Hats off to a remarkable model

Suzy Parker was a fixture on magazine covers in the 1950s

Rest in peace, Suzy. You were more than the iconic model of the 1950s, a glamorous redhead with cheekbones that could cut glass. You were the original supermodel.

Suzy Parker, whose real name was the not-so-glamorous Cecelia Anne Renee Parker, died last month in Santa Barbara, Calif., at age 69.

It really didn't matter what her name was: The instantly recognizable face was enough. The signature model for designer Coco Chanel and the favorite subject of photo greats such as Richard Avedon, Parker also possessed the countenance that launched millions of beauty products.

In 1957, Parker branched out, pioneering the term 'model-slash-actress' by appearing in the movie 'Funny Face' with Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn. Parker played a showroom model in the film's famous number 'Think Pink,' a scene that spoofed the likes of Diana Vreeland, the fashion editor who discovered her.

The Texas-born Parker was only 14 when she met Vreeland, but she'd already felt the jagged edges of the industry. The tough-as-acrylic-nails Eileen Ford, founder of Ford Models, rejected the 5-foot-9 Parker as too tall for the business. (A sign of the times: Parker's height is now considered the minimum requirement for a model. Kate Moss squeaked in at 5-7 only because she epitomized the 'waif/heroin chic' era of the late 1980s.)

Vreeland didn't have to look far to see the sloe-eyed Parker's potential: Suzy's older sister, Dorian Leigh, was a leading model in the 1940s, wearing the red gown, red lips and red nails in Revlon's famous 'Fire and Ice' campaign. The good genes she shared with her sister had an even greater payoff for Parker. By 17, she was the highest-paid model of the era, earning what was then the princely sum of $200 an hour.

It was Parker who paved the economic way for future supermodels such as Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington and Linda Evangelista, who would eventually pull down as much as $25,000 a day for fashion shows. But unlike Parker, these lean, moneymaking machines wouldn't handle their fame as gracefully; their arrogance would ultimately cause a public backlash against the moneyed mannequins.

By the time Evangelista quipped, 'We don't get out of bed for less than $20,000,' the gig was up for the overpaid cadre, who were replaced by models not nearly as recognizable in name, face or bank balance.

Parker struck her last pose before the camera in 1965. Even with six movies under her narrow belt, Parker never managed to attain much respect as an actress, something that had more to do with poor acting skills than her distracting beauty.

Her exit from the world of fashion, however, couldn't have been better timed. In the 1950s, Parker symbolized what every woman wanted to be: the elegant jet-setter as at ease at a cocktail party as she was at a PTA meeting. She was replaced by girls representing the new order, a world that valued social change more than a social life. Penelope Tree, Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton were the new models of the moment, wide-eyed leggy Brits who spoke to the burgeoning youth culture.

Much to her credit, Parker was true to herself to the end. There would be no Botox for Suzy, no scalpel or Atkins. She lived life according to her own design, later shunning the limelight and embracing the role of the suburban homemaker.

Michael Gross, who interviewed Parker for his 1995 book, 'The Business of Being Beautiful,' described her at age 61 as a 'plumpish housewife with frosted blond hair and a sunburn.' But Parker said that she'd never been happier, having married a good man and been 'blessed with cheekbones.'

And really, what else matters?

Contact Jill Spitznass This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..