The pictures a model takes come out months later – half the time I forgot when and where the pictures would come out, and I didn’t collect my magazine photos. The pictures I have left come from one of the books I had (there were three at the Agency – I don’t know where they are now, probably in the trash). What I knew from the beginning was how ephemeral a model’s job was. I would pose for a picture that would be looked at in a few months, sit on someone’s coffee table for a week, then end up in the trash. So, I never made it a point to look for my photos or keep them. I don’t regret much – I look back at the photos and they don’t mean anything to me – it’s like it’s someone else, and I’m even a little jealous of this person’t slenderness – where did this person go? Her bones are hiding somewhere in my body, but she’s no longer there. I think it must be worse for an actor – there you are walking, talking and laughing – and it’s no longer you. You moved on – but the image stayed the same… Continue reading
Yes, I worked for Richard Avedon. The story is this: I was in NYC, I was just starting out, and so far I hadn’t had any great jobs except for two non-speaking parts as an extra in films – one with with Michelle Pfeiffer and my role was sitting in a nightclub trying not to watch her on the dance floor. “Stop watching the actors! You’re just extras!” the director would shout – then “Roll ’em!” (honest, he did shout roll ’em) and then “Cut!” So we sat and pretended to drink and talk and not look at Michelle, who was so gorgeous she glowed. The other spot was on roller skates, and I had to walk down a spiral staircase on roller skates, then skate past the camera (me and two other girls). We giggled and tripped and blundered about, and drove the director crazy (he was cool though, he just made us do it until not one of us tripped) – and that was it. I never knew what either film was for – and honestly at the time I didn’t think it was important. It was a day’s work – that was what was important!
All the girls in the agency wanted to work with the big three: Vogue, Glamour, or Mademoiselle. Anything else was treated with disdain. One day I was in the agency and the booker, on the phone, raised her head and shouted “I need a girl to pose for a shot about breast cancer awareness. No face, no nothing – just tits. Who wants it?” And everyone snorted and turned their backs but me. I raised my hand. “I’ll take it,” I said. (I was never prudish – nudity didn’t bother me). The booker put the phone down, after telling the client my name, and said, “Well, Jennifer, it’s your lucky break. The photographer is Richard Avedon.” I just looked blank. I had no idea who that was. But the other girls in the room either screamed or burst into tears.
The next day, off I went to post nude for Richard Avedon. I arrived at the studio and they put me in a well-lit dressing room in front of the makeup station, next to a tall, big-boned blond girl who had a strong Texan accent. “Heya, what’s your name?” she asked. “Jennifer. What’s yours?” She widened her eyes. “Jerry. Jerry Hall.” I shook her hand. “Pleased to meet you.” Her name didn’t mean anything to me. You have to remember – I came from the Virgin Islands, had grown up with no television (our TV was on the porch, covered with a cloth, used as a table). She put on her makeup, and looked at me out of the corner of her eye. Finally, she put her blusher down and said, “Why aren’t you putting on makeup?” I explained I was just there for a tit shot. Here eyebrows went up again. “Put on makeup anyhow,” she said. “You always have to look your best for the photos.” I took her advice, while she flipped through my press book (you always bring your book with you). ‘These are real nice,” she said. Then she got up and went to do her shoot. She would be the lead photo for the article, and my tits would be a small photo in the side, illustrating the importance, I supposed, of having breast cancer awareness. When it was my turn, Jerry came in and gave me a quick hug. I thought that was really sweet, and told her so. Then I took off my shirt and posed for Richard Avedon, whose name still didn’t mean anything to me. He took about five shots, then, and I remember this, he took off his glasses, and peered at me. “Show me your book,” he ordered. I fetched my book and handed it to him. Still standing behind his tripod, he flipped through the pages. I was proud of the photographers who’d taken my pictures, so I pointed and said, “That was was Sing-Si Schwartz – he usually does still life shots, and he set up that whole stage to look like snow. And that’s Andrew Bruckner – he used to work as an assistant. He’s freinds with Doug Healey who took this at the pool the other day.” I was chatting, and he was just looking at the pictures, then he put the book down and hollered at his assistant, “Get me Vogue on the phone!” They brought a phone over (this was in the day before portables, and the assistant held the phone while he spoke), and what he said was, “I have this girl here and she’s very interesting and I think you should use her.”
