Fame & Fortune: Jenny McCarthy

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She rose to fame with her considerable physical assets becoming a Playboy centerfold in 1993, only to return to Hugh Hefner’s fold as their January 2005 cover, wearing a leopard bunny suit. But over the years, the 37-year-old Chicago native has branched out, continuing to use her outward beauty in TV and film, along with her creative know-how, authoring seven books, including this year’s “Healing and Preventing Autism.”

She has become a Weight Watchers spokeswoman and current ambassador for their Lose for Good campaign after reaching more than 200 pounds during her pregnancy with son, Evan, 7, and then shedding 60 pounds.

McCarthy recently partnered with video game publisher Ubisoft as their spokeswoman for the new Wii system fitness game, Your Shape.

McCarthy put her celebrity status to use as a spokeswoman for Talk About Curing Autism, appearing on many talk shows including “Oprah” and speaking out about autism. Recently, she opened the first of 20 schools planned across the country called Teach2Talk Academy to help young children with autism.

As a mother of an autistic child, McCarthy wanted to educate herself on her son’s condition. But her activism has become controversial, as she says going gluten- and dairy-free helped put Evan’s autism into recovery mode, greatly improving his symptoms. It also helped with her live-in partner Jim Carrey’s many food allergies.

Because of her popularity on “Oprah” shows, the 5-foot-7 beauty signed with Oprah’s production company, Harpo, to develop her own talk show. Here, she spoke to Bankrate about her career, her activism and her family.

Bankrate: Why is healthy living such an important part of your life right now?

Jenny McCarthy: Well, you have to keep up your looks now or else you might end up on a “don’t” list (laughs). If you want to get spiritual about this, which I tend to go to in a way, is that women are the heart of the home. If we don’t work, the rest of the family doesn’t work, and I don’t mean work as a living but being able to function at our highest level.

Bankrate: Did Wii come to you with this idea?

Jenny McCarthy: Yes. When they came and presented to me what they had thus far, I was blown away by the variety of the games because I tend to get bored now that I’m into fitness. I just can’t take (doing) the same thing all the time. So I said, OK, this really shakes up the game. This really allows you to have variety in your own living room.

Bankrate: Is that your figure and voice in the games?

Jenny McCarthy: It’s not my voice because there wasn’t time for that, but the animated woman is based on my shape. If I was to toot my own horn, I would say I’m pretty darn good on the fitness levels of the game.

Bankrate: You, Jim (her boyfriend, actor Jim Carrey) and Evan all are on the same nutritional path. Can you sum that up?

Jenny McCarthy: No wheat, dairy or sugar … (and) no meats. We eat as organically and naturally as possible with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Bankrate: I guess you could say this Wii experience is another creative endeavor. You’ve been in the entertainment business a long time now.

Jenny McCarthy: About 15 years.

Bankrate: Do you feel that you’re financially stable at this point?

Jenny McCarthy: Never. (laughs) Never! People say, “Oh, but you’re dating Jim Carrey so.” … Yes, that’s right, I’m dating him. We have separate everything. I pay for my own and my son. He’s helping us as in being the most incredible father figure to Evan, but I’m really independent and I don’t like to be financially dependent on anybody at any time in my life.

Bankrate: Do you put away money for a rainy day?

Jenny McCarthy: I sure do. I’m really big on inducting new projects, too. I opened up an autism school in Sherman Oaks, Calif., in August called Teach2Talk Academy. Then I started a vitamin company called Kartner Health. Things like that I want to keep in a direction that I want to live, which is healthy, and be an advocate of health.

Bankrate: It looks like you’re a very busy woman. How do you reduce stress in your everyday life?

Jenny McCarthy: Allowing myself some “me” time. I consider myself to be one of the busiest moms in the world and I still find time for “me” time. Even if it means putting on this Wii fitness game for just 15 minutes and doing a brief workout or maybe just walking down a street and doing some window shopping. I even go online to look at Perez Hilton‘s site, but it’s “me” time and we don’t give ourselves that often enough.

Bankrate: What’s on the top of your to-do list right now?

Jenny McCarthy: Getting a pedicure, there’s “me” time. I do have a lot of things I’d like to conquer. I’d like to write a novel. I’ve yet to do that. I’ve written seven books, but never a novel. I’d like to open up 19 more autism schools around the country. Once we get the money from the Sherman Oaks one, we’ll open the next and the next and so on.

Bankrate: You must be aware of your persona and how some people feel about you speaking about autism and nutritional guidance.

Jenny McCarthy: The one thing I can say is, I’ve always been honest, truthful and (tough) and never really cared what people or the critics thought. So when I came out with my story and what happened with my son, I could really give a crap what anybody thought other than, hopefully, I’m helping some families.