. In an ad which will appear for CVS this spring she plays a pharmacist.
"It's kind of weird how it's all so varied. Pharmacy is very different from Playboy," Doris said, laughing.
Right now she isn't seeking any more commercial work and said she has a packed schedule of appearances for her role as Miss March. She's hosting the Miss Hawaiian Tropic World Finals in a few weeks — the contest she was trying out for when she attended the Playboy casting call.
"It's kind of cool how it came full circle," she said.
Doris said she is "absolutely, 100 percent glad" that she was chosen for Playboy, and said her friends are excited for her, too.
As for the part about posing nude, Doris said after a little while she wasn't uncomfortable. "On the set there were 15 people. They've all done this so many times, I had to pretend I'd done it many times, too. Within 10 minutes, I felt like I had." She said after years of modeling and posing to get the best angles, it's really all the same.
The theme for her centerfold spread was based on flowers — all peonies, roses, pinks and pastels. "They took the cue from my florist days," she said.
Doris' family is still in West Hartford, and she was back home for Christmas and New Year's, she said. She'll definitely be back this summer when she will appear as the first Playmate from Connecticut at the Summer Nationals vintage car show at the Thompson International Speedway in Thompson, CT.
Doris said she loved her work at Lane and Lenge and hopes to be able to help them out during their busy seasons if she is in town. "It gets crazy busy there. They'll be swamped right now for Valentine's Day. I was so used to doing a dozen red roses with a ribbon," she said.
Dinucci said, "She's more than welcome to come back, although the pay scale will be very different." He said Doris would have been a great help this week.