By Giovanna Breu
March 02, 1992 12:00 PM

The topics on The Jenny Jones Show run along standard daytime lines: sex, divorce and dieting. But unlike her more seasoned rivals on the syndicated gab-show circuit, comedian Jones, 45, is known for her gentle approach. Her six-month-old program, in fact, grew out of her popular 1990 nightclub comedy act, Girls’ Night Out, in which she held forth on such gender-specific topics as leg waxing, stretch marks and PMS. But for Jones, one contemporary female problem was too close for comfort.

Eleven years ago this May, Jones underwent a breast-implant operation to increase her bust line and bolster her self-esteem. But, like up to 15—20 percent of the estimated 1 million women in the U.S. who have implants, Jones ended up with lasting side effects. Her implants hardened, and vainly hoping to end her discomfort, she had them surgically replaced five times. “My body just rejects implants,” says Jones, who is angry, bitter and still confused about what medical steps to take next. “I am scared to death because I have silicone in my body, but there seems to be no way to undo it.”

Following last month’s revelation by the largest U.S. implant producer, Dow Corning Corp., that health risks associated with breast implants may have been known for 20 years, Jones has decided to go public with her story for the first time. (None of her implants were made by Dow Corning.)

“I was always made so aware of my chest,” says Jones, who was born Janina Stronski and grew up in London, Ont., with her sister, Elizabeth, now 47, in a strict Catholic household run by her Polish immigrant parents, Sophie and John. “I was teased when I was younger because my chest was too flat, “says Jones, who left home at 17, renamed herself Jenny Jones and took off to play drums with a rock band. In 1971 she worked as a backup singer for Wayne Newton, and two years later she formed her own dance band, Jenny Jones & Co.

When a seven-year marriage to record-company executive Buz Wilburn broke up in 1980, she devoted herself to her other performing passion, comedy, and began playing amateur clubs at night. In 1986 she became the only woman to win the $100,000 comedy grand prize on Star Search.

She now lives in Chicago, where The Jenny Jones Show is taped. Jones maintains a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend of six years, Denis McCallion, a production executive at Walt Disney Television in L.A. “Jenny has been carrying this trauma for years,” says McCallion, “and I think that talking about it is a catharsis.”

Jones, who told her story to Chicago bureau chief Giovanna Breu, agrees. “Now I am free,” she says. “I have nothing to be embarrassed about anymore.”

UNFORTUNATELY, MY FATHER WAS A breast man. My mother and my sister, Elizabeth, were big-breasted, but I was destined to be flat-chested. My father would tell me to rub cold water on my chest in the shower to make my breasts grow. He insisted that I do certain exercises to make my breasts grow. I sent away for that Mark Eden breast developer—that thing with a spring that was in the back of all the magazines in the 1960s. I even had rubber falsies!

My parents had immigrated to Canada from Poland after World War II. In Poland they stood in bread lines for food, and when they came to Ontario, where I grew up, they had nothing. My mother was a dressmaker, and they opened a little bridal shop that wound up being a very successful business. My father, who died in 1989, appreciated women and clothing and helped design some of the wedding dresses.

After my parents divorced in the late 1950s, my father married Roula Frangos, a dressmaker who worked in his store. I remember one compliment he gave my stepmother some 10 years ago. He said, “The most wonderful thing about my wife here after all these years is she has great boobs.”

My parents did not know what child psychology was. I guess they thought it was cute to talk about how flat-chested I was. They didn’t realize how much damage they were doing. I didn’t realize until much later.

It didn’t help that I went through puberty in the big-breasted Jayne Mansfield era. Later, in my 20s, when I was a backup singer for Wayne Newton, I was always the target of small-breast jokes. People gave me T-shirts with fried eggs. In those days, I couldn’t even wear a size 34A bra. I had a closet full of padded bras. Sometimes I would hurt myself pushing up whatever I could possibly get to come up with cleavage.

Although I did not date a lot because I was insecure, I did marry at 23. I was married twice. In 1969, when I was engaged to my first husband, Al Gambino, a musician, I would look at sexy nightgowns and lingerie and think that I could never wear them. That marriage was the kind of mistake that people make when they’re young. But in my second marriage, to Buz Wilburn, I realized how uncomfortable I still felt about my body. My husband seldom touched my breasts when we were intimate. I could only assume that they were not big enough or attractive enough for him.