When I got back to the agency, my booker got up from behind her desk, ran over and hugged me. “You got a job at Vogue!” she shouted. “And Mademoiselle just called, and they want you in Miami next week! Richard Avedon loved you!” (We know where that Miami shoot went, don’t we?) I looked at her and frowned. “Who is Richard Avedon?” I asked.
I also didn’t find out who Jerry Hall was until I met her again in Milan, Italy. We recognized each other and had a drink together (“You have to try this orange juice,” she told me, “It’s red – so weird, but really good!” It was orange sanguine and looked just like tomato juice but tasted like orange juice – too weird!) We talked, I told her what I’d been doing, and I thanked her for telling me to put on makeup. She finished her drink and waved goodbye. That’s when Johnny Casablanca came over and said “You know Jerry?” I said, “Yeah, I met her in New York once. She’s really nice.” And he said, “Did you ever meet her boyfriend, Mick Jagger?” I was floored. Shit – I knew who that was!
(Two shots from my book that Richard Avedon saw.)
I went to Europe in April 1979, that was the good news. The bad news was that I was a very immature 18 years old, 5’7″, weighed 49 kilos, had four broken wisdom teeth and a bad back. One of my vertebra was displaced, making some movements agony. My broken teeth were sore and kept me from enjoying eating. Being a hypochondriac is only fun when you can go to a doctor. Most days I was convinced I was probably dying from some dreadful cancer. (Go see a doctor? Do I have health insurance? in America? don’t make me laugh!). But I’d been sickly most my life – catching every stomach bug and strep throat germ that came by, colds usually turned into bronchitis, and sore throats turned into laryngitis. I had chest pains, stomach pains, back and leg pains – but there was nothing new there, I just thought being in pain was part of being human. And to top it off, my glasses fell overboard on a ferry one day and I never got them replaced – so add migraines from eye strain to all that and you have an idea of my physical state in 1979. After starting modelling I had the opportunity to go to Europe, so off I went. I, and five other models, flew across the Atlantic. The other girls had money for taxis. I met some fun people on the plane, and they told me to take the “choo”, as it was much cheaper. We debarked, and they helped me to the Underground station where we took a metro. I decided “choo” must be short for “choo choo train”. I was embarrassed when I told the story at dinner only to have everyone burst into laughter and tell me I’d made friends with Cockney’s and their “choo” was actually “Tube” – what the English called their subway.
Our first first stop was London and for three day I hardly slept, going on “go sees” during the day and going out nearly every night with the group of models. Next stop was Milan, where I suddenly came down with strep throat. I had a fever, and could hardly talk. That day Johnny Casablanca – owner of the modelling agency – was coming to meet us at the hotel. He took one look at me and ordered me back up to my room. He called a doctor, much to my horror, and sat at the foot of my bed until the doctor came – then he dispatched a groom to fetch the medicine for me. When it came; he gave me the package and said, “Here! Take one now, and another in the morning. Do that for five days.” I looked at the medicine. I had no idea what it was. In a plastic pack were what looked like ten bullets. “What are they?” I croaked. He frowned and said, “Suppositories. It has an antibiotic and will take care of your sore throat. Best thing for that. You’ll feel better in no time.” I shook my head. “But – what – I mean how?” I asked, perplexed. He heaved a sigh. “Americans,” he said, “don’t know anything. You put it in your rectum. Push it in. Pop! Up it goes. Best way to take medicine. Now, do it.” I refused point blank. He insisted. I protested. He got mad. I got stubborn. He glared at me and said, “No one wants to take pictures of a sick model. You’re sick. You need to get better. You go in the bathroom right now and use that suppository.” I tottered into the bathroom and locked the door. He pounded on it. “No flushing the toilet!” he yelled. I cringed. I looked at the sink, but the drain was hidden beneath a sieve-like cover. Johnny knocked on the door again. “Hurry up!” he cried. I crawled into the shower, opened the suppository, and pushed it as far as I could down the drain. Then I tottered back out and collapsed on the bed. Johnny went in and inspected the toilet, garbage, drawers, and sink. Then he came back beaming. “So far, you’re the smartest American I’ve met,” he said. “Usually they have to be tied up and held down for suppositories.” He saw my expression and laughed. “Just kidding. I’ll have dinner sent up for you. Soup? Yes? That will be fine. And tomorrow is a big day. Get lots of rest!”
