Paris is forever, though from time to time reborn, and perhaps no rebirth has caught the modern imagination the way this one did, postwar, when Christian Dior decreed and women followed and fashion, for 10 years, was something between a renaissance and a recovered memory. For an American model there was no bigger plum, or route to stardom, than the French collections.
When he took both Dorian and Suzy the next year, Suzy was Just as Dorian had, Suzy stood in the back of the taxi on the ride from the airport, head and shoulders above the roll-back roof so that her first sight of the city was face-to-face. And what did Paris see? The contact sheet for a portrait Avedon did of the two sisters on that trip offers a glimpse into shifting power. Suzy does not flirt. She stares, pouts, and, yes, glowers, not like a girl but like a goddess, as if she had lightning bolts in her pockets and the strength to throw them.
She did. It was a summer night, the men in black tuxedo pants, white silk shirts from Sulka, no coats, and the guests were a mix of media, theater, fashion. The magazine Paris Match had just been born, March , and journalist Pierre de la Salle, 24, was sent to report on the party. There was something very new about them, you see? Suzy, her beauty intimidated people. And no one took the risk to approach her.
Except me. I noticed that men were powerfully sexually attracted to her, although I did not know how young she was. But I found out something else from her. Who she was?
What was the end of the game? Suzy would later say he reminded her of Ashley in Gone with the Wind. I think that was what drew her to him. She was looking for what she really was meant to do. When Suzy got home from the trip, what she did do, secretly in December, was marry her sweetheart Ronald. In later life she would say she did it as a show of independence. Ronald was handsome, part Cherokee, from a nice family, and no doubt fun. Penn low man on campus and a newminted beauty on top of the world? Was this marriage really a flight from childhood or a momentary return to it—a reprieve from the more powerful attraction that beckoned across the ocean?
Six months later she was back in Paris. That was her way.
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Impromptu, very natural. And that was how she lived her new life.
Suzy modeled on both sides of the Atlantic for the next two years, sitting for photographers Penn, Roger Prigent, Cecil Beaton, Erwin Blumenfeld, Horst, and Henry Clarke, meanwhile coming from and going to Rue Vaneau like a mysterious heiress. I never asked any questions.
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I did not interfere with her life. She was great friends with socialite Tony Veiga, played pinball for hours with Christian Marquand. But if her life looked bohemian, when it came to the bedroom she was white picket fence. Her lover was Pitou. And that meant fidelity. She was rushing around, looking so wonderful whatever she did. She was alive. Everybody was in love with Suzy. And imagine this: Suzy and Dorian went out for lunch one day, and as they entered the restaurant all the Frenchmen rose and gave the sisters a standing ovation.
Coco wanted to be her mother. She saw Suzy in the clothes and she flipped. She could not eat anything. And she did not know it was Chanel. It was a second life, inspired by Suzy who would be a walking advertisement in her custom suits. Chanel reopened in , just as Suzy announced her retirement from modeling. When the position came open at French Vogue, Henry Clarke suggested she show her photographs to the editor, Michel de Brunhoff, who took her on. But Suzy had an eye, as published photos prove. Or it may have been a challenge, something to soften or surmount. In , Suzy returned to full-time modeling.
She had not paid her U. The Fords gave Suzy an interest-free loan, and repaying them meant a plunge back into advertising work as well as editorial, and a return to living six months in America, six in Paris. There was an upside, though. Early in her modeling Suzy could be a nuisance, letting competitiveness get the better of her. Impromptu, very natural, clowning enchantingly—this was no small thing. Modeling pre-Suzy had been a posed, poised affair, yet Suzy, famously unable to sit still and be quiet, had earned a reputation for never producing the same picture twice, her face testament to an imagination, a sense of play, that had nothing to do with posing.
Suzy was so full of life. Too much life for some. Horst, for instance, adored Suzy, but preferred working with Dorian. For him the overflow was everything—motion, emotion, on a whole new scale. The next change was in the fifties when he started to photograph Suzy Parker. Where, before, Avedon had been capturing a sterling eternal, with Suzy he was after the kinetic now, life being lived.
It was sheer life force passing through. The ad started a run on department stores, not just for the polish, but also for the toreador pants Suzy wore. Love That Red is how advertisers soon felt about Suzy, the model of choice. If they could get her with Avedon, so much the better. He would book Suzy for two hours. Making ads sans Avedon was for Suzy the salt mines. But she was always a pro, always on time, her makeup done, her mood jolly, never difficult, one more time. And she was foolproof. I have knocked myself out. The reason I am the best-paid model in the business is because I am the best model.
It was Avedon who suggested Suzy for a cameo appearance in Funny Face. The real Grace Kelly, after working in Hollywood for six years, had left in to marry Prince Rainier, vacating that tricky niche: the classy American ice queen melting drop by drop.
Suzy was supremely classy, but too mischievous to be icy, too cat-that-ate-the-canary, her dimples full of fun. She was more a cross between Kelly and that other Hepburn—Katharine.
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Unfortunately, it was the late 50s and Twentieth Century Fox was heading into free fall. Were there roles? Were there directors who knew screwball, who understood how to frame this face, who could bring along the untrained year-old? Fox sent two telegrams to Switzerland, where Suzy was skiing, each urging her to fly to Hollywood, each ignored because Suzy thought they were jokes. No, Kiss Them for Me was a turkey—the officers-on-leave plot ramshackle, the script unfunny, Cary Grant amazingly unappealing, and Jayne Mansfield like sticky candy.
Suzy is the best thing in the movie—sophisticated, responsive, her beauty holding the camera, slowing it down the way beauty does. She got slammed anyway.
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Both colleagues and critics thought her performance stiff, scared, very un-Suzy. Where the click of a Rolleiflex found her completely uninhibited and free, the whir of a motion-picture camera turned the tables and froze her. Suzy responded with humor—for friends she did imitations of herself in the movie—and by going back to acting class.
As the face of the 50s, pre-Murrow, Suzy was seen but not heard. Once she became an actress, the press began to bear down, elbow in. Cover stories in Look and Life hit the stands. It was that same mischievous spirit that she had as a child.
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It was also the influence of Chanel. The truth is, in , when her tax situation forced the move back to New York, she and Pitou married in a Methodist church in Greenwich Village. They lived together in the Sutton Place penthouse, where, for the Murrow show in , all traces of Pitou were removed.