When that marriage split up in 1980, I was living in Los Angeles, working as an office manager. I thought that only celebrities had breast implants until one day a coworker told me that she had them. She was so excited about hers that she took me into the ladies’ room and took off her clothes to show them to me.

I went to the Beverly Hills plastic surgeon that she recommended. He wasn’t board certified [plastic surgeons need not be board certified to practice], but he was affordable. I asked if there were any dangers. He said that about 10 percent of women who have implants develop hardness but that there was a new silicone implant made by the McGhan Medical Corp. that prevented a lot of that. Besides, he said that if I developed hardness, he would redo my breasts and forgo his fee. It was like buying a car with a one-year guarantee. I said, “How soon can we do it? How much does it cost?” He said, “$1,500.”

I had a garage sale and sold practically everything I owned to pay for those implants. I sold my sewing machine, books, pots and pans, clothes. There was nothing anyone could have done at that point to talk me out of it. I could not sleep at night. I said, “Please, let the day come.”

I had my first operation on May 15, 1981. It was outpatient surgery. The first thing I remember was that when I looked down, I could not see my waist anymore. I felt terribly sexy because I still had feeling and sensation in my breasts after the first operation. It was such a big change. I think my doctor made my breasts bigger than they should have been for my frame—I’m 5’6″, 130 lbs.—and I was actually a little embarrassed. When people did double takes, I didn’t know if they were thinking, “Nice body” or “She didn’t have those last week!”

A week after my surgery, I was still black-and-blue and still had stitches, but I went out to buy a real woman’s bra, size 36C. I couldn’t wait. I have to admit, though, that it was disconcerting to see men talk to me and look at my chest. That had never happened before.

After about six months, my right breast got hard. I knew that was one of the complications, so I wasn’t surprised. But there I was with one soft breast and one really hard one. One insensitive male acquaintance told me when I hugged him goodbye, “What do you have, rocks in there?” I was mortified.

My implants certainly cut down on my relationships. I was so self-conscious that if I met anyone and wanted to kiss him, I had to tell him I had implants. If anyone felt them, it was embarrassing. But I kept my medical problems secret.

It turned out that hardness is very common—and my doctor was wrong when he told me in 1981 that only 10 percent get it. On May 10, 1982, a year after my first operation, I went back to the surgeon to have my implants replaced. He waived his fee, as he had promised. He used the same kind of implant but made them a little smaller to see if it made a difference.

It didn’t. Within five months, my new implants started to get hard. In December of 1983, I went back to the doctor. I did not think to get a second opinion. I had heard about other women with hard breasts, so it did not seem that unusual. He gave me general anesthesia and squeezed the implants to break up the capsule that was forming around my implants and make my breasts soft again, which was not an unusual practice at the time. [Manufacturers now warn that ‘excessive manipulation’ can lead to ruptures.]

It didn’t work. I was still in Los Angeles, and by now I was working in comedy clubs. I started reading about a silicone implant with a polyurethane coating that preserved softness. It was called the Meme. I went back to the surgeon and asked for it. I had my third implant operation on Dec. 19, 1983. This operation, like the others, was very painful and left embarrassing scars around both nipples.

Worst of all, the problem was not corrected. At one of my checkups, I told the doctor that my implants were getting hard again. He said, “Vogues aren’t supposed to do that.” I said. “They’re not Vogues, they’re the Meme.” He told me he had put in a Vogue [another polyurethene-coated silicone implant] instead because he thought it would be better for me. This doctor was in a beautiful building in Beverly Hills, highly recommended, and he had never told me that he wasn’t putting in the Meme!

One day in 1984 I was working with a comic who was a dirt bag. I was standing at the rail watching the other comedians, and he put his hand up my blouse and grabbed my breasts. By this time, all the feeling in my breasts was gone, so I didn’t even know it! That was one of my worst moments.

On Aug. 13, 1984, my doctor put in the Meme implant, which was later voluntarily recalled by the manufacturer because of possible cancer risks. I went home after the operation, and there was swelling, which did not go down. A week later I had to have surgery to stop internal bleeding.

