Dorian Elizabeth Leigh Parker (April 23, 1917 – July 7, 2008), known professionally as Dorian Leigh, was an American model and one of the earliest modeling icons of the fashion industry. She is considered one of the first supermodels, and was well known in the United States and Europe.
Dorian Leigh Parker was born in San Antonio, Texas, to George and Elizabeth Parker. Her parents married when they were very young and Elizabeth promptly gave birth to three daughters in quick succession: Dorian, Florian "Cissie" (1918–2010), and Georgiabell (1921–1988). Thirteen years after the birth of her third daughter, Elizabeth believed she was going through menopause and was shocked to discover that she was pregnant. She gave birth to her fourth daughter, Cecilia (1932–2003), who became known as model and actress Suzy Parker. The family moved to Jackson Heights, Queens, soon after Dorian's birth and later to Metuchen, New Jersey where George Parker invented a new form of etching acid, the production of which gave him enough income to retire.
Dorian graduated from Newton High School in Queens, New York, in 1935 and enrolled at Randolph-Macon Women's College in Lynchburg, Virginia. At college, she met her first husband, Marshall Powell Hawkins, whom she married on a whim in North Carolina in 1937. They had two children: Thomas Lofton ("TL") Hawkins (1939–2014) and Marsha Hawkins (born 1940). The couple separated in the 1940s.
Dorian worked as a file clerk at a department store in Manhattan and as a tabulator, where she found that she had an aptitude for math, mechanical engineering, and drawing.
Dorian then worked at Bell Laboratories, and was a tool designer during World War II at Eastern Air Lines (with their Eastern Aircraft division) where she assisted in the design of airplane wings. While working Republic Pictures as an apprentice copywriter, she was encouraged by a Mrs. Wayburn to try modeling.
In 1944 Dorian went to the Harry Conover modeling agency. At 27, Dorian was not only old by modeling standards, but at barely 5'5", she was shorter than the other models at the agency. Conover immediately sent her to see Diana Vreeland, the editor of Harper's Bazaar. Dorian met with Vreeland and fashion photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe, who were intrigued by her zig-zagged eyebrows. Dorian was photographed for the cover of the June 1944 issue of Harper's Bazaar, her very first modeling assignment. Later the magazine was shocked to discover her real age was 27(not 19 as she said), and that she already had two children.
Dorian's parents thought modeling was not respectable, so Dorian used only her first and middle name during her career. When Dorian became an enormous success though, they thought it was acceptable that their youngest daughter Suzy use the Parker last name when she also became a famous model. Their other daughter, Florian, also had modeling photos in Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, but quit when she married a man in the military.
Dorian instantly became busy with modeling assignments, landing on the covers of major magazines such as Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Paris Match, LIFE, and Elle. Because of her schedule, Dorian's two children were sent to live with her parents in Florida, while she was based in New York City and traveling to Europe.
In 1946, Dorian appeared on the cover of six American Vogue magazines. She worked with famous fashion photographers Irving Penn, John Rawlings, Cecil Beaton, and Paul Radkai. She dated Irving Penn, who later married another model Lisa Fonssagrives.
On one assignment of Vogue, Dorian argued with photographer Paul Radkai's wife Karen, who wanted to be a fashion photographer and wanted to take many free extra photos of Dorian for her portfolio. When Dorian refused, Karen warned Dorian she would "ruin her." Indeed, Vogue never used Dorian again, and Karen became a Vogue photographer for many years.
Dorian easily transitioned to working with Harper's Bazaar's new, young photographer, Richard Avedon(who would become one of the most famous photographers in history).
While living in her apartment in New York, Dorian struck up a friendship with a young author, Truman Capote who was fascinated by Dorian's lifestyle of non-stop men, coming-and-goings, and having a store across the street handle her phone calls, and called her "Happy-go-lucky." Capote's character Holly Golightly in his famous 1958 novel Breakfast at Tiffany's is said to be largely based on Dorian's life, as well as socialite Gloria Vanderbilt's.
After being fed up with Harry Conover's agency, Dorian decided to start her own modeling agency called the "Fashion Bureau". She came up with the idea of the "voucher system." With this innovative system, the modeling agency would pay the models weekly, instead of the models' having to wait to be paid directly by the clients. Often it took companies weeks, months, or even years to pay models for their work.
