ME and Ophelia

Saturday, July 12, 2003

My dear old friend Iris Niedra

I first met Iris Niedra in Las Vegas in the early 70s when Howard Hughes was living at the Desert Inn, Elvis was in town and not a lot had changed since Bugsy Siegal's day.

Iris was a big influence on my life because it was through her that I became a theatrical agent residing in Las Vegas for over ten years.

Iris was a very special person and a good friend, naturally cheerful, very warmhearted, kind, considerate and thoughtful and very generous with her time, money and conversation.

We were the best of friends, had many laughs and great times together, and both adored animals. When we first shared an apartment, Iris took in a starving stray dog that she named Mayday, I adopted Mayday's puppy and named him Wally.

My last stay with Iris in Las Vegas was in 1993 on a visit from England. For many reasons (not excuses) I did not keep in contact with Iris after I returned home to England and resettled in the west country.

We were as close as sisters, so I had never forgotten Iris and thought of her often.

Since October 1999 I have been stricken with a severe form of myalgic encephalomyelitis, also known as ME or chronic fatigue syndrome, rendering me horizontal 23.5 hours a day.

Four weeks ago, when my first home computer arrived, a fab new laptop weighing half of Ophelia (my wonderful 3kg cat), I immediately searched the internet to see if Iris was still living in Las Vegas.

I wanted to invite her over here to England for a long holiday by the seaside: a fabulous location, 50 yards from the beach, where I moved to in December 2000 hoping that the sea air would aid my recovery.

Sadly, this is what I found in the Las Vegas Sun newspaper dated October 09 1996.

LV woman enjoyed long career as bunny

Former Playboy, Strip waitress Niedra dies

By Ed Koch

Las Vegas Sun

For many years Iris Niedra squeezed her buxom frame into a shell-like Playboy bunny outfit, fluffed up her white cottontail and went to work in Hugh Hefner's posh clubs from coast to coast.

An original cocktail waitress/bunny at the Miami Playboy Club, Niedra enjoyed the work despite long hours manoeuvring in the uncomfortable costume and strolling around in tight spike heels.

"You wouldn't do a job like that for more than 10 years if you didn't like it," said her mom, Eva Bergman of Outing, Minnesota. "She liked being a bunny."

Still, for comfort sake, there is little doubt Latvia-born Niedra preferred the harem costume she wore during the 1980's and early '90's, serving cocktails at the Aladdin hotel-casino.

Iris Niedra, who never married but dated such interesting men as late comedian Lenny Bruce, died of cancer Thursday at Nathan Adelson Hospice. She was 56.

A memorial service for the 16-year Las Vegas resident will be 7 tonight at Nathan Adelson Hospice. American Cremation and Burial Services handled the arrangements.

Niedra, a stunnng 5-foot-8-inch blonde with one hazel eye and one blue eye, was known for her impeccable taste in clothing, Fetsch said.

Iris was not flashy, but classy," said Niedra's sister, Anita Fetsch of Mankato, Minn. "She had good taste."

But few people knew that Niedra also was a woman of great generosity.

"She gave a lot of money to street people," Fetsch said. "Iris also loved animals and took in many stray dogs and cats and cared for them."

As cancer spread from her lungs, Niedra, a long-time smoker, became reclusive. Her mother was at her bedside when she died.

"Although she did not marry, my sister had a long-term relationship in Las Vegas and many interesting relationships in her lifetime," Fetsch said. "Iris met Lenny Bruce in Haiti and they had quite a time."

"She once brought a Los Angeles gangster home to meet the family. He was an Italian guy and was quite nice."

On a tour of England as a representative for the Playboy clubs, Niedra met a young Michael Caine, whose acting career was yet to blossom.

"He was one of the contestants in a win-a-date-with-a-bunny contest," Fetsch said. "He won, but I don't know if he got a date with my sister or one of the other bunnies. I have a picture of the two of them together, somewhere."

In the early 1940's, shortly after the Soviets took over the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Eva left her husband, Zigurd, and escaped with Iris to Germany. Shortly after that, they fled Hitler's regime to European camps for displaced persons before migrating to the United States in 1951.

It was not until the recent fall of the Soviet Union that Eva and Iris were able to make contact with Zigurd, who still resides in the old country.

"Making contact with her father gave Iris much fulfilment," Fetsch said, noting that she began to show signs of her fatal illness shortly after that.

Niedra left Minnesota in her late teens after serving a stewardess apprenticeship with Trans World Airlines to attend modelling school in Miami.

Because of the spotty nature of modelling work, she applied for a cocktail waitress job at the yet-to-open Miami Playboy Club and was among the first Bunnies hired there.

"It was a fun job and the tips were great," Fetsch said. "You have to remember, there were not a lot of lucrative job back then for young women."

At the height of her career, Niedra, whose measurements were 37-23-37, declined requests to pose nude in Playboy magazine.

Niedra worked for several Playboy clubs, including those in Lake Geneva, Wis., and in Hollywood where she met many celebrities who frequented the establishment.

When Playboy Enterprises closed the clubs several years ago, Niedra did not show signs of being too unhappy about it.
"It was a change of the times, and she accepted it," Bergman said.

In addition to her mother, father and sister, Niedra is survived by a brother, Ivar Niedra of Outing, Minn.; three nieces, Jenny Fetsch, Rachel Rings and Sara Hirshfeld, all of Mankato; and two grandnephews, Christopher Fetsch and Hunter Rings, both of Mankato.

DONATIONS: In Niedra's memory to Nathan Adelson Hospice.
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God bless you dear Iris and rest in peace.
This weblog is dedicated to the memory Iris Niedra.
With love from Ingrid and Ophelia + + +

# posted by Ingrid J. Jones @ 7/12/2003
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