I was searching for a picture of Suzy Parker online when I was instead confronted by a strangely familiar vintage cosmetics campaign for Revlon’s “Fire and Ice.” Turns out Suzy Parker’s older sister, Dorian Leigh, was the model photographed for that 1950s Revlon advertisement. In fact, Leigh’s modeling popularity secured her younger sister’s being signed by the Eileen Ford Agency. This colorful mid-century ad colors my childhood memories as well because this bold ad campaign, along with other arcane Chicago memorabilia, fuels the anecdotes from my personal history.
Suzy Parker is often labeled the precursor of today’s Super Model. Flame haired and statuesque, Parker was the 1950s face of Chanel and a favorite subject of photographer Richard Avedon. Although her forte was acting for the still camera, she steals the scene in a 90-second montage of pink in her movie debut, 1957’s Funny Face. Only a bona fide movie star could hold her own on the screen even for a minute and a half with that musical’s trio: Fred Astaire, Audrey Hepburn, and force-of-nature Kay Thompson.
Later, who noticed Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, or Jayne Mansfield with porcelain Suzy Parker in the frame? By 1959 Parker is stealing the scene from “this is not my first time at the Rodeo” Joan Crawford in the I-can-always-watch-this-movie, Jean Negulesco, The Best of Everything (1959) and proved to be Dutch-angle gold on a New York City fire escape. Before she retired and left Hollywood to devote herself to their family (she married her 1960s co-star, actor Bradford Dillman), Suzy Parker would notch 19 acting credits. Suzy Parker was outrageously beautiful. Her fashion shots are still sensational. She was a constant cover girl.
When I was a kid growing up in Chicago, I used to go to the movies every Saturday. I would walk on my own to the neighborhood movie palace: the Acadia Theater. On the way home from the Double Feature late on Saturday afternoon, I’d stop first at an old-time ice cream parlor named Gertie’s. Suzy Parker was on the cover of every magazine in the display case at the front of the shop…of course all those magazines have gone either online or, more often, into oblivion. Moreover, since the 1950s are the Old Times, Gertie’s wasn’t at all old-time back then.
My having seen so many movies and having seen so many movies on my own surprises me now. The number of annual Hollywood releases was staggering in the 1950s, and my solo-movie-matinee routine might just have spurred my lifetime involved with the movies. Early glimmers of sophisticated comedy. Adult romances. Horror films. 3-D. Action and adventure movies set in exotic locales—I explored Ceylon before it became Sri Lanka—just blocks from home down 55th Street.
Anyway, I can’t imagine that I was allowed to make these trips alone, but I know my brother and sister weren’t there and my parents were definitely not moviegoers—so I figure I walked to the Acadia by myself as a kid—all the way on busy 55th Street, to boot. I don’t think I could really relate the simplicity of my childhood in Chicago—and I also suspect that eventually all our childhoods morph into these halcyon day.
Let’s go at this from a different direction.
I remember being scared one afternoon at the Acadia Theater by a scene in a black-and-white movie. It should have been a classic 1950s horror film like Them! (1954) or Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954), but truth is, it was some unidentifiable B crime movie back-half of a routine weekly double feature. A singer tosses popcorn balls from a basket out into her audience as part of her nightclub act, singing all the time; somebody in the audience throws one back, now loaded with a knife, straight at her. Bull’s eye. I am always searching to find a name for that movie online but—unlike fashion shots of Suzy Parker or the “Fire and Ice” ad—I can’t find the movie’s name…if there ever was such a movie…