Friday, 27 December 2013

The Powers Girls As Working Women

Connie Joannes, model mum, photographed by Nina Leen for Life, via

I hope you are filled with turkey and have been enjoying time with your family and loved ones. It's an appropriate enough setting for the final part in my posts on The Powers Girls, John Robert Power's guide to modelling published in 1941. In this post, I'm going to try and look behind the glamour and gather some clues as to what everyday life was like for these women.

For a start, Powers is keen to emphasise how well-educated and clever his models are. He reels off their college and university educational achievements. Perhaps it's an attempt to use the book to reinforce a more wholesome image for his models, compared to their reputations in the past but it's something he enforced within his business too. Apparently Powers wouldn't sign Connie Joannes until she had completed college. He boasts of his model, Josephine Caldwell, a graduate of the University of Philadelphia where she made Phi Beta Kappa.

"Alice models as a stewardess", Cut-Out Dolls Powers Models, 1941, via

But here's the rub for women reading about the Powers models today. Despite Caldwell's education and her presumably pretty successful career, the book describes how she "spends her hours of leisure cooking and keeping house for her husband."

Yes, whatever ambitions these girls had professionally, they were - in the eyes of Powers at least - secondary to getting married and being a good wife and mother. He writes that "All the unmarried models look forward to a husband and married life as the best part of their career."

Betty Israel's Bachelor Girl is brilliant on how single women have been viewed throughout the twentieth-century. It's especially good on the women of the forties who have enjoyed the freedoms offered by the Second World War and whose new position is effectively then demonised by the press. Of course, when The Powers Girls was published the war was still underway, but these women were still supposed to follow a traditional course in life - again, perhaps because Powers wanted to uphold the moral image of his models, and also probably because many of these women really did want to get married and raise kids and look after their husbands, as they'd been brought up to do.

Those single girls are - don't worry reader - safely stowed away from evil young men:

"Many of the unmarried girls live at the Barbizon Hotel for Women in the East Sixties in NYC. While it would be possible to find rooms at a lower rent, they feel that it would be worth while to spend a little more money for an atmosphere which offers both prestige and protection."

The residents of the legendary single sex Barbizon Hotel have included everyone from Lauren Bacall to Grace Kelly to Ali MacGraw (you can read more about its stories here). It also gets a mention in Bachelor Girl, where Israel quotes Kitty Foyle, a tragi-comic fictionalised version of the atmosphere of so many single women all under the same roof:

"A neurosis to every room. I can see them yet in the dining room, poor souls with the twice a week chicken croquettes and those rocking little peas, sort of crimped so they wouldn’t skid … They called them bachelor girls but a bachelor is that way on purpose. One evening one of them must have gone haywire [because] she yelled out into the courtyard, 'there’s a Man in my room!' … Now, everybody, they had seen the sinister fellow … but he was nowhere ... only …. a pale phantom of desire."

You don't hear much about the Powers girls who don't get married. Thankfully, for Powers at least, most of them seemed to. And well. Powers writes, "many of the Powers girls have married millionaires and men of prominence in practically all the professions. While practically all of them look forward to marriage as the high point of their careers, they are more eager, as a rule, for a happy marriage than for a glamorous one."

Clark and Kay Gable, via

There were some pretty glamorous marriages undertaken by just the selection of models listed in The Powers Girls. Florence Pritchett's husband became the US Ambassador to Cuba; Kay Williams became the fifth Mrs Clark Gable.

Margaret Horan, via

After marriage, the assumed next step would be motherhood. Life ran a feature in 1944 on 'Model Mothers' that included Powers girls Margaret Horan and Connie Joannes. There's very little in the article on how they practically managed juggling both, aside from passing references to a nurse and help from mothers and aunts (Vintage Vixen did a post on the article here).

Connie Joannes for Ipana toothpaste, 1946. via

Connie Joannes married Emerson Dickman, a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, and continued modelling after their marriage. She seemed to specialise in being a wholesome model mother and used it to her advantage in these adverts for Ipana toothpaste and Ivory soap ("Tell 'em Mommy, how you became a famous Pin-Up Girl").

"Do not regard modelling as your life's work", warns Powers in his book. Aside from modelling and acting, what else did former Powers Models go on to do?

Elaine Bassett on the cover of Pagent magazine, January 1945, via. I'm also intrigued by Clare Boothe Luce's feature in this edition, "Are Women People?"

