Chapter Two Obsession
“Dorian, they said I’m crazy! That’s not true! …that’s not true!.”
October, 1950 Wilton, Connecticut She lay curled in a fetal position on the back seat of Dorian’s car. The street lights had come on hours ago. Parked in a puddle of orange leaves behind the Cannondale Station, Suzy waited for her sister while quietly sobbing. At that moment, Dorian sat yawning with fatigue after a day’s shoot, the only commuter left on the late train from Manhattan. At least she would not have to worry about feeding the children upon arriving at the house she had rented recently with her war hero husband, Roger Mehle; she had planned the menus for the entire week with her housekeeper days ago.
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Young Eve was only nineteen months. Upon arriving at home, she would be fast asleep. But T.L. and Marsha, her son and daughter from a prior marriage, would need her attention.10 One would think that managing a successful career, while juggling motherhood and a relatively recent marriage, would have sufficed to keep Dorian entertained. But the truth was that, after only two short years of wedded bliss, Roger Mehle was already beginning to bore her. For most single women of the early Fifties, he epitomized the dream come true. Mehle had shot down five enemy aircraft at the Battle of Midway, making him one of the Navy’s first World War II aces. A recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross from Admiral “Bull” Halsey, he was well on his way to becoming a Captain. And, unlike the men who customarily pursued Dorian, he possessed the uncharacteristic trait of being a true gentleman: he immediately had agreed to marry upon learning of Dorian’s pregnancy with their daughter, Young Eve. After the likes of men like Buddy Rich and the other jazz musicians she had frequented, Mehle had proven to be a welcome respite. Still, Dorian was one of a restless breed. She liked to tell the world she was “already twenty-four”— this at a time when her son, T.L, was eleven. But the years were beginning to show and, as truth would have it, Dorian Leigh was well past thirty.11 Even so, or perhaps because of it, she exuded sex appeal—a rare quality not often seen in the high fashion models of her era. She couldn’t have been more different from the girl who adorned that month’s cover of Vogue. Expertly photographed by Horst, Jean Patchett, another staple from the Fifties, was conservatively dressed in a grey worsted jersey skirt and sweater, with black lizard pumps and a pumpkin orange wool overcoat. Her white string gloves served to punctuate the era: waspish, conservative—proper. One look at her instantly told you that she represented everything Dorian did not. Inside, the magazine’s pages held remnants from the Paris collections: pictures of Lisa Fonssagrives in a strapless Dior bodice made from clouds of tulle, and of friend, Bettina Graziani, in a red Schiaparelli short coat with a perky pyramid hat. It was the world which Dorian and Suzy had left just two short months before when the two sisters had disappeared from my life. Glancing through the periodical would only serve to remind Dorian: the excitement of Paris had been Lisa Fonssagrives, in Christian Dior: October 15th, 1950 edition of Vogue
replaced with the quotidian hum-drum of her middle class American existence. For the second time now, she found herself planting the seeds of separation. As outraged as she had been over the conduct of Emilio Pucci in Rome, she nevertheless had had an extramarital affair with writer Irwin Shaw while in Paris.12 Divorce loomed. How would she break the news to George Lofton? Mind you, he ardently believed that no man was good enough for any of his daughters. 13 More and more, Dorian seemed to be agreeing with him.
The Parker girls, from left to right: Florian [“Cissy”], Dorian, Georgiabelle and, seated on the grass in front, Suzy.
Her highly opinionated father held a paradoxical position in her life. An avid churchgoer, who would not remain in any home where someone drank or smoked, George Lofton’s most intense hope was that Dorian would follow his lead and embrace the lifestyle of God fearing Christians. Instead, she seemed to have embraced that of a rebellious sinner. Dorian was cosmopolitan, a working woman who was about to define her century, one of the birth mothers of feminism—all of which, in George Lofton’s mind, spelled decadence. He had groomed his eldest daughter to be a wife, not a career girl. Women who worked were a disgrace to their
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husbands, for their doing so could have only meant one of two things: either they were behaving like men or their husbands couldn’t support them. Yet, as much as Dorian insisted upon maintaining her independence from those members of the male sex to whom George Lofton sought to bind her, like her father, she held a healthy disdain for men who did not, or could not, support a woman in the style to which she had become accustomed. Indeed, of all of the traits she inherited from her father, and she inherited many, this is the one which, for her entire life, would account for her complete and utter disapproval of me. As she pulled into the Wilton train station that night, thoughts of her father weighed heavily upon Suzy. Dorian had been too close in age to Cissy and Georgiabelle to assume the state of protective motherhood with them. But with Suzy, it was different. Fifteen years her elder, she was not only Suzy’s role model, she was her safe harbor. When she found Suzy crying in the car, Dorian knew immediately how to comfort her. Climbing into the back seat, she cradled Suzy in her arms as the seventeen-year-old girl’s body heaved with sobs. “Dorian, they said I’m crazy! They want me to see some kind of—of a doctor—because there’s something wrong with me! They said I’m in love with Daddy! That’s not true...that’s