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Suzy Parker (October 28, 1932 – May 3, 2003) was an American model and actress active from 1947 into the early 1960s. Her modeling career reached its zenith during the 1950s when she appeared on the cover of dozens of magazines, advertisements, and in movie and television roles. She appeared in several Revlon advertisements, but she also appeared in advertisements for several other cosmetic companies as well, as no model had an exclusive make-up contract until Lauren Hutton (for Revlon and Revlon's Ultima) and Karen Graham (Estee Lauder) signed them in the early 1970s. She was the first model to earn $100,000 per year, and the only fashion model to have a Beatles song named after her, even if an unreleased one.

Early life

Suzy Parker was born as Cecilia Ann Renee Parker in San Antonio, Texasmarker to George and Elizabeth Parker. Her parents married when they were 18 and 17, respectively. Their first child, Dorian Leigh (Dorian Parker) was born in 1917; Florian (Cissy/Cissie) was born in 1918; and Georgibell was born in 1919. In 1931, twelve years after her last child was born, Elizabeth thought she was going through menopause. Instead, she was five months pregnant when she learned she was expecting another baby. Elizabeth's fourth daughter, was named after three friends.. Her father didn't like the name and called her Susie. A French Vogue photographer changed the spelling to Suzy.

Suzy's family later moved to Highland Park, New Jerseymarker and to Florida. It was her 15-years-older sister, Dorian, who introduced her to agent Eileen Ford when she was just 15 years old.

Career

Three of the Parker sisters were very tall, standing between 5'10" and 6'1". Dorian was the sole exception, standing 5'5". In 1944, Dorian was writing advertising copy when a co-worker encouraged Dorian to go to the Harry Conover modeling agency to try modeling. Despite the fact that she was much shorter than other models and much older, at 27 years old, she was hired immediately by Diana Vreeland to appear on the June 1944 cover of Harper's Bazaar.

One of Dorian's first advertisements was for Revlon. Charles Revson (who later wanted to marry her) hired her for "Poison Apple," one of Revlon's first all-color, nation-wide ads.

Dorian was one of the top models in the world, arguably referred to as the "World's First Supermodel" (along with Lisa Fonssagrives). When Suzy was around 15, Dorian telephoned The Ford Modeling Agency and told Eileen Ford and Jerry Ford that she would sign on with them if they also took her younger sister, sight unseen. Anxious to represent Dorian, they agreed to this. Expecting to meet a similarly petitie, extremely thin, flawless, pale-faced, electric blue-eyed, raven-haired younger version of Dorian, they were shocked to meet Suzy for the first time at a restaurant. Upon meeting her, the Fords said, "Oh, my God!" Suzy was already 5'10", big-boned, and had carrot red hair, pale green eyes, and freckles. Suzy became more famous than Dorian.

Suzy's photo appeared in Life magazine at age 15. One of her first magazine advertisements was also at 15 for DeRosa Jewelry. Although she still lived with her parents in Florida, she stayed in New York City with Dorian when she had modeling assignments there. Dorian introduced Suzy to her fashion photographer friends, Irving Penn, Horst P. Horst, John Rawlings, and a young Richard Avedon. Suzy became Avedon's muse. At age 61, she said, "The only joy I ever got out of modeling was working with Dick Avedon."

Parker became the "signature face" of Coco Chanel. Coco became a close confidante, giving her advice when it came to men and money as well as creating numerous Chanel outfits for her. She was the first model to earn $200 per hour and $100,000 per year. Vogue declared her one of the faces of the confident, post-war American woman.

However by 1955 she owed income taxes on her modeling income from previous years, amounting to more than $60,000 in back taxes and rapidly accumulating penalties, an enormous amount at the time. Jerry Ford paid her tax bill and found her work. She worked non-stop for Vogue, Revlon, Hertz, Westinghouse, Max Factor, Bliss, DuPont, Simplicity, Smirnoff, and Ronson shavers, just to name a few. She also was on the covers of about 70 magazines around the world including, Vogue, Elle, Life, Look, Redbook, Paris Match, and McCalls. She was only given 20% of her salary while the Fords took the rest to recoup their tax loan.

Avedon suggested Suzy for the movie Funny Face (1957). Fred Astaire's role was based on Avedon, whose photos appeared in the movie. Audrey Hepburn's role was inspired by Suzy, just as Hepburn's role in Breakfast at Tiffany's was supposedly based on Dorian's promiscuous lifestyle. Suzy appeared in the movie for only about two minutes.