Well, I've already mentioned Mary Sue Miller's charm books and Florence Pritchett's guide to entertaining. Florence Pritchett seems to have been especially enterprising - in this image, she's apparently modelling her own fashion line. Some women moved behind the scenes: Francesca Sims became a writer in Hollywood while Muriel Maxwell, at the time of publication of The Powers Girls, was studio editor at Vogue. Elaine Bassett had her own syndicated newspaper column and radio show. Some, like Weslee Wootten, were involved in education, and many did charity work. There's so many interesting individual stories, it's impossible to do them justice in a few blog posts. However, from the outside at least, it does seem that they live up to Power's expectations of his models:

"Hard-working, ambitious, energetic, they move forward toward their respective goals. Modeling the stepping stone that leads them to it. Back of that, of course, are the principles of self-confidence and self-reliance, and the intelligent effort to make the most of their potentialities. These qualities make them good models. They will help them in their future careers. They will help any woman in any career."

Because it's my final post on The Powers Girls (at least for now) and there are so many women I haven't been able to mention, I wanted to finish with a few more images of some of the beautiful Powers models:

Maureen Zollman, Vogue August 1942, via

Elnora Hayes, via

Hazel Forbes, in Ziegfeld Follies mode, photographed by Alfred Cheney Johnston, via

Margaret Horan (when not pictured as a 'Model Mother'), via

Carmel Fitzgerald photographed by Victor Keppler for the Valentine’s Day cover of Woman’s Home Companion, 1941, via

June Cox, 1938, via

Luella Hurd, via

Claire McQuillen, via

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Tuesday, 24 December 2013

The Powers Girls As Working Models

So far I've talked about the Powers models of the 1930s and 40s who worked on high fashion magazines, or who set their sights on a career in Hollywood. But what about work for the majority of the models? The models who were, to use what's become a derogatory word on the likes of Top Model, 'commercial'.

"Sally is a Career Girl Model", Cut-Out Dolls Powers Models, 1941. Via

Their broader appeal is summed up by John Roberts Powers in The Powers Girls. These girls:

"eschew the sophistication of the high-fashion models; their make-up is conservative and their hair-do simple. They are not easily identifiable as coming from any particular section of the country. They epitomize the attractive American girl, beautiful but not forbidding."

Ellen Allardyce, July 1942, via

The potential earnings in their role were undeniably lucrative, especially given the limited career options for women at this time. The fees given in The Power Girls range from $5 for an hour and a half up to $10 for an hour. Fashion shows gained their models $15 an hour while the popular models could earn $25 to $100 an hour. Earnings could be even more if you got a contract with a firm. Constance "Connie" Joannes and Ellen Allardyce (spelt with a 'y' in the book, seemingly spelt 'Allardice' elsewhere) both held a $5000 year contract for exclusive work as Coty girls.

Lucille Casey, via

As well as photographic work, or even posing for illustrations, there was promotional work too. Here's Barbard Hebbard modelling a mattress and Lucille Casey admiring the ice cream flavours at Wil Wrights Place (interestingly, she's billed as an actress in the caption, not a model).

Joselyn Reyolds here is shown meeting Elmer, the mascot of the 1939 New York World Fair.

Even Dana Jenney, one of the models to grace the pages of Vogue and Harper's, here is seen in Lord & Taylor's demonstrating their 'liquid stockings' service in 1943.

The varied jobs of a Powers model can be glimpsed in this 1941 article about Miami girl turned Powers model Dottie Smallwood:

"She's been featured in many of the national stunts where lovely Powers models are called on to 'be scenery'. For instance, Feb. 21, 20 models flew to Boston, where they sold lapel pins at the British War Relief ball at the Copley-Plaza and mingled with guests at the ball. Dottie was one of two girls who made front page news at that event from a sheer beauty standpoint. Tuesday of this week, she writes her mother, 19 hand-picked models trekked to Wall Street, where they were 'background' for Jim Farley when he was making a speech. And when the big Yankee Clipper publicity is launched shortly you'll see Miss Smallwood, together with 18 other smart-looking girls from the Powers studio all over the plane."

Marianne Steene, via 

Of course, as Dottie Smallwood's story illustrates, much of the promotional work undertaken by Powers girls in the early 1940s would relate to war efforts. Model Marianne Steene is one of the women pictured in a 1942 edition of Life sending kisses to servicemen.

Powers girl/actress Angela Greene was one of the pin-up girls used on the nose of a bomber.