He left, and I thought about things. With a sigh, I got up, went back to the bathroom with another suppository, and managed to take my medicine. I was mortified, but there was no way he was going to think of me as a stupid American. I supposed that having gone so many years without a doctor or medicine made that antibiotic work like magic – whatever the reason – the next day I felt better than I’d felt in ages. And the rest of the week I finished the box of suppositories and was amazed – even my teeth had stopped aching. It was a good thing I got better – the next day I got a job modelling wedding dresses for an Italian magazine, and I spent four days in a real castle in the Alps. The weather was amazing, the scenery even more so – I felt like I was living in a fairy tale – and I thanked my lucky stars I wasn’t still sick in bed in Milan! Vive the suppository!
Ah the pitfalls of looking back; you start to remember things. The good and the bad – the sad and the funny. When I first arrived in NYC, I was 17. I’d just graduated high school, gotten hired at a jewelry wholesale showroom, gotten fired for not sleeping with my boss, and turned into a punk.
That summer, every afternoon, my sister and I would jog around Gramercy Park. This was just before the pooper-scooper laws, so it was like jogging through landmines. Then one day the law passed, and the poop vanished from the sidewalk. People walked around with colorful plastic shovels (pooper scoopers) and ladies would be hanging out their windows watching, and if the dog pooped on the sidewalk a loud voice would yell “You – yeah, you down there with the ugly dog. Pick that shit up or I call the police!” Yes, New Yorkers were cool. And speaking of cool – I’d gotten fired, gotten a boy friend, and had started modelling. At first, jobs were scarce and money tight. I had to pay back the hotel where I’d spent the summer, so I didn’t have money for clothes, and that was tough because Winter Was Coming. But right now, it was Summer, Summer of Sam in NYC and there were heatwaves, and a lunatic was shooting couples parked in cars, and I was 17 going on 18, and one night we couldn’t sleep because of the heat. In the middle of the night someone rapped on our door – it was a friend who whispered that the pool was open. At midnight we walked to the public pool and slipped through the fence where someone had cut the wire and sat in the water with about a hundred other people – we just sat and dozed, and when the dawn came, we walked back to our baking apartments. It was surreal – because no one spoke – we were all too tired and worn down by the heat. The next day a storm broke, the heatwave broke, and we went back to normal.
When winter came that year, it crashed in like a runaway train. My boyfriend gave me his old ski jacket (silver, held together in places with safety pins) and a pair of old snow boots (the toe was separated from the sole so I used duct tape to hold it together). I went to my “go sees” with a paper bag holding my Candies sandals, and when I got to the “go see”, I’d quick change and take off my boots and put on my sandals. Two feet of snow on the ground, and I walk into the casting room wearing my high-heel, summer sandals. “I’m from the Virgin Islands,” I told them – and this seemed to satisfy everyone. “Ah – yes!” The casting director would nod, as if that explained everything. I remember going to a ritzy hotel, sitting in the lobby and slipping off my boots, stuffing them under my chair, putting on my sandals and going to the casting, all the while praying no one would find my old boots and throw them away! My first paycheck went for a pair of boots, a long sleeved white blouse, and a woolen skirt. I stopped off at the studio of a friend photographer, who had just set up a snowy set for his pictures, and he used me to get the lighting right, then gave me the photos. Sing-Si Schwartz* was a great photographer and a wonderful friend.
One day I was booked for a shoot with a photographer in a theater near Times Square. That evening, a snowstorm roared down from the north and dumped three feet of snow on the ground. I called the agency to make sure the shoot was still on, and they said to just “go see” (the words a model hears most…) so I sloughed through hip-deep snow to the subway, took it uptown and got off on Times Square. The shoot was in an apartment in a theater, with Duane Michals for Vogue, so I was very excited. I walked out of the subway and stared at Times Square – pristine – the streets were gone, he sidewalks were gone – there wasn’t a soul in sight except a lone policeman standing under an awning just behind me. It was glittery and beautiful. I stepped out of the subway, heading for the other side of the street, walked off the curb and fell, disappearing beneath 3 feet of fluffy snow.
The policeman hauled me to my feet and helped me make it to the right address. I was the first one there, and the owner of the apartment gave me a hot cup of tea while we waited for the crew to show up. What I remember most about that shoot was the hairdresser took three hours to do my hair – tiny curl by tiny curl, and we sat around and looked at the snow, drank tea, and then when it was over, the snow had been trampled and there were paths everywhere – I followed the one leading to the subway, & waved at the policeman, still standing under his awning. The photo was taken in November, and didn’t come out until May. Looking at it, I can still see the snow & hear the policeman’s laughter. (And the stylist took so long to make the curls -my hair is dead straight – I was sad to wash them out!)
