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1313 Dead End Drive

Suzy Parker

Suzy Parker Hip locked, left knee slightly bent, standing just off-center in the foreground of a carefully composed by-the-Seine mise-en-scene of Louise Dahl-Wolfe's early-50's black-and-white fashion photo for Harper's Bazaar, model Suzy Parker - wearing a light-colored Balenciaga fisherman's over-blouse, matching skirt, and small, flat straw hat - twists her gazelle-like neck slightly to gaze toward Heaven, an beatific look emanating from her startlingly beautiful face.

Decades before Porizkova, Crawford, or Campbell, Parker attained supermodel status, establishing herself as the world's top fashion model, the It girl of the 1950's. Signed with Eileen Ford's agency and working in Paris, Parker was the first model to command $100 an hour, the first to take in more than $100,000 a year. With her flaming-red hair, striking green eyes, elongated limbs, animal grace, and meticulous casualness, Parker stared out from the images of Richard Avedon, Horst Horst, and Milton Greene, probably the most photographed woman of her time. Avedon referred to her as "my most challenging and complicated of muses."

The idealized epitome of the elegant woman, she embodied style and exuded chic. It seemed perfectly reasonable for Parker to lunch or shop or call on friends dressed in the same clothes she wore in fashion shoots. Gloves at mealtime? Oh, of course.

Still, she did it all for the cash. "I believe in the gold standard," she told The Washington Post in the early 1960's. "I like solid lumps of things. You can always melt them down." Unlike her publicly-mute comrades - of models, Parker once remarked, "You never met a skinnier, meaner bunch of people" - she was chatty, expansive, and outspoken on politics, culture, and social conventions. Horst carped that she wouldn't shut up long enough for him to photograph her.

Born Cecelia Ann Renee Parker on Long Island in October 1933, Suzy attended prep school in Manhattan. (A playful autobiographer, Parker invented histories, so records often state that she was born in Texas and attended high school in Florida.) Her older sister, Dorian Leigh, already a successful cover girl, introduced Parker, only 15, to modelling doyenne Ford, who declared her too tall at 5-foot-9 but offered her contract anyway. "She was the most beautiful creature you can imagine," Ford told The New York Times recently.

Suzy Parker By 1950, Suzy had arrived in Paris, where she eschewed the runway circuit. "I can't walk across a room without falling over," she told Vogue in 1995. She studied photography with Henri Cartier-Bresson, worked at French Vogue, palled around with Coco Chanel, and wedded a Frenchman, a union that lasted only briefly, the same as a late-1940's teenaged marriage.

Via Avedon, Parker broke into films in 1957, cameoing in the "Think Pink" production number of director Stanley Donen's fashion-world send-up Funny Face. (Parker inspired the movie's reluctant model-protagonist, played by Audrey Hepburn.) Meatier roles followed: Kiss Them For Me with Cary Grant in 1957, Ten North Frederick with Gary Cooper in 1958, and A Circle of Deception with Bradford Dillman in 1961. She also appeared on a handful of TV shows, most memorably a 1964 "Twilight Zone" episode.

But Parker never seemed particularly at ease away from the still camera, and she abandoned acting altogether by 1966, having wedded Dillman three years earlier; the pair settled in Montecito, California, near Santa Barbara, in 1968, where they raised a family. She passed away on May 3, 2003.

Images of Parker can still be seen amid more contemporary models. That's her at her modelling apogee, attired in a voluminous black Dior gown, arms spread, on the cover of Avedon's 2001 photo collection Made in France. "Suzy Parker gave emotion and reality to the history of fashion photography," Avedon wrote. "She invented the form, and no one has surpassed her."

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