not true. And, I’m not crazy!”14 “Poor baby,” Dorian consoled, as she rocked the young girl in her arms. She sat with her until Suzy had drained herself of every tear. Dorian was used to consoling her baby sister. Upon graduating from high school in Jacksonville, Florida, Suzy had come to live with her year round rather than just during vacations, as had been the case after Dorian had landed Suzy’s first modeling stint for her back in 1947. Although she had already appeared in Ladies Home Journal, Vanity Fair, Vogue and Flair, and had worked her way up from $15 to $60 an hour, she was terribly insecure. Often, Dorian would find Suzy locked in her bedroom crying because of the insensitive remarks of a photographer who had found her to be less than ideal material for a critical lens. In those days, her five foot nine inch frame was considered “too big” as were her hips, which still carried unwanted Suzy, from the August 23rd, baby fat. Suzy took the slightest 1948 edition of LIFE criticism as rejection and, to a magazine’s article on certain extent, she was right. As “College Fashions.” difficult as it is to believe today, when the “face of the Fifties” first ventured on to the modeling scene, Dorian had to literally
Suzy, February, 1951
bully people into booking her. Even Dick Avedon wasn’t sure what to do with the lanky red head. “I only photographed her to oblige Dorian,” he admitted years later.15 There was something awkward about Suzy in these early photos; while the camera shutters clicked, for some reason, she didn’t. The expression on her face back then conveys distinct dissatisfaction with herself, as if some deep seated sense of inferiority was just too overwhelming to hide. Often appearing with her older, famous sister, one can’t help wondering if the mother hen had refused to pose unless her little Suzy had been allowed to, also. Indeed, Eileen Ford, founder and head of the illustrious Ford Modeling Agency, had taken Suzy on strictly upon the condition that Dorian signed with her. “If you feel that badly about modeling,” Dorian told her, “don’t do it. Go back to school.” But Suzy was no quitter. The very next day, Dorian would find the ingénue with her chin up, head held high, determined to have another go at it. Yet, the tears flowing down Suzy’s cheeks this autumnal eve were coming from a hurt far deeper than anything inflicted by a thoughtless photographer. This was a scary hurt, a sting that Suzy could deal with only through denial. Why had she taken those tests? Test results are so hard to deny. It was easy to understand why Dorian had taken the tests. At thirty-three, her modeling days were numbered. She knew her career wouldn’t last forever and had begun thinking about what she was going to do for a living after finishing with the world of haute couture. And as there was no question of adopting the time proven method of so many other women of her generation—relying upon a man for support— taking an aptitude test to properly assess her vocational skills seemed like the smart thing to do. Accordingly, upon returning from Paris, she headed to New York University and subjected herself to a battery of psychological examinations and ability tests, all of which Suzy had gleefully decided to take with her big sister. As Suzy slept in the back of the 1950 Nash Rambler while Dorian drove them home from the train station, Dorian could still hear the words uttered that morning by the psychologist in charge of testing who had taken the liberty of consulting her about her still underage sibling. “Your sister has a fixation about her father,” she had begun. “This could be very serious…it could ruin her life. She apparently plans to marry a young man in Florida as soon as she is eighteen. She’s much too young, too immature… and worse, if she marries this young man, she’s doing it only to hurt her father.”16
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Dorian wondered. Why? For, as stern as George Lofton had been with his daughters, Suzy had been his clear favorite. She was the only one of the four sisters upon whom he had lavished any affection. Dorian had convinced herself that it was because Suzy had been the one who had been left behind. With Cissy and Georgiabelle both married, and Dorian gallivanting among the international jet set, Suzy had garnered all of daddy’s attention, often to the consternation and dismay of her mother, Elizabeth. He loved having pigtailed little Suzy on his lap, and she relished having her daddy all to herself. It had aroused Elizabeth’s jealousy, making her quite cruel with the little girl and compounding Lofton’s need to compensate by lavishing Suzy with even more attention.17 “My childhood was miserable,” she admitted to me years later, often quipping that she and her sisters “had different parents.”18 The doting and compassionate mother, who Dorian, Cissy and Georgiabelle had known, was remembered by their baby sister as a resentful woman from whom Suzy felt the need to escape before the scars inflicted by her became too numerous. As she grew up, it surprised no one to see her take on so many of her father’s traits, including a temper that was as violent as it was sudden and an obstinacy that was recklessly mulish. When Suzy set her mind to something, nobody could change it. One thing of which she remained steadfastly sure was that her daddy could do no wrong. He was quite simply a genius. Viewing Lofton through the innocent eyes of an adoring child, it is not difficult to understand how she came to such a conclusion. As a young man, using the public library, George Lofton had taught himself German. And all through her childhood, Suzy had heard the stories about her father inventing one thing or another. Daddy had developed his own photolithographic etching acid. Then, because once the lithographic plates were etched they couldn’t be used again, he developed his own etching erasure mixture. Mixing