Her modelling agency inspired a young fashion stylist named Eileen Ford, who, along with her husband Gerard W. Ford, started what would become one of the most prestigious modeling agencies in the world, Ford Models.
Around 1947, Dorian's sister Cissy introduced her to Roger Mehle who was divorced from Aileen Mehle(who later became the very famous gossip columnist known as "Suzy"). Cissy was married to an army officer and Mehle was the youngest Navy commander and fighter ace during WWII.
In August 1948, Dorian was two months pregnant when she married Mehle. Dorian's bridemaids were her teen sister Suzy Parker and Suzy's teen model friend Carmen Dell'Orefice. Dorian's two older children, who were being raised by her parents in Florida, came to live with the couple in Pennsylvania.
Dorian closed her agency when she married. She then telephoned Eileen Ford and told her that she would join the Ford Agency if they also signed her 15-year-old sister, Suzy Parker, sight-unseen. Suzy, 15 years younger than Dorian, had already been working for the Huntington Hartford agency making $25 per hour. Dorian told Ford she believed Suzy should be making $40 per hour. The Fords' agency was only two years old so they were anxious to represent a famous model like Dorian. The Fords were shocked during their initial meeting to see that Suzy was completely different from her sister Dorian who was thin, had an extremely small waist, and had black hair and bright blue eyes. Suzy was almost six inches taller than Dorian, had a very large frame, and had bright red hair, freckles, and green eyes. (In the 1950s, Suzy would become even more famous than Dorian, and would go on to be a movie and television actress.
Dorian gave birth to her daughter, Young Eve Mehle, on March 27, 1949. The couple had a house in Bucks County, Pennsylvania but rarely saw each other. Roger Mehle's naval career stationed him in Atlantic City, and Dorian commuted to New York City and Paris for modeling work.
In 1952, when she was 35 years old, Richard Avedon photographed her for Revlon's most famous advertising campaign, Fire and Ice. In this two-page advertisement, Dorian is wearing a very tight, silver sequined gown wrapped in a huge red wrap that was copied from a Balenciaga original. The dress had hand-sewn silver sequins on it, and it took so long to create that only the front of the dress was finished in time to be photographed for the ad. The back was non-existent and held in place with safety pins. Dorian also had a silver streak put in her black hair. The original ad had Dorian holding her hand in front of her breast. The agency considered the photo too risqué, and the ad was re-shot. This ad was accompanied by a provocative quiz written by Kay Daly. The ad became an enormous success, winning Advertising Age's "Magazine Advertisement of the Year" award.
That same year, Dorian also played the part of a model in the play The Fifth Season. Her job as model, mother, and actress was featured in Look magazine's June 2, 1953, cover story. By then, Dorian had appeared on the covers of more than 50 magazines. On the Look cover, Dorian is quoted as saying, "I would rather have a baby than a mink coat.".
In the 50s, Dorian began to work more often in Europe with Richard Avedon.
While in Paris, Dorian met the married Spanish athlete Alfonso Cabeza de Vaca, Marquis of Portago (Alfonso de Portago)nicknamed Fon, who was 11 years younger than her, was married with a three-year-old daughter. Dorian and Fon were both reluctant to divorce their spouses, but carried on an affair all summer in Paris and Biarritz. Dorian became pregnant by him, but chose to have an abortion because she feared Roger Mehle would divorce her and take full-custody of their daughter Young Eve. Only weeks later, at the end of the summer, Fon told Dorian that his wife Carroll was pregnant with their second child. Dorian returned to the United States and divorced Roger Mehle on November 24, 1954, in Mexico. Fon then married Dorian in Mexico right away, but since de Portago was not divorced, the marriage was not legal.
Coco Chanel, great friend of her sister Suzy, warned Dorian against the affair, but Dorian continued it with Fon even though his wife Carroll gave birth to their son Anthony de Portago around 1954. When she got pregnant by de Portago again, Dorian left her three other children with her parents in Florida, fled to Paris and Switzerland, and gave birth to her son Kim Blas Parker on September 27, 1955 in Switzerland.
After the birth of her baby son Kim, Dorian began the first legal modeling agency in France to support her son. She also had lent about $15,000 to the financially irresponsible de Portago , with whom she continued an on-and-off relationship in 1956 and 1957.
