Throughout my pimply and klutzy adolescence, I was desperate to be ANYONE but me. (The only person who thought I was cute was my dad. Really. Boys would cross the street to avoid being seen with me.) And most of that time, I was desperate to be Colleen Corby, the ubiquitous teen model whose image seemed to be on every other page of Seventeen Magazine (15 covers) and all the other teen publications of the time. To get an idea of how unrealistic my dream was, I didn’t look remotely like her. Not even close. (Think more Doris Day-ish, only not so pretty — or perky.)
Corby walked into the Eileen Ford Agency uninvited, looking for a summer job, and found herself booked solid for the next 20 years or so. She, as they say, would have looked good in a potato sack, with a little belt, a beret and some black Mary-Janes. I remember sighing over pictures of her all dressed up in her preppy tartans and swingy little Sixties dresses, with her shiny hair, big eyes and perfect eyebrows.
Unlike today’s supermodels, Corby (the magazines told me) lived quietly in an apartment in Manhattan (!?!) with her businessman father, stay-at-home mother and little sister, Molly, who was also a model. “Wow,” I thought. “How would I go about getting to be part of that gene pool?”
Colleen (they said) loved listening to her Andy Williams LPs, but Molly had nearly ruined him for her by playing the albums so much. OMG! I loved Andy Williams, too! We were practically best friends! (That faint noise you hear is my grown sons laughing their guts up. “Andy Williams? Albums? Geez, Mom…”)
She didn’t stay on the scene long enough to get franchised like Heidi Klum and her ilk, and her proposed film career didn’t pan out, so she retired to a quiet life of marriage and motherhood, occasionally venturing out when fans — like Oprah — want to remember her.
That memory makes me sad, and it isn’t Corby’s fault. (I also wanted to look like Audrey Hepburn. HA!) My fan-crush on her only alienated me further from myself. Why did I set myself up like that? Was there really such a dearth of acceptable role models then that I had to pick someone whose looks and lifestyle were so utterly unattainable? It would take me years, decades even, to come to an uneasy truce with myself and my looks.
I’m sometimes glad I only had sons, because I’m not sure how I would have guided a daughter through that adolescent minefield.