the liquid in his bathtub and bottling it at home, he managed to catch the interest of Eastman Kodak which, legend has it, couldn’t figure out how to duplicate the solution even after sending representatives to analyze it. The family called it “The Fluid” and Lofton was able to make a modest living from it. He puttered around the house in a white smock while the neighbors worried about explosions and told their children to stay away from his homemade lab.19 Authoritarian, imbued with a false sense of superiority, headstrong and opinionated to a fault, in little Suzy’s eyes, for years, he, nonetheless, knew best. “I want you to use your head,” he liked to tell her—most probably because, at a critical moment in his young life, he had failed to use his own. The financial consequences had been dire. He had grown up on a cotton farm in southern Texas with his three brothers. In 1913, having graduated from high school and not wanting to be a farmer, he decided to travel north to San Antonio where he could further his education by attending night school. But getting to the second largest
city in Texas had not been so simple. To raise the necessary cash, George Lofton had offered to sell to his brothers the share of the farm he one day would inherit. Knowing what they all knew about Parker Creek, one of several brooks running through the family land, anyone today would find his decision incomprehensible if not downright moronic. Parker Creek was famous to the coon hunters of the area. They would always stop by the stream to dip the ends of some hardy branches into its muddy waters before lighting a match to their tips. Instantly, the coated sticks would burst into flames, providing these night hunters all the light they needed to pursue their coons. When Standard Oil found out about the magical creek, it quickly paid a visit to the Parker brothers and took some tests. Parker Creek, it turned out, was pure oil. And all the land around it was saturated with the stuff. According to Dorian, this financial fiasco had not left George Lofton the least bit bitter. “He never was one to look back,” she would say, when recounting this incredible tale. I, on the other hand, having suffered much of my young adult life from the vagaries that come with empty pockets, believe otherwise. I find it difficult, nay impossible, to believe that such a pivotal event did not have a lasting effect upon the psyche of the man. For, in 1918, in order to support his young wife and first daughter, George Lofton found himself working for the very company that had made his brothers rich—Standard Oil.20 One has to wonder if the man’s sense of superiority was, in reality, a compensatory mechanism—triggered whenever he needed to blot out the painful memory of a life altering mistake. However naïve and whatever his faults, they did not alter the unswerving admiration which his youngest daughter held for him. Suzy’s adulation for her father had resulted in her fighting with Elizabeth for years, even about her name. Born Cecelia Anne Rene Parker, George Lofton insisted on calling her Susie. “Don’t let anyone call you Cecelia,” he told her. “You’re my little Susie.”21 No one in the family had understood why the close father-daughter relationship had aroused Elizabeth’s fear and rage. But, now, it was looking as if their mother’s suspicions had been well founded. According to the psychologist from NYU, Suzy’s clinging need for daddy pointed to an unnatural obsession with the man. And yet, at the same time, the psychologist had zeroed in on a George Lofton Parker, circa 1918
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pressing and contradictory subconscious desire. The teenager’s thoughts of marriage to her high school sweetheart indicated an underlying wish to escape from her father’s influence, even though she didn’t realize that was what she was trying to do. Oddly, it was her mother who was the tyrant of the two. The children knew, however, that whatever Elizabeth was voicing, you could be sure their father was thinking. George Lofton and Elizabeth were two branches from the same tree, even if their leaves seemed to be of a different hue. In the face of frustration, mother’s usual impulse was to throw whatever she had in her hand.22 George Lofton, however, was a reserved man who could not show his feelings at the time they were aroused and kept his emotions under rigid control—except on the few frightening occasions when he would “lose it” completely. The catalyst was very often something unimportant that would, somehow, increase the pressure to the breaking point. Then, all hell would break loose as he released a flood of pent up grievances that had been accumulating for months or, as I suspect, years. According to Dorian, you could never tell what provoked the anger. All you knew was that, in that moment, he was incapable of controlling himself— guided by some inexplicable and demonic force, a rage so powerful that reason no longer had any sway.23 Suzy once told me that she found it difficult, if not impossible, to say no to her father. Rejecting her mother, however, was easy. Somebody in the family needed to know what was going on in this young girl’s head. If she didn’t deal with it now, it would surely come home to roost in the years to come, creating problems she could never anticipate without the help of a good therapist. “Her motivations are confused,” the psychologist told Dorian that morning. “Try very hard to persuade her to see a psychiatrist…your sister needs professional help.”24 The next morning when Suzy came downstairs for breakfast, a change had overcome the young girl. She refused to speak of the prior night. Solemn eyed and resolute, she announced to Dorian that she would be leaving for Florida shortly. “It will just be a short visit home,” she said. Dorian had planned on keeping her baby sister in Wilton, where she could work at convincing her that there was nothing wrong with seeing a psychiatrist. It didn’t mean she was crazy. If anything, the willingness to deal with psychological problems from her childhood would be a sign of great maturity. But she never got the chance. Suzy waited a few days until the 28th of the month had come and gone, taking her just past her eighteenth birthday, and then promptly flew to Jacksonville. I have often wondered if I ever crossed her mind at this pivotal time in her young life. She had made it quite clear that she had found me attractive that night in June in Jacques Fath’s garden. And, if I hadn’t been everything she had wanted to marry, my lifestyle certainly had held the promise of excitement and glamour, unlike
