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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