*Sing-Si was a wonderful person and talented photographer. I met him in NYC, and we became good friends. He came to visit me in St Thomas, spent Christmas with us one year, and took some amazing shots of the islands. When he passed away, it came as a terrible shock.
After I cut my hair and got turned into a punk, things moved quickly. I was fired, I had no job, but I got some gigs at the huge wholesale showrooms in NYC – one was working for a toy company, the other was a shoe designer who paid me in shoes as well as cash. Cool! I had two pairs of stilettos* that made my legs look absolutely fabulous. I dyed my hair back to its normal shade of dark ash blond, and posed for a neighbor who wanted to do some fashion shoots. He was a talented photographer, and I got some great photos. About that time I went to a party at Fiorucci in NYC and a model agent asked me if I wanted to be a model. Now, you have to realize that for my Entire Life, my mother had looked at me and said, “Don’t worry, you’re not a model!” (My bangs were crooked – my teeth were crooked, my nose was crooked, my eyes were crooked – to each of my complaints, she’d sigh and say, “So what? You’re not a model!” So when this guy came up to me at a party and asked if I wanted to be a model, the first thing I did was laugh. But then I thought he was a creep who just wanted to sleep with me, so I told him I’d meet him at the agency. To my surprise, he agreed, and we met at Elite in NYC and they signed me up that day. I was sure it was all some sort of candid camera joke, but no one popped out and shouted “Surprise!” So I signed on the dotted line and came back the next day to be sent off on what are called “Go See’s” as in, “Go see this person about a possible job.” And I also got sent to different photographers who were just starting out and who needed models for their press books. That’s how I got a ton of really cool photos. I discovered I had a knack for putting on my own makeup and posing for shots. It was fun. I wasn’t really working yet – I had a couple small jobs, but I was having fun. And then, one day, I got sent to a shot with Richard Avedon, who called Vogue and told them I was ‘hot’, and then Vogue booked me, and when Vogue booked me, then Mademoiselle had to book me, and suddenly I was booked for a trip to Florida *gasp* with a photographer who happened to be going out with Janice Dickinson! Wow. I was going to be in a photo shoot with Janice Dickinson. I was psyched. The trip started off really well. I first spent a week on a shoot for Self Magazine in the Florida keys, and the crew was terrific. I was starting to feel like a real model. Especially when the agency called and said a German magazine had asked me to show up for a half day shoot in Miami just before the big shoot (also in Miami) with Mike Reinhardt and Janice. So I arrived in Miami, did a half day shoot for a German mag and their very nice crew, then went to the hotel where I was supposed to meet the gang for the shoot for Mademoiselle that next week. It was the perfect job for me – it was for bathing suits – I have to admit that when I was younger, I had a bathing suit body and most of my work was for lingerie and bathing suits. A piece of cake – right? I met the photographer and his assistant, and the art director, and we all piled into the cab to go to a restaurant for dinner – and here’s where everything went to Hell. The photographer put his hand on my thigh and started squeezing. I’d been warned. Other models and my agent had warned about photographers getting fresh. So I took his hand and removed it. It came back. I removed it again. And again it came back, more insistant and more obnoxious. “Hey, just cut it out,” I said. “I have a boyfriend, and I’m not interested in you, OK?” He didn’t reply – but he started to sulk – and he sulked until the next day, when Janice arrived from somewhere glamorous, and Mike announced to the art director that I was not at all suitable for the job (without having me try on a single bathing suit) and that he wanted me gone. I was stunned. And furious. I sat next to Janice at the makeup table, while she got makeup on, I just sat there – trying not to cry. She looked over at me and said “You know, if you want to climb the ladder, you have to do it on your back. Like I did.” I turned to her and said, “I could have started with your boyfriend.” The temperature dropped to sub zero in the studio. I went back to the hotel and called my agency, complained, and got no pity. Then I emptied the mini-fridge, because Mademoiselle would have to pick up my bill, and spent hours calling all my freinds and family from the hotel phone (hit them where it hurts – in the wallet – that’s always been my theory) in those days, long distance was expensive. I got on a plane back to NY and told the agency that I never wanted to work with Mike Reinhardt again. But – the knife cuts both ways – because I wouldn’t let him grope me, he didn’t want to work with me again. I had a long career as a model, and that was the only time I had to fend off a photographer. When I came to work in Europe, I found the European photographers were a different breed – the work was more professional – and the men more respectful towards women in general. It might sound ridiculous, but that was my experience. A week after I arrived in Paris, I was shooting a cover shot for Marie Claire. Take that, Mike Reinhardt.