anything she had ever known growing up in the flatlands of Jacksonville. Years later, when she would be hounded as a celebrity by the press, she would systematically lie about the timing of this most important trip home. The psychologist at NYU had said that Suzy’s motivations were “confused.” Yet, the case could be made that she had a very clear reason for what she was about to do. For the entire month of November, 1950, while living with her parents in Florida, Suzy Parker pondered her future. And then, early in December, she took decisive action. Charles Ronald Staton couldn’t have known that he was about to become a pawn in Suzy’s game. By all accounts, he was very much in love with her and thought that she was in love with him. Much to Elizabeth’s and George Lofton’s dismay, the two had been high school sweethearts. He had sat behind her desk, copied all her work, and shown her how to ride a Harley-Davidson backwards. Two years older than Suzy and part Cherokee Indian, he had a flair for acting and had been considered the worst possible candidate for a son-in-law by Mr. and Mrs. Parker. In spite of the young man’s good standing in the community, because of his “tainted” blood, marriage to their daughter would blight the family name. For Suzy, however, it would go a long way toward proving to the world that she was not in love with her father. How could she possibly be in love with daddy and marry the one man who made him turn scarlet? What better way to defy the psychologist from New York? What better way to revolt, than to do exactly what the woman had predicted. On December 3rd, 1950, she crossed the Florida state line into Folkston, Georgia and before ordinary, Cecil Conner, married Ronald Staton. Forty-five years later, Suzy would state that she crossed the border because she and Ronald “were both underage,” clearly an untrue statement given the date of the marriage certificate.25 In what appears to be an attempt to persuade the public of the spontaneous nature of her action, she would further state that she married young Ronald while clad in “a bikini bathing suit with a rain coat over it.”26 And yet, the circumstances leading up to this marriage suggest that it was anything but spontaneous. In my opinion, Suzy’s first marriage was a calculated reaction to her fear of a mental obsession, unexpectedly uncovered by a vocational aptitude test. Whatever her reasons, in the days that followed, she realized the mistake she had made. After a few months living with her in-laws, she had had enough. With Ronald in tow, she traveled back to her safe harbor. Dorian was now living in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, with Mehle commuting on the weekends from the naval base in Atlantic City where he was stationed. Suzy took up house nearby. Roger Mehle
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Throwing herself into buying antiques to decorate her new home, she put Ronald through college at Rutgers University. Her modeling career provided them with a comfortable, if not thrilling, existence. Ironically, the advertisements that paid their rent convey the growing sense of dissatisfaction afflicting the young wife. None of the photo shoots from this period give the slightest hint of the glamorous and phenomenally beautiful woman who was about to burst upon the fashion scene.
Suzy, early 1951
June, 1951 Dick Avedon had once again been assigned to photograph the Paris winter collections for Harper’s Bazaar. He was finding Suzy more and more interesting. This time, Dorian didn’t have to arm wrestle him into taking her little sister along as his second model. She didn’t yet know it, but in Avedon’s mind, Dorian was fast becoming the second model. Once again, the two sisters stayed at the San Regis on the rue François Ier next to the House of Dior. The winter collections were the most exciting event of the season, and any model worth her salt would have trampled the competition in order to participate in them. The talented Mr. Avedon was quickly making his mark, changing the expectations for fashion photography in the process. Instead of the frozen, statuesque poses contrived by then legends, Irving Penn and Horst, Avedon approached his models as the warm fleshed human beings they truly were—creatures who actually moved, who had emotions, and let the camera in on them. Suzy was perfect for this new type of photography. Constantly in motion, she skipped around the man lightheartedly while babbling about anything and everything that came into her head, interpreting a whole range of moods and attitudes in the process. As she did so, she created a new image of fashion, with vivacity replacing the poised, and sentiment piercing her mask of carefully contrived maquillage. Le San Regis
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March 5th, 1951 Suzy is Eighteen in this Photo
