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Always Fair Weather
Sarah Ballard
February 07, 1989
It seems that way for Sunny Bippus, whose name reflects her outlook
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February 07, 1989

Always Fair Weather

It seems that way for Sunny Bippus, whose name reflects her outlook

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Even in her modeling days, Margaret Caroline Bippus, known as Sunny, was more than just a pretty face. The photographers and art directors with whom she worked in the 1960s quickly learned that she was also a good sport. Hence, they threw her from airplanes, submerged her in swamps and perched her on precipices wearing everything from swimsuits to ball gowns.

"I was always knee-deep in something," says Bippus, the 1966 swimsuit issue cover model. "Once I did a commercial in the Caribbean for Bic. The photographers had me underwater with a spear gun for five days. I was to spear a treasure chest, open it, take out a ballpoint pen and write 'Bic' on a board. The last time, I wrote: 'I want out of the damn water.' "

For an SI story on fishing, photographer John Zimmerman was shooting Bippus on an airboat in the Florida Everglades when the boat, going 65 mph, hit a petrified stump. Bippus was thrown from the craft, but as soon as Zimmerman determined that she wasn't badly hurt, he ordered her back aboard for a few more shots "before the bruises come out."

These days Bippus makes her living in a drier and less perilous milieu. With two other women, she operates Kemble Interiors, a decorating firm that caters to the carriage trade in Palm Beach, Fla., where she grew up. Her typical client spends $350,000 to $400,000, demands perfection and expects a lot of personal attention. Fall is the height of the decorating season in Palm Beach—"They all want their houses ready by Christmas," says Bippus—and this autumn Kemble Interiors handled 24 such clients at once. "You're dealing with people who are used to having their way in everything, and it does get to be very, very difficult," says Bippus.

Making sure the paint is dry by Christmas is the easy part. When necessary, the designing women of Kemble Interiors also hire the chef, interview the prospective nanny, stock the larder, trim the tree, turn down the beds and meet the plane. "If you stay organized, you can go through your life without a jumble," says Bippus. "I have a lot of things in my life, but I make sure that everything has a place. I have to live that way for it to work."

Bippus attributes her 48-year-old good looks to frequent exercise, a healthy diet and a No. 30 sunblock. "I put it on the minute I wake up in the morning—on my face, neck, hands, arms," says Bippus. "I've even started putting it on my legs, because I've been in the sun so much." Thus protected, she begins her day with 45 minutes of Rollerblade skating along the edge of Lake Worth. "It's a skate I found last year that helps you with your snow skiing," she says. "It's a cross-country sort of movement that certainly helps your thighs, but all of a sudden even your feet begin to look nice. When you get to be my age, the only things worth looking at are your feet."

As an active member of the Palm Beach tennis set, Bippus plays mixed doubles four or five times a week at the Everglades or Bath and Tennis clubs or on a private court, "if I'm lucky enough to be asked." She attends low-impact aerobics classes three evenings a week, and frequently, after a long, hard day at the office, she swims in her backyard pool. "Even half an hour of that can make you feel wonderful," she says. She also plays golf, windsurfs, shoots quail and, for two or three weeks every January, goes to Aspen, Colo., where, as she puts it, she skis her brains out.

Recently, Bippus has discovered trout fishing. "I was in Idaho for four weeks last summer and I fell in love with it," she says. "I fished in a stream behind a tiny grocery store called Jerry's. Jerry would say, 'Today I want you to use a woolly worm,' and then he'd walk me out the back of his store and say, 'All right, see that rock over there? Go three feet to the right, and I promise you'll catch the biggest trout you've ever seen.' Then I'd pad off into the stream, and he'd go in the store and cook the best-smelling chili I'd ever encountered."

There have been a number of men in Bippus's life, including, for a six-year stretch in the 1970s, a husband. She speaks well of all of them. Her first love was Peter Revson, the handsome, race car-driving member of the Revlon cosmetics family. She didn't marry Revson because, at 23, she felt she was not yet ready. If she had, she would have been a widow by 35; he was killed in a racing accident in 1974. "Maybe it was a mistake. I loved him a lot," she says. "But I don't think so."

In 1970 she married Thomas Swift Taylor, a Chicago businessman and member of the Swift meat-packing family, also handsome, who had been married five times previously, and moved with him to London for several years. "It didn't last long, but it was fun," she says. "We parted company in the friendliest possible way."

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