Suzy Parker, Supermodel
Very few women in the late 19th century were fortunate enough to be wealthy enough to hold property in their own names, and those that did, like Aimée Crocker, still had to have the court appoint a personal agent to handle their affairs. To purchase, sell, or for any contractual needs, a woman had to confer with her agent first. Aimée didn’t hire on famous banker cousin William Henry Crocker to handle her affairs, but a cousin on her mother’s side. Charles Frances Dillman from the banking house of D.O. Mills & Co. represented both Aimée’s and sister Jennie’s extensive business interests in California.
Seventy-five years later, modified sexual politics and women’s rights presented a completely different landscape in America. Dillman’s grandson, Bradford, and his wife Suzy Parker, would be a model power couple for a new American culture; they were equally successful and influential. Yale-educated, Bradford Dillman graduated with a B.A. in English Literature in 1951. He served with the US Marines in Korea before focusing on a career in acting. His professional acting debut was at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in The Scarecrow with fellow Actor’s Studio alumni James Dean. Bradford possessed charm and confident good looks that were slightly tainted by a bent smile, darting glance and edgy countenance that often provoked suspicion. He played shady, highly suspect characters. Dillman performed in 140 films and television shows including Escape from the Planet of the Apes, The Way We Were with Robert Redford and Barbra Steisand, The Iceman Cometh, Sudden Impact with Clint Eastwood, The Wild Wild West, Ironside, Mission Impossible, Mod Squad, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Columbo, Canon, The Streets of San Francisco, Wonder Women, Barnaby Jones, The Incredible Hulk, Charlie’s Angels, Dynasty, Murder, She Wrote… Dillman’s talents won him a Best Actor award at Cannes Film Festival, a Golden Globe and an Emmy award.
Dillman met actress and model Suzy (Cecilia Ann Renee) Parker during the filming of A Circle of Deception (1960). Suzy was one of the fashion world’s legendary beauties who became the industry’s highest-paid cover girl making $100,000 a year in the 1950s–the same salary then paid the president of the United States.
Suzy’s oldest sister, Dorian Leigh, a famous glossy-magazine face of the 1940s, introduced her at 14 to agency head Eileen Ford, doyenne of modeling agents, who later said, “She was the most beautiful creature you can imagine; she was everybody’s everything.” Dorian was one of the top models in the world, who, along with Lisa Fonssagrives, is referred to as the “world’s first supermodel.”
Suzy was already 5’10”, big-boned, and had carrot red hair, pale-green eyes, and freckles. She would become more famous than Dorian. Miss Parker created a sensation when her picture appeared around the world in the first big fashion photo featuring a model showing off a bikini. Another photo appeared in Life magazine when she was 15. Dorian introduced Parker to her fashion-photographer friends, Irving Penn, Horst P. Horst, John Rawlings, and a young Richard Avedon. Parker became Avedon’s muse; she said years later that, “The only joy I ever got out of modeling was working with Dick Avedon.”
Suzy became the signature face of the Coco Chanel brand. Chanel herself became a close confidante, giving Parker advice on men and money as well as creating numerous Chanel outfits for her. Designer Christian Dior called Parker “the most beautiful woman in the world”; Vogue editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland declared that Parker was the face of the 1950s. Vogue also declared her “one of the faces of the confident, post-war American woman.”
As one of Parker’s obituaries noted, “[she] had the hautiest of cheekbones and nobody angled an elbow better, but when she shook out her red hair she suggested a cool Hollywood glamour–Rita Hayworth on the rocks.”
Parker worked non-stop for Vogue, Revlon, Hertz, Westinghouse, Max Factor, Bliss, DuPont, Simplicity, Smirnoff, and Ronson shavers, to name a few. She was on the covers of about 70 magazines around the world, including Vogue, Elle, Life, Look, Redbook, Paris Match and McCall‘s. Suzy refused to take her profession entirely seriously, maintaining that she was no more than “an animated clothes hanger.”
Avedon introduced her to Funny Face director Stanley Donen, who gave her a cameo, suggested she be screen-tested, and cast her in his 1957 Kiss Them For Me, opposite Cary Grant. But her vivacity and loquacity did not register in moving pictures (she felt “she wasn’t the actress she wanted to be”) and her short movie career was as lovely decoration in Ten North Frederick (1958) with Gary Cooper, The Best Of Everything (1959) starring Joan Crawford, and The Interns (1962) with Cliff Robertson. She had guest appearances on The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery.
The Beatles’ 1970 documentary film Let It Be, included their song “Suzy Parker.” The song, one of the few credited as written by all four Beatles, was part of their Academy Award-winning score for the original songs they performed in the film.
Parker had already made her farewell tour of the high life in 1962, posturing across Europe with Mike Nichols in an Avedon sequence parodying La Dolce Vita. After her modelling and acting careers she chose to be a housewife, baking bread and raising a family with her actor-husband in Montecito, California.
Further reading: Vanity Fair