Dorian had seen this natural ability of her sister’s years earlier. With Avedon now clearly aware of it, Suzy was about to become his foremost muse. “I feel I am always photographing in her a beautiful girl with a love of life pouring out of her,” Avedon once remarked.27 But while her love of life was pouring forth, her foremost desire was kept bottled up inside. The Scottish blood in Suzy, the strong willed independent inclination within that kept telling her she was better than the rest, didn’t take kindly to direction. It left her with the annoying sensation that she was on the wrong side of the lens. For, as beautiful as she appeared in front of the camera, Suzy secretly yearned to take her place behind it; and the streets of Paris offered the ideal opportunity. She had brought her Rolleiflex with her. It was drizzling on the afternoon she decided to take a stroll down the Champs-Élysées, with her tripod and camera in hand—the perfect day to capture the mood of the Parisian streets so often depicted by the great Henri Cartier-Bresson. Suzy admired the man. Could she catch the essence of the landscape for which he had become famous? The people peeking into the store windows, bustling down the cobblestone sidewalk toward the metro, beckoned to her to try. If only the men would stop staring at her. For that matter, if only the women would stop staring at her. It was hard enough attempting to be a professional photographer when handicapped by womanhood; but if Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Nina Leen and Regina Relang had managed to become members of this otherwise male club, she was certain she could, too. Being drop dead gorgeous only served to accentuate her oddity. She had learned to ignore the glares, to stare straight ahead as she walked, seemingly oblivious to the ogling eyes that tracked her every move. In such a state, she could have walked by her mother without recognizing her. It made things more difficult for me. Walking behind her, I had spotted the familiar red head while crossing the street from the rue Lord Byron where I lived with Christian and Beno. My face lit up as my heart began to race. A year had passed since we had last met that night at the bal brésilien. Would she remember me? I had just come from la bibliotheque, La Hutte, on the Boulevard St. Germain where I had bought a copy of André Gides’ The Immoralist. I had read the book as an adolescent, but had decided to pick it up again in honor of the old man’s death in February. A leader of French liberal thought and recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Gide had established a reputation as an unconventional novelist when he had first come out with the volume in 1902. It explored the thoughts of a young man contravening ordinary moral standards in his search for selffulfillment—a lifelong struggle whose painful paroxysms were not foreign to me. The battle between traditional beliefs and the desire for an independent morality had already become a theme in my Gide, young
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life. In seeking out my own nature, I had often felt at odds with the prevailing ethical concepts of the post World War II era; so much of it struck me as absurd. Were the sexual predilections of a human being truly immoral if they were not hurting anybody else? Memories of my first sexual exploits with a “woman of the night” flit through my mind as I stood in line waiting to purchase the book. How could the death penalty be viewed as “just,” while the pleasure brought by a prostitute was considered immoral? Somehow I felt comfort in the fact that the foremost writer of his time, who had shocked and fascinated two generations with his literary probing of morality and immorality, had asked the same questions. Dressed in a light beige trench coat with l'Immoraliste still under my arm, I approached Suzy stealthily, choosing to walk in step behind her for several paces while thinking of what I would say. Suddenly, she stopped. It was a sure fire way of confirming that she was being followed. Then, realizing that her pursuer had stopped too, she brazenly turned toward me and proclaimed: “Did you get a good look at my legs?” I started to laugh. As I did, it instantly hit her who I was. “Oh, it’s you—smarty pants!” Through mockery she could gain the ascendance. It would characterize the dynamic between the two of us for years to come. “Coupable,” 28 I replied. She seemed taller than when we had first met. I had thought of her often over the past year, to the point of almost making a transatlantic call. But the dearth of French francs in my pockets had stopped me. Now, fate was giving me a second chance. “So, what is a fashion model like you doing with a camera and tripod on the Champs-Élysées? Have you given up on that highly successful career you brag about and switched sides? ” “To the contrary, smarty pants. As a matter of fact, I’m looking for a young man somewhat like you, for a shoot I have to do with Dick Avedon.” “Pas moi,” I responded, anticipating her next remark. “I am not at all photogenic.” Placing the tripod on the sidewalk, Suzy used her free arm to turn me around and, examining me from the rear, said: “You don’t need to be. The back of your head will do just fine.” “Oh, no!” I laughed.
But Suzy had made up her mind. “Dick also needs a place where he can do the shoot. Do you have any ideas?” Just then, the June drizzle turned into a minor downpour. We were steps from Fouquet’s, a side walk café where I sometimes had breakfast. Grabbing Suzy by the arm, I led her toward the red awning that sheltered the entrance on the corner of the avenue George V. She wouldn’t be able to get away from me there and, once inside, I would be able to catch up. What had she been doing for the past year? We sat at a little table by the window on the terrasse. Suzy ordered an espresso. I abstained. “I just had lunch,” I lied. But Suzy saw right through me. She didn’t mind that I could barely buy her a cup of coffee. What I lacked in pocket money, I made up for with wit and good looks. Besides, she had plenty of pocket money. Excitement, however, was a rare commodity. “So, what have you been up to for the past year?” I asked, once the garçon had taken her order.