The Meme implants got hard too. But I lived with them from 1984 until 1991. I resigned myself to the fact that my breasts weren’t ever going to be soft. It is just something about my body that causes this. Then, as I got into my 40s, gravity began taking its toll. One breast pointed downward a little bit, one pointed up. My cleavage was off. I couldn’t wear anything low-cut because my breasts didn’t match.

In 1985 I met my boyfriend, Denis MeCallion. It was so hard to tell Denis about my implants. I must have postponed it for a month. I thought he would never look at me the same way. I know he liked my shapely figure. He found me attractive because of what he saw at the beginning. I said, “I’ve had breast implants, I have had some complications, they don’t feel very natural, they don’t look particularly attractive.” He said, “So what?” Denis urged me to go to some kind of counseling, but I never did because that wouldn’t make the implants go away.

I did a photo session in 1986 wearing a bustier, and every picture had a ridge line on my right breast. The photographer asked where it came from. I knew that it wasn’t noticeable to the eye, but the camera had picked it up. It was embarrassing. I had been told that it was scar tissue, but I later found out that it was silicone in my tissues.

Between 1985 and 1991, I went to one doctor after another—all men—asking, “Isn’t there something you can do?” They all told me, “Be glad this is all that is wrong with you. Some women’s breasts are as hard as cement.” What I didn’t learn until all the recent publicity about the dangers of breast implants was that some women get collagen diseases, rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune disorders.

A year ago I went to another doctor who told me about a MISTI GOLD—a new implant filled with a nonsilicone polymer—that had been successful with people who have a history of hardening. He said, “Your breast can be 50 percent softer.” I said, “That’s good enough for me.”

By now I was commuting from Los Angeles to Las Vegas doing a test run of The Jenny Jones Show. Denis tried to talk me out of it, but I had my sixth operation, and my fifth set of implants in Beverly Hills on March 1, 1991. When I went in for a two-week checkup, I had a red splotch on my chest. The doctor said that the old implants had ruptured and the splotch could have been a reaction to the silicone. He couldn’t tell me how long ago this had happened. He gave me antibiotics and an antihistamine. It took four weeks to go away.

In a couple of months, the MISTI GOLDS hardened too. My breasts were completely numb, and the ridge on the right breast was more prominent. I was giving up. A month ago I went back to the doctor. When I asked him if the silicone ridge was dangerous, he said, “We don’t think so.” I told him that I really want my implants out. I don’t care what my breasts look or feel like. I want them out of my body. I hate them. It was the worst mistake I ever made. The doctor said, “If you have your implants removed, you will be suicidal in two weeks.”

Even more recently, another surgeon told me, “You can’t take out the marble from marbled beef. To get all the silicone out of your body, we would have to take out some of your tissue.” It would be reconstruction, and that would create a substantial deformity. My other option would be to have a saline implant, which has a silicone shell. But I don’t want silicone in my body. I am in an unfixable situation, and I have no idea what to do.

Now both breasts are hard and I have scars. I don’t have to wear a bra because my breasts hold themselves up. I wear one at home, though, because I don’t want to look at my breasts. I hate my body a thousand times more now than I ever did before. I would sell everything I own to be able to have the body back that I gave up.

Denis has been incredibly supportive. If I had had him earlier in my life, I never would have had these implants done. He loves me for what I am. But nothing he can say can make a difference. I still have not told him that I don’t have feeling in my breasts, and we have been together for six years. It’s as though any kind of sexual activity comes to a complete halt when I am touched above the waist.

I am the most unsexy person in the world in my mind. I am proud of my work, but when I get fan letters from men who think I am so sexy, my reaction is, “If they only knew.”

Now that I’m going public, I feel that a great weight has been lifted from me. I will be able to hug somebody and not wonder if he or she is thinking, “Oh, my God, what are these?” I want to urge other celebrities to come forward. If they’ll talk about it, we can start doing some good. My goal is to say to anybody who is considering implants: Don’t do it. It’s not worth the risk. Learn to love yourself. If I could have learned that, I wouldn’t have had to suffer these 11 years of torture.