Her other credits included Kiss Them for Me opposite Cary Grant (1957), The Best of Everything (1959), Ten North Frederick starring Gary Cooper (1959), Circle of Deception (1960) where she met future husband Bradford Dillman, Flight from Ashiya (1964), Chamber of Horrors (1966) and dramatic roles in TV shows such as Burke's Law and The Twilight Zone plus appearances as herself on a number of quiz shows like I've Got a Secret.

After marrying her third husband, Dillman, in 1963, and suffering further injuries in another car accident in 1964, she mostly retired from modeling and acting to live a quiet life in Montecito, Californiamarker with her family.

Personal life

Parker was married three times. In 1950, around the time she turned 18, Suzy and her high school sweetheart, Ronald (last name unknown), drove to Georgia to secretly marry. She said that she married him in a bikini with a raincoat on top. She further said, "He was very good-looking and it (the marriage) was just a sheer disaster." The young couple drove back to Florida where she was still living with her parents. They were upset because of her age and because Ronald was part Cherokee. They moved to Pennsylvania and rented a house near where Dorian was living with her husband and children. Suzy was already modeling in the United States and Europe while Ronald was attending the University of Pennsylvania as a freshman.

Suzy met journalist Pierre de la Salle (Pitou) at a Jacques Fath party outside of Paris. She and Dorian were modeling together and separately on this trip with photographer Richard Avedon. She came back to the United States and asked Ronald for a divorce. Ronald would only agree to a quick divorce if Suzy gave him a large monetary settlement, paid for his nose job and his acting lessons. Suzy agreed and they obtained a quick divorce in Mexico, which became final in 1953. When Ronald could not get acting jobs, he committed suicide. Suzy and Pierre continued to date for years despite numerous infidelities on the part of Pierre. She also was paying for his high cost-of-living expenses. They married around 1957 or 1958, but the couple kept it a secret. Instead, Suzy told several reporters that she was just "living in sin" with Pierre.

In 1958, Suzy was a passenger in a car her father was driving when they were hit by an oncoming train. Supposedly neither heard nor saw the train until it slammed into the car. Her father died of his injuries at the hospital. Suzy checked into the hospital with broken bones and imbedded glass (her face was untouched) under the name Mrs. Pierre de la Salle. The press jumped on this and Pierre continued to deny that they were married. Soon thereafter, a photo spread of the couple appeared in the August 19, 1958 Look magazine cover story about Suzy. Suzy began psychotherapy to cope with her rocky marriage and the death of her beloved father. The couple finally admitted that they were indeed married.

After recovering from her injuries, Suzy became pregnant and Pierre left. She said, "He didn't want to be a father. I already hired a nanny... he was gone, history." She gave birth to their daughter Georgia Belle Florian Coco Chanel de la Salle in December 1959. Close friend Coco Chanel was her daughter's godmother. A March 14, 1977 People magazine article featured Suzy trying to launch her then 17-year-old daughter Georgia as a model. Georgia ended up only modeling a few times during and after college. As of 2006, Georgia's father Pierre de la Salle was in his 70s and living with his wife Berenice, whom he married in 1977, in Mammoth Lakes, California.

In 1960, Suzy met actor Bradford Dillman on the set of their movie, Circle of Deception. She was still married to Pierre but no longer living with him. Bradford was ending his first marriage and was dating Juliette Greco at the time. Suzy obtained a divorce and married Bradford in 1963 on board a boat at sea. She changed her name to Suzy Parker Dillman following the marriage.

Suzy cut her modeling and acting assignments by 1964 after marrying Dillman and becoming stepmother to his two children, Jeffrey and Pamela. She went on to have three more children with Bradford: Dinah (born 1965), Charlie (born 1967), and Christopher (born 1969). The family lived in the Bel-Air district of Los Angeles until Dinah was bitten by a rattlesnake in the yard and almost died.. They then moved to Montecito in the Santa Barbara area, where Suzy remained until her death in 2003.

Last years

A self-described "tom-boy" in her teens she broke several bones as a result. Parker also broke bones in car accidents in 1958 and 1964. She had long long suffered from allergies and later developed ulcers in the 1990s. During surgery for an ulcer, she "died" on the operating table but was resuscitated. She never fully recovered and developed more ulcers and diabetes. She had multiple hip surgeries, and then her kidneys began to fail. She spent the last five years of her life in-and-out of the hospital.

Death

She decided to end dialysis treatments, and wished to go home to die surrounded by family at her orchard in Montecito. She died there, aged 70, on May 3, 2003. She was survived by two of her three sisters: Dorian Leigh (who died in 2008 at the age of 91, and who reportedly did not attend her sister's funeral due to a long estrangement) and Florian ("Cissie", "Cissy"), as of 2009, the sole surviving Parker sister. Her husband, Bradford Dillman, their children and her stepchildren also survived her.

Filmography



Television



References

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