Thinking back on that moment now, I am left to wonder how many times Ronald Staton must have crossed Suzy’s mind that afternoon. She made no mention of her husband to me…not once. Instead, she spoke of what a great photographer she was. “I really am on the wrong side of the camera,” she commented, avoiding my question. While on a trip to Mexico a year earlier, she had met the great reporter Sam Shaw whose friends, Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson, had just founded the Magnum stock photography agency. Suzy was still under the spell of CartierBresson’s reaction to a few pictures she had taken of the house where Trotsky was
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assassinated in Coyoacan. The famous photographer had found the photos so promising, he offered “the boy” who shot them an apprenticeship. “He’s got something!” Cartier-Bresson exclaimed to Sam Shaw. “We’ll make something of him!”29 It was comforting for Suzy to know that, if the fickle camera ever lost interest in her face, she could resort to clicking its shutters for a living. “Are you going to find me an apartment in Paris where Dick can do his shoot?” Suzy asked. Lifting her cup of espresso, my attention was deflected for a few seconds. A tendon in her ring finger had been severed as a child when she had run through a plate glass window on roller skates. It had left the last two digits of her right hand oddly crooked, the only deformity of an otherwise perfect body. I pondered her question for a moment.
Shots of me taken by Suzy
There was only one apartment in the entire city where I could take her and feel completely at home: the rue de Varenne, the sensational apartment of Gérard and Hervé Mille. I wouldn’t even have to ask the brothers for their permission. The apartment was like a second home, and I dined there almost every evening. Although Suzy didn’t seem to have much of anything new to speak about, a lot had changed for me over the past twelve months. Shortly after that summer evening in Corbeville, Hervé had had a rift with Jean Prouvost. No longer threatened by the prospect of being lynched by members of the French résistance, the newspaper magnate had fallen back into a more comfortable role—that of the dictatorial tycoon and owner of the highly successful Paris-Match. Prouvost suddenly had become dissatisfied at the idea of leaving the direction of the weekly magazine to the loyal friends who had saved him and his empire during his three years on the lamb. The disputes over its management, and Prouvost’s constant meddling into the domain of his most trusted employees, had finally proven too much for Hervé. Just days after Fath’s bal brésilien, and in a fit of temper he would come to regret, he had left the publication and joined his old friend, Pierre Lazareff, at France- Soir. “It’s not home,” Hervé often complained to me. “But it will have to do for now.”
The career move had been a bigger blow for me than for Monsieur Mille. Still, Hervé was clearly out of his element at France-Soir. The journalists there lacked the panache and wit, the cosmopolitan sophistication and innovative style of the exclusive club reverently known throughout Paris as la cabine de Match. “Ils ont les yeux fixés à un mettre cinquante au-dessus du trottoir,”30 André Lacaze often complained to Hervé in speaking of the men at France Soir. Lacaze owed his employment at Match to Hervé and would one day become its editor in chief. But it didn’t matter from where Hervé Mille received his pay check. He had played an integral role in creating the mystique from which the men he had left behind at Match now benefited. And they were not about to forget him, no matter how angry Prouvost might be. Loyally, they congregated each night in the dining room on the rue de Varenne, sometimes with the likes of Cocteau and Chanel, sometimes with political heavy weights of the era: men like Pierre Mendès France and André Malraux. Nevertheless, the switch had temporarily put an end to my hopes and dreams, and the next few years would prove tough for me. Instead of becoming a member of la cabine, in addition to reporting for Paris Press, I now found myself a bit lost as one of a host of free lance journalists for France Soir who regularly reported on le théâtre français and the up and coming careers of new film stars, such as Jean Moreau and Gérard Philippe. Très banal. I was not the only one who did not feel “at home;” but, having no other choice than to follow my mentor, I bided my time while paying my dues as a lowly freelancer. This was not to say that I could not make my life appear more glamorous to Suzy than it actually was. I knew I could always rely on my friend, Christian Marquand, for back up. I may have been poor, but I lived a life that most men only experience in their wildest dreams. As I gazed at the beautiful young stranger before me, I thought of how to entertain her without having to dish out any cash. Marlon is in town, I thought. That should amuse her. He had filmed A Streetcar Named Desire the prior summer, and was still waiting for it to be released. Brando had not yet achieved full star power although, looking at him, you had to wonder why. In the film credits, producer Charles Feldman had billed him under Vivian Leigh. It was the last time Brando would ever end up with second billing. Tennessee William’s classic was about to catapult him into a rarefied plane, as well as bring him an Academy Award for Best Actor for his sexy, brutal and endlessly fascinating portrayal of Stanley Kowalski. But, that summer, he was still relatively unknown. A stage actor by preference, he had only starred in one other movie role: that of Ken Wilcheck, a World War II vet paralyzed from the waist down by a gunshot wound in Fred Zinneman’s 1950 film, The Men.
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Brando often spent his evenings in Paris at the rue de Varenne. He liked to say that one’s associations were nothing more than a function of one’s affinities and, with that in mind, had promptly adopted Christian as his soul brother.31 “Is your sister still locking you up in your hotel room?” I ventured, while anticipating how surprised she would be to meet Marlon Brando. Suzy had lots of memories of Dorian hovering over her, making sure that none of the men she associated with got the wrong idea. When she had first arrived in New York at the age of sixteen, she had quickly adapted to Dorian’s sophisticated set. They swept the young girl up instantly. As long as she didn’t act sixteen, nobody seemed to care how old, or young, she really was. She learned to be quick with a clever retort, and flirt with men: married men, worldly men, old enough to be her father. It never got past a flirtation, but only because Dorian wouldn’t let it.