*I now have two pairs of stiletto sandals, one pair of Candies slides, and a pair of flip flops – with that, I was facing a NYC winter… more on that next week!
Saturday – and I’m working. As usual. Somehow, I spent most of my life dodging a 9 to 5 job, after my first, disastrous job, and now I’m in an office, the front desk no less, on the front line.
My first disastrous job was right out of high school. I got my diploma and left the next day for NYC. I didn’t stay for my graduation, it was my last jab at the school system I’d hated since kindergarden. The only reason I studied was so I didn’t fail a grade and have to stay one more year in school than I had to. So, anyhow, I graduate, and a friend finds me a job in a wholesale jewelry shop on 5th avenue, and I’m staying in a hotel run by the Salvation Army where we share a room like in college and eat in a cafeteria. I’m chuffed that I’m getting my first salary, so I invite my sister to come stay with me – the hotel rents a cot for 15$, what I didn’t know was that it’s 15$ a night. After a month, when my sister has to leave, I get a bill that wipes out my fledgeling bank account and dooms me to starvation until my next check. Because I also have to pay my cafeteria bill – doubled because my sister was there. Welcome to the real world. I try to argue with the hotel, but they show me the contract I signed – 1 cot, 15$ per night. I have to start reading these things. Not that it does any good, I’m so embarrassed that the text is jumping all over the page. I try to work out how much I earn, versus how much I owe, and come to the conclusion that there is no way the hotel is going to recoup their 300$ unless I do something drastic like ask my parents for money, which I long ago decided I’d never do. The American “sink or swim, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, suck it up, not a borrower or lender be…” All that was so ingrained into me that instead of asking for help, I lowered my bags out the window that night using sheets tied together and a ton of dental floss (who knew that stuff was so strong?) and left. I’d send a check when I was able – I didn’t doubt they’d find me – I was just next door staying with a friend who was a doorman at his parents’ condo and he let me sleep in his room – on the floor – but that was fine. Note: there are people in this world who are incredible decent, and I always seemed to find them. I also stayed in the tiny studio apartment of a journalist who worked for Newsweek. He was often away and gave me his key. His apartment was behind a church, the stairs in the alley behind the dumpster. But when he was away, it was all mine. Then I found a boyfriend, fell head over heels in love, moved in with him, and gave the key back to my journalist friend.
Meanwhile, back at my 9 -5 job, things were not going well. The boss had started massaging my neck when he passed behind me. I was nervous. He was making me jumpy. I started arriving late to make sure everyone was there when I arrived, and leaving early. And one day he sent me on an errand just before we closed. I hurried, but I returned to find everyone gone but him. He locked the door behind me, then he chased me around the office. I dodged, and he plunged over a table, scattering all the work I’d done that day with the jewelry – all my clips and chains and earrings and rings went flying everywhere – and I laughed, because I was too stupid to scream at that time, and the jerk fired me. The next day I showed up anyhow and asked for my week’s pay. I could have asked for more, but it took all my courage just to show up. I was mortified – I’d gotten fired. It didn’t occur to me that he was in the wrong. I just wanted to get out of there.
That week, because I was at wits end, I let one of my friends who wanted to be a hair dresser cut off all my hair and dye it pink (it was supposed to be strawberry blond but ended up fuchsia). I was horrified. He decided the best thing would be to cut it all off. He gave me a buzz cut. He also gave me 20$ for letting him practice, which is why I said yes. I was hungry. This was just before the Sex Pistols and the punk groups took off, and I was the first punk in New York City.
So I’m sitting at the hairdresser, a treat for me. I go maybe once a year – if that – to get my hair done. Usually I chop it myself (my hair is dead straight, so it’s just a matter of getting the two sides even), and I dye it myself. But today off I went to get a real haircut from a real hair dresser…and I pick up a magazine. This is another thing I never do – I never read “women’s magazines”. Never. I hate them. And this is an ex model speaking. But when I was a model, I hated them. I hated the art director, I hated the stylists. I hated the photographers. I liked the money I made. Continue reading