In early 1957, De Portago, still married, was also openly dating actress Linda Christian, the ex-wife of actor Tyrone Power.
On April 23, 1957, Dorian's 40th birthday, de Portago told Dorian that he was supposedly finally divorcing Carroll so they could be legally married. He told her that he was entering the famous Mille Miglia car race in Italy on May 8, 1957 and Carroll was supposed to sign their divorce papers on May 9.
Instead, on May 8, de Portago was seen at the site of car race with Linda Christian who kissed him famously before his race. The same day, Dorian received a phone call from de Portago's mother Olga, informing Dorian that Fon's tire on his Ferrari race car had blown up because he did not stop in time for a tire change. He was killed with his co-driver as well as nine spectators, including five children. This catastrophe ended the Mille Miglia forever.
A few days after Alfonso de Portago was killed, Dorian's sister Suzy, making a movie with Cary Grant, told famous gossip columnist Louella Parsons that Dorian had a son with de Portago and she was estranged from her sister because of it. Dorian was shocked that Suzy leaked this secret, Dorian's parents were furious and told Dorian that she would never have custody of her children. They also refused to accept Kim.
In 1957, Dorian returned to Florida and visited her daughter Young at her parents’ home. Dorian then took Young and fled to Paris where she remained mostly for the next twenty-one years. The next year In 1958 she became pregnant by another man, had an abortion and married Bordat days later.
Although Dorian already had four children by three different men, she wanted another baby. When her husband Bordat claimed he was too young, Dorian moved out of their apartment, but they remained legally married.
Dorian was so busy with her Paris modeling agency that she now had branches in Hamburg, Germany, and London to which she often traveled.
During a solo ski vacation to Klosters, Switzerland over Christmas 1960, 43-year-old Dorian craved a baby and slept with four men in one week. In September 1961, Dorian gave birth to her fifth child, Miranda, in France. Dorian thought that a young ski instructor at Klosters was the father. Dorian then divorced Bordat but she did not tell her daughter Miranda that Dr. Bordat was not her father until she was a teenager, and despite never meeting her biological father, Miranda kept his last name.
In 1964, 47-year-old Dorian met 23-year-old Israeli writer Iddo Ben-Gurion and they were married. But after she discovered Iddo was a drug-addict embezzling money from her modeling agencies, she divorced him in 1966. But she eventually had to close her agencies because so much money was stolen by Iddo. Most of her modeling fortune had been spent recklessly or stolen.
Living in Paris, Dorian studied at Le Cordon Bleu and opened her own restaurant, Chez Leigh, from 1973 to 1975. She tried to get cooking jobs in Corsica and Orleans as well. By 1976, Dorian was broke.
In 1977, Dorian received a phone call from the New York City modeling agency Stewart Cowley asking her to work as his office manager. Dorian agreed to return to New York where her son Kim was living. Kim's half-brother Anthony de Portago also lived in New York City and the two actually had become good friends. Dorian soon discovered that her 21-year-old son Kim was a serious drug addict, and sent him to live with her sister Suzy in California briefly. Only six months after Dorian re-settled and reunited with Kim in New York, he jumped 33 floors from his apartment window to his death, leaving a suicide note behind.
After Kim's death, Dorian lived in Pound Ridge, New York, where she made pâtés for delicatessens and specialty food shops, according to a profile in The New York Times by Enid Nemy. She also worked with Martha Stewart in the early 1980s.
Dorian wrote two cookbooks, Pancakes: From Flapjacks to Crepes (1987) and Doughnuts: Over 3 Dozen Crullers, Fritters and Other Treats (1994) at the age of 77.
In 1980, Dorian published an autobiography, The Girl Who Had Everything.
According to Dorian, she wrote her autobiography for her late son: "I really wrote it for Kim, who will never read it. But perhaps other Kims and their parents may learn from my unhappy experiences".
Dorian died in a Falls Church, Virginia nursing home from Alzheimer's disease at the age of 91 on July 7th in 2008. In her obituary, her first son, T.L. Hawkins, reminisced about his mother's famous "Fire and Ice" photograph.
Her only remaining sister Florian Parker died at the age of 92 in 2010.
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