Shots of Marlon Brando, in the garden of the rue de Varenne, taken by Suzy with her Rolleiflex in 1951. Gérard Mille is on the right, smoking a cigarette.
As my question landed on her, she grimaced. “I’m an adult now,” Suzy quipped, tucking her loose hair behind her ears. Never coiffed, she stood in stark contrast to the fashion trends of the day. She was already selling millions of dollars worth of hairspray, but she never bought the stuff. She bumped her index finger against the tip of her nose, a tick that would become affectionately familiar to me. “Are you ready to take me on?” she asked. Was I ever. Over the next few weeks, I introduced her to my world of creative friends. In the process, the rue de Varenne began to feel more like home to her than home. Through the dining room windows of the palatial hôtel particulier, Suzy could
glimpse across the courtyard into the private apartments of Lord Granard, served every evening with a staff in full livery. Such ostentation was not yet anachronistic. It was just one of those eccentricities that served to separate the haute class Parisien from the masses. And, although Dorian could no longer stop her baby sister from spreading her wings, she wasn’t above riding upon them for the fun of it. By day, she and Suzy modeled the French winter collections, using the streets of Paris as their backdrop. In outdoor markets, restaurants, on street corners near flower vendors setting up their carts, the Parker sisters would arrive wrapped in white sheets to hide the couture creations from prying eyes that might walk off with sketches of the coveted clothing—baring themselves only for the few seconds Avedon needed to record the moment with his camera. Suzy was insistent that I meet him. She said it was because we both lived from the press; we should have a lot in common. But I had the sneaking suspicion that our get together was being arranged so that Avedon could check me out. When we finally did meet, I had the annoying sensation of being judged. The complicity between the two was palpable; Dick Avedon was quite obviously Suzy’s confidante and, whatever his opinion, I was left to understand that it counted greatly. As I led Avedon through the meticulously appointed rooms of the sumptuous apartment furnished by Gérard Mille, I thought, surely, the photographer would have a field day creating rich and varied settings for his beautiful muse amongst the priceless objets d’art from the French seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. But Avedon insisted on doing the shoot in the kitchen, the one room in the house that had not been touched since the apartment had been built more than a hundred years earlier. I wondered if this was his way of telling the Frenchman that the American was not impressed. Both still in our twenties, Avedon was nevertheless the elder, having been born two full years before me. In what appeared to me as a subtle form of one-upmanship, Dick rejected the salon sofas, covered in veau retournée, for the simple backdrop provided by the quarters animated only by the servants. Using my shoulders as a prop and the rear of my well tailored suit as his mise en scène, the soon to be legendary photographer shot photos of Suzy leaning against an anonymous figure, with nothing to distract from the beauty he saw in her face. It was all that Dick Avedon needed. For three weeks we frolicked, with Suzy never giving a sign of being a married woman, let alone of missing her husband. She seemed happy to be away Avedon, with his Rolleiflex
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from Ronald, and was enjoying me immensely. Would we have to wait an entire year to see each other again? The thought sent me to the depths of depression. “Why don’t you stay?” I asked, as she showed me the pictures of her that had just hit the stands in the college edition of Mademoiselle. But Suzy’s response astonished me. “I have to go back to New York to give money to the Democratic Party,” she answered. “And to vote.” The US presidential elections were a full year away and, being only eighteen, there was no question of Suzy participating in the vote. Nevertheless, she continued to expound. “I don’t think Truman will run for a third term, you know. And, it’s important to get a democrat in office.” Although the 22nd Amendment to the US Constitution had just been ratified, limiting the number of terms a President could serve to two, it didn’t apply to Truman whose first term, after the sudden death of Franklin Roosevelt, had not been complete. “I’ve got my eye on Adlai Stevenson,” Suzy babbled. I didn’t know it yet, but a democrat like Stevenson in the White House was exactly what George Lofton Parker did not want. Parker was a staunch republican who, it was often said, had moved Elizabeth and Suzy from Metuchen, New Jersey to Jacksonville, Florida in protest to Franklin Roosevelt’s third election to the Presidency. Why he considered this to be a protest nobody really knew and, indeed, there are many who will tell you that he moved only to keep Suzy away from Dorian’s baneful cosmopolitan influence. In any event, Adlai was an open apology for everything Suzy’s father stood for, and the more she studied him, the more ardent a supporter she became.32 “I come from an average Ku Klux Klan family,” Suzy would one day admit. “Actually, I was really an orphan, and I was adopted by my sister Dorian’s weird parents.”33 As a mature woman she would find it easier to joke about her father’s politics than in 1952 when the civil rights movement was in its infancy and civil unrest was just beginning to rear its head. On July 12th, my birthday, more than three thousand whites had rioted in Cicero, Illinois, when a black family had moved into the neighborhood. Governor Stevenson had been forced to call in the National Guard— a move that had garnered Suzy’s attention while defying reason, as far as her parents were concerned. After all, in 1949, hadn’t Grandmother Kirkpatrick organized a campaign in San Antonio to force the Mexicans to ride in
Adlai Stevenson, in Monte Carlo, circa 1951.