This frequently reproduced image for the American Nurses Association, with its wholesome, typically (to use Power's words) "attractive American girl, beautiful but not forbidding", in fact features a Powers model - Weslee Wootten. You can read her personal story here and here.

Wootten now lives in New Zealand, having married a Royal New Zealand Air Force pilot. In my final post on The Powers Girls, I'm going to write about their lives as working women in this period and how they juggled working with being a wife and a mother. You can read the other three parts of this series here, here and here.

Oh, and hope you all have a very merry Christmas. Enjoy!

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Monday, 23 December 2013

The Powers Girls and Hollywood

Ida Vollmar, via

I've been fascinated by the stories of the Powers models of the 1930s and 40s since reading John Robert Powell's 1941 book, The Powers Girls. After looking at the models who featured on the pages of Vogue and Harper's, I'm now going to look at those models who headed west, to the bright lights of Hollywood. 

In their August 1937 edition, Motion Picture Magazine published a feature "The Model Way To Hollywood" containing the following advice (via):

"There is an increasing demand for models in Hollywood. Russell Patterson estimates the demand 100% more than it was a year or two ago. Color photography has been a boon to models. So if you are thinking of breaking into pictures, consider the possibility of modelling. It's an incomparably better way of gaining recognition than extra or chorus work."

Though today this seems somewhat ridiculous advice to those of us for who a career as a model is every bit as out of reach as that of being a Hollywood star, it's true there seems to be something of a free flowing exchange between the John Powers agency, New York and the Californian film studios.


The same article focuses on a new musical film The Vogues of 1938, set in a fashion house. The same article reports most of the "Voguettes" came from the Powers Agency. It's not clear how seriously these models took their potential new career in Hollywood. Olive Cawley, having being described in the feature as a "society girl", and in The Powers Girls as having enjoyed a career as an air hostess and a speedboat racer, I imagine would have taken the whole thing in her stride. Elizabeth "Libby" Harden, meanwhile, was enjoying the change of pace in Hollywood: "Modelling is really hard work. We models live a hectic life in New York, but I've had a wonderful rest since I've been out here."

Georgia Carroll, via

Wanting to get into Hollywood is seen in The Powers Girls as no less a worthy ambition as wanting to be on the pages of Vogue. He quotes the model Rita Hunt "on her way to Hollywood" on the secret to her success: "Try to be different. Be different, in fact, not only from others, but from yourself!". However, the set of girls he talks about in terms of Hollywood ambitions are different from those working in high fashion modelling.

The one exception to that possibly is Georgia Carroll. Like many of the Powers Girls, she's now one of the faces peering out of Anne Taintor products (the Anne Taintor website actually provides great biographies of many of these women). At the time of writing The Powers Girls, Georgia Carroll was Powers biggest star. He describes her in it as "probably the most beautiful girl in the world," and in a 1941 Coronet magazine piece as "the most terrific thing to ever hit this business". Although "ace-high for fashion", she signed a contract with Warner Brothers in 1941, possibly because her "flawless colouring" was as suited to colour motion pictures as much as fashion modelling. Her career took an entirely different path however - she became the vocalist in Kay Kyser's big band, before marrying Kyser and retiring from showbiz.

Penny Singleton (listed as Dorothy McNulty in The Powers Girls). via

But as well as models heading to Hollywood, the Powers agency seemed to take readily take many women already established in their acting career. Dorothy McNulty was already in her radio and film role Blondie (under the name she took after her marriage - Penny Singleton).

Lucille Bremer, via

Lucille Bremer, meanwhile, had already made the Broadway appearance that lead to her being spotted by Louis B. Mayer of MGM.

Blanche Grady, via

Modelling, of course, could be a safety net for the gorgeous girls who didn't make it big in Hollywood. Blanche Grady was on contract to Paramount for $150 a week in 1941, as well as being listed in The Powers Girls. By 1944, modelling again appears to be her primary career.

Juggling modelling and acting is, of course, nothing new - just look at the career of Noel Streatfeild in the 1920s and 30s. It's just way the Powers girls seemed to be able to juggle both at such a high level, and without any snobbery between either industry, that seems slightly incredible today.

For my next post about the Powers girls, I'm going to look at those many models and their work who, despite not making the pages of Vogue or the movies, nevertheless carved themselves successful careers as models.

