A priceless Penny
The Arizona Republic
You haven't yet discussed Penny Long over the cubicle walls, or called your mother to dissect Penny's leopard fashion ensembles, but you will. You will read about her in Us Weekly, skip through the channels and spot her on Access Hollywood and come into work on Monday morning and talk Penny, Penny, Penny over coffee.
Penny is the wildly attractive, eccentrically interesting 46-year-old owner of Scottsdale's Electric Ladyland and Floozy clothing boutiques. She lives in corset tops and tight jeans, decorates her Cave Creek home with Christian Dior handbags and shoes, once dated Steven Spielberg and has kitchen cabinets lacquered to match her favorite shade of Chanel nail polish. She is also the latest local to hit stardom via reality TV. (And really, it was only a matter of time, because just look at her. You can't not.)
Penny and her family are the subjects of The Will, debuting Saturday night on CBS. The premise: Long's wealthy husband, Bill, has put the inheritance of his $1 million Kansas ranch on the line, (one of many of his properties), rounded up family and close friends to fight over it, and TV cameras are on hand to record all that delicious family drama. advertisement
"It's like eavesdropping on a great family argument at the next table at a restaurant," says Mike Fleiss, the show's executive producer and creator. "You're getting to see the conflict that lies beneath the surface of every family and you'll see it through the prism of this very strange game."
To win, family members will be tested physically and mentally. Previews show Penny working that wicked stepmother/dramaqueen/ spoiled wife angle to a high-ratings extreme: fingers are wagged, wine is thrown, conflict drips from the screen.
In real life, Penny is a little worried about her TV persona.
"You can't make me be evil," she told producers before taping began. "I have to go back to Scottsdale. People will spit on me at AJ's."
But that's the nature of reality TV: throwing people against each other, eking out the naughtiness in everyone and editing it brilliantly into prime-time entertainment. Though wary of all that creative editing, Penny and Bill decided to do the show to gain national exposure for their Scottsdale boutiques.
And while The Will showcases the behavior of 10 competitors, many from Scottsdale, including 25-year-old Ashley Mutrux, Penny's son, it's Penny herself that will get people talking.
"I think she would have to become (the break-out star)," Fleiss says. "She figures prominently in every scene she's in."
Penny is an effervescent being, friends say, though glimpses at those previews have them wincing. (Penny's contract with the show forbade her from being interviewed, but interviews she granted The Republic before the show was filmed are included here.)
"I'm sure that CBS is going to portray her as a vindictive, vicious, money-grubbing vixen who married Bill for his money," says Marty Bebout, Penny's best friend and a boutique owner who lives in Santa Barbara, Calif. "She's really a warmhearted, loving person."
"The greatest thing about Penny is that she laughs about herself," says Guy Webster, a celebrity photographer who has known Penny since 1979. "She just wants people to like her. I think people will see that (the show) is more tongue-in-cheek and that it's fun and she's just having fun."
However, Bebout says, "I wouldn't cross her, not because I think she's evil, but because she's competitive, and that's why she's successful."
Penny was born in Tennessee and moved to California with her mother as a child.
"I was educated on the street," she says in her pre-show interview for CBS. "I went to the college of hard-knocks."
She married film writer Floyd Mutrux when she was young, and they had Ashley when Penny was 20. They divorced shortly after, and Penny set about trying to live in Hollywood. She tried modeling and cosmetic commercials, and eventually followed her love for fashion and went to work at the Chanel boutique on Rodeo Drive. She settled in with the Hollywood set: hanging with the stars and was even engaged to Paul Marciano, the man behind the famous '80s Guess label.
She says her main focus was always trying to give her son a stable, successful life. (Ashley himself had a bit part on Dynasty in 1985.)
"She would always go home early to be with him; she was very committed to having this child," Webster says. She gave Ashley all her time and energy, says Webster, "like most mothers do."
Another marriage in 1993 brought her to Arizona, and she stayed here after that ended. In 1998, a mutual friend introduced her to Bill, a rancher and successful land developer, at a party. She was 38, he was 65.
"It was love at first sight," Penny says. "I told him he was too old for me, and he said, "no, you're too old for me."
They married seven months later, and Penny is Bill's fourth wife.
"When you see an older guy with a lot of money and a hot, younger blonde on his arm, you immediately jump to a conclusion," says producer Fleiss, "but when you see them together, you realize there's more to it than that."
"They're so much in love," says Bebout of Penny and Bill, now 73. "She really enjoys her life with 'Honey-Woney,' as she calls him."
A lot of things about Penny are surprising, her friends say.
"She's an outdoors person," says photographer Webster, and enjoys everything from skiing to riding motorcycles and horses. And she's a fabulous cook. Bebout attests after a Thanksgiving stay last year.
The palace of Penny cannot be described, says Bebout. She decorates with dice - a symbol for taking chances.
But no slouchy fuzzy Vegas rollers would be Penny-appropriate. She displays Christian Dior shoes and handbags decorated with dice (she just acquired her seventh). Similar to her store, there are vintage chandeliers everywhere and leopard print is used at every opportunity. The Longs' home was displayed in Phoenix Home & Garden last April.
It was difficult to find that uniquely perfect someone that would fit the mold of The Will, Fleiss says. Not only did there have to be wealth, but a willingness to talk about it and to offer it up as a prize, and "family members who are good looking and willing to compete and air their dirty laundry in public."
And Penny, says Fleiss, "is just a fantastic character. She's a larger-than-life personality with an incredibly strong will. And she's a very sexy woman."
Now you didn't think that Penny's big blond locks, lovely face and a figure you would pay to replicate were just a nice bonus, did you?
"How many ugly people do you really see on TV?" asks Fleiss.
Penny is used to turning heads: She wears rhinestones to barbecues, firmly believes in displaying cleavage and drips with diamonds that Catherine Zeta-Jones could borrow for the Academy Awards.
"Everybody looks at Penny," says Bebout. "The men all want to have her. The woman all want to be her." "I used to always try and fit in," Penny has said, "but now people point, and I just think 'show time.' "