the back of the bus along with the “negroes”? Anyone of an inferior race trying to come into her neighborhood was met with a loaded shotgun.34 It was no wonder that Suzy felt the need to take a stand against demonstrative displays of intolerance. With her marriage to Ronald Staton, she had embarked upon a path of revolt that would touch every aspect of her life: from her choice of a career, to the people she chose to associate with, and now, to her political affiliations. By becoming a democrat, what she was really doing was telling her father that the Parker/Kirkpatrick bigotry had to be fought. None of this would be understood by me for years. And, although her bizarre reactions had tipped me off that something was going on underneath all that red hair, in 1951, I was far from comprehending the ditzy girl. But I made the decision to take Suzy Parker as she came…and went, which, in those seminal years, turned out to be frequently. Years later I learned that, on the plane home, Suzy was very quiet. Intuitively, Dorian knew what her little sister was thinking. She would have loved to stay in Paris, as I had hoped. But, how could she? A married woman, she was now paying the price for her refusal to stop and consider the underlying motives revealed through the battery of psychological tests from NYU. But she was also now determined to live as she pleased. She had fallen in love with me and, having lost touch once before, was not about to let it happen a second time. Suzy had found a new obsession—one that could satisfy her need to replace the father she was in revolt against… in ways which Ronald Staton never could.
Dorian, photographed by Avedon in Helena Rubinstein’s bathroom in Paris.
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Notes Jean Patchett, October, 1950
2: Obsession 10
T.L. (Thomas Lofton) and Marsha are the children of Dorian’s first husband, Marshall Powell Hawkins, a man she met while attending Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia. Young Eve, Dorian’s third child, is the issue of her union with Roger W. Mehle. She would have two other children, Kim de Portago, born in 1955, and Miranda Bordat, born in 1961, both in Paris.
In 1953, when interviewed for the June 2 nd edition of LOOK magazine, Dorian claimed to be “twenty-seven.” In Michael Gross’ book Model, The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women,” Perennial, New York, 2003, at page75, Suzy states that Dorian was born in 1917, which would have made her thirty-six at the time of the LOOK interview.
Ibid, at page 110.
Dorian Leigh, with Laura Hobe, The Girl Who Had Everything, The Story of the “Fire and Ice” Girl, Doubleday and Company, New York, 1980, p. 28.
Ibid, at page 71.
Michael Gross, Model, The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women, Perennial, New York, 2003, p.102.
Dorian Leigh, with Laura Hobe, The Girl Who Had Everything, The Story of the “Fire and Ice” Girl, Doubleday and Company, New York, 1980, pp. 70-71.
Ibid, at page 20.
The Secret Life of an International Playgirl, Modern Screen, September, 1958, p. 51
Dorian Leigh, with Laura Hobe, The Girl Who Had Everything, The Story of the “Fire and Ice” Girl, Doubleday and Company, New York, 1980, p.18.
Prior to 1952, Suzy spelled her name “Susie.” She changed it after living in Paris, where the French spelled her name with a Z.
Dorian Leigh, with Laura Hobe, The Girl Who Had Everything, The Story of the “Fire and Ice” Girl, Doubleday and Company, New York, 1980, pp. 17, 24. Ibid, at page 21.
Ibid, at page 71.
Marriage Certificate, State of Georgia, County of Charlton, dated December 3, 1950, as found in Book “S,” on Marriage Record page 469. The record states Suzy’s age as 18 and Ronald’s as 20.
Michael Gross, Model, The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women,” Perennial, New York, 2003, p.117.
The Ambiguities of Suzy Parker, Hollis Alpert, Esquire, March 1959, p.76.
“Guilty,” Pierre replied.
Jean-Noël Liaut, Cover Girls and Supermodels, 1945-1965, Marion Boyars Publishers, London, 1996, p. 43.
“They have their eyes fixed four and a half feet above the sidewalk.”
Marlon Brando named his first child after Christian Marquand.
In an article which appeared in the March, 1959, edition of Esquire magazine, it was reported that Suzy’s “failure to pay her income taxes from (1952) was her protest against (Stevenson) losing the election.”
The Lives of Suzy Parker, Cosmopolitan, November, 1959, p.89
In her book, “The Girl Who Had Everything,” Dorian states that Grandmother Kirkpatrick used to “sit on her front porch, her shotgun across her lap, forbidding any of the Mexicans from down the street to pass in front of her house.” Dorian Leigh, with Laura Hobe, The Girl Who Had Everything, The Story of the “Fire and Ice” Girl, Doubleday and Company, New York, 1980, p.16.