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Wednesday, 11 December 2013

The Powers Girls and Fashion Modelling in the 1940s

In yesterday's post, I wrote a little about Powers Models, based on John Robert Power's The Powers Girls book, published in 1941. It's probably the models who made the pages of Vogue and Harper's Bazaar that are most familiar to modern eyes. In this famous Horst P. Horst cover for the November 1939 edition of US Vogue, two of the models - Helen Bennett and Muriel Maxwell - are Powers Girls.

Powers describes the attributes of his high-fashion models, including Bennett and Maxwell, and also Dana Jenney and Elizabeth Gibbons, thus (and not dissimilar to the kind of advice you hear on modelling shows today): "Beauty is not so essential in this particular field as chic, and a flair for wearing clothes effectively. An interesting face is more effective than a flawless but empty one. The high-fashion models must have a knowledge of clothes and be able to change their moods with their costume."

Here's Muriel Maxwell, again shot by Horst P. Horst, on the cover of the Vogue July 1939 edition - one of my all time favourite covers. Powers attributes a type to each of his models. Maxwell is "The Autumn-Leaf Type". As illustrated, "This cosmopolitan type is tremendously dramatic in high fashion work."

And I love some of the pictures Louise Dahl-Wolfe took of Elizabeth 'Liz' Gibbons, including this one for the January 1938 edition of Harper's Bazaar. Powers describes her as "The Urban Type ... she appeals alike to the fashionable women of Paris, London, Vienna and New York." Apparently she still does.

Irving Penn's famous 1947 photograph for Vogue, showing the 12 most photographed models in America between 1937 and 1947 includes no less than seven women included in my 1941 edition of The Powers Girls, alongside Dorian Leigh and Lisa Fonssagrives: Helen Bennett, Dana Jenney, Betty McLauchlen, Andrea Johnson, Elizabeth Gibbons, Muriel Maxwell and Kay Hernan.

Helen Bennett in Coronet Magazine, 1941, via

There's plenty bits of nuts and bolts advice given for aspiring high fashion models in the book too. Muriel Maxwell supplies a list of the wardrobe required for a working woman (remember the one given in Clothes Pegs?):
  • One good tailored suit
  • One dark dress with long sleeves and one with short sleeves
  • One light dress with long sleeves and one with short sleeves
  • One dark and one light evening dress
  • A fur jacket
  • Shoes for all occasion
  • Advanced hats
"Gloria Models For The Newspaper" cut-out-paper Powers Models dolls, 1942, via

I've no idea what "advanced hats" are but they sound delightful. All the more reason, then for the hat box, which are described as "the insignia of the models, and they have become as familiar to New Yorkers as the doctor’s black bag and the lawyer’s brief case."

However, they also had a purpose simply beyond being just a hat box, used to carry all the paraphernalia of a model we know about from her 1950s successors such as, "photographic make-up and the clothes or accessories required for each assignment. In one case, this may be a bathing suit and cap; in another, certain accessories such as gloves, handbag, costume jewellery, and so forth."

But, of course, the high fashion models were only a handful of the hundreds of women on Power's books. Next, I'm going to look at another significant strand of his girls - the ones who packed up their suitcases and hatboxes and headed across to Hollywood.

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Tuesday, 10 December 2013

The Powers Girls

Here's my latest obsession: The Powers Girls. This book was written by John Robert Powers - believed to own and run the first modelling agency in the world - in 1941. Promising "The story of models and modeling and the natural steps by which attractive girls are created," this is partly a behind the scenes look at the Powers Agency, partly a beauty and grooming guide, and partly a huge plug for their newly launched modelling school (again a first). It was obviously successful - my edition tells me this title was reprinted seven times between September and November 1941!

Some of the beautiful models who were The Powers Girls, including Sandy Rice, Suzanne Sommers, Jane Davis, Marion Whitney, Jeanne Black, Doris Gibson and Florence Dornin.

At the time of publication, Powers claims to have 400 models on his books, covering almost every aspect of respectable modelling, from high fashion to commercial to illustration. What's the secret to his success? Well, Powers puts it down to his "development of 'The Natural Girl'", in contrast to the buxom Gibson Girl or the glamorous Ziegfeld Follies (in fact, lots of his models were also Ziegfeld Follies, but never mind). But, I guess, the agency became successful at a time when the Parisian fashion industry - and associated photography and modelling - was no longer operating. As American designers were creating new, more informal fashions, it makes sense that would be reflected in its editorial and models too.

Halldis Prince and Charlie Chaplin, 1940. Via

These gorgeous girls were subject to serious attention in their day including invites to the fashionable parties (Hostess "Elsa Maxwell remarked that she could give a party without debutantes but she always made sure of including at least 6 Powers girls," writes Powers) and fashionable clubs (although, "There is an legend around New York that you can tell when the clock strikes midnight because all the Powers girls leave the Stork Club."). The above image is one from a feature in the 22 December 1940 edition of Life simply showing model Halldis Prince attending a New York party thrown by Conde Nast.

The models became considered experts in their own right, and wrote their own books on grooming and presentation  - Mary Sue Miller authored one with John Robert Powers called Secrets of Charm, as well as the guide for teens shown above, while Anita Colby was also a former Powers Girl.

Florence Pritchett and aspiring model, photographed for The Powers Girls

Florence Pritchett is shown in The Powers Girls as one of the advisors in the Powers modelling school - she also wrote her own book The Entertaining People, "A Guide for the Elegant Hostess", published after her death in 1966 and reproducing tips from her many social contacts, including Diana Vreeland, Duchess of Windsor, Cecil Beaton and Princess Irene Galitizine. She was also linked with JFK (you can see a picture of them together at The Stork Club - where else? - here).

At the back of the book, Powers gives a list of his models. It's a fascinating list to trawl through and surprisingly unfamiliar. Many of the models are lost to obscurity or to marriage, or perhaps to both. There's a lot fewer familiar names on that list than if you started talking about, say, 1950s models, or at least they are unfamiliar to a British reader. Yet, in their day, these models were huge. They were used to promote everything, and their names were also used in adverts as well as their faces.

... Carmen Fitzgerald for Model tobacco in 1942 ...

... Francesca Sims for Chesterfield cigarettes, the "Chesterfield Girl of the Month" ...

... while "three of the country's smartest fashion models" including Powers Girl, Florence Dornin, along with Susann Shaw and Dana Dale, were listed as the Chesterfield girls for March 1940.

... 'Beautiful New York model' Joselyn Reynolds along with Catherine Weary, Elizabeth Russell, Peggy Laden, and Dorothy Wallace (not listed as Powers Models in this book) for Listerine ...


... Joselyn Reynolds (again, this time along with Virigina Campbell of Washington D.C.) tells you what she thinks about a De Soto vehicle ...

... Constance 'Connie' Joannes promoted Avon ...

... Gay Hayden endorses Hegy's Cleaning and Dyeing service ...

... while Frances Donelon got Dundee Towels in 1940.

Start digging around some of the stories around Powers and there's some amazing tales, starting with the women plucked from the streets to become models or - as this article about Dottie Smallwood puts it - who have modelling 'thrust upon them". On the other hand, in the book, Powers claims to have interviewed over a million girls and women who were interested in modelling as a career.

So what made a Powers Girl? As well as the essential stats - given here as 5'6" to 5'10" and size 12 or 14 - a successful model needs to have more. Powers writes, "It is not essential that a girl be beautiful in order to be a successful model, but she must be intelligent". The Powers Girls continually reinforces the intelligence and the charm, as well as the beauty of the models, and as qualities that should be emulated by "real" women.

Betty McLauchlen, as pictured in The Powers Girls. Described as "The Manhattan type", she is described as being "as representative of her sophisticated native city as The New Yorker".

Of course, charm could, to a degree, be taught in his modelling school while beauty, of course, couldn't be. And, although women are encouraged to "use make-up sparingly", grooming is obviously considered paramount: "The Powers girls are said to spend more time and money on their clothes than any other group of girls in the world. The model may economize on her food but heaven help her if she attempts to economize on her hairdresser or her cosmetics." Perhaps this is the birth of that most troublesome of beauty aspirations - the natural look, which always appears to require 20 different kinds of make-up and takes hours to apply! 

Elizabeth 'Liz' Gibbons, as featured in The Powers Girls. She's described as being "The Urban Type." 

More on the Powers Girls to follow - I'll next be looking at the models such as Muriel Maxwell, Helen Bennett and Liz Gibbons who made the pages of Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. In the meantime, check out my Powers Girls pinterest board featuring some of the many images I found while researching this post.

For now, I'll leave you with a typical bit of John Robert Power's wisdom. "It is excusable for a girl of 16 to be unattractive today, but it is not excusable for a woman of 40 … It is not the most beautiful woman in a room who is the most popular. It is the woman with the greatest degree of charm."

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