Faces: Being Colleen Corby — or not

August 14, 2008

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.

4 Responses to “Faces: Being Colleen Corby — or not”

  1. byjane Says:

    yeah, the dearth was real….

  2. Tracie Says:

    What a flashback — as a teenager, I adored Colleen Corby as well, but had not thought of her in … oh my … 35 years? until I read this post and saw the photo which fired the synapses of memory. We both probably were beautiful back then — beautiful in the way that I see the college students I teach today: They are (for the most part) full of health, firm skin, proportionate … you know — things I took for granted back then because I didn’t look like Cybil Shepherd or Colleen Corby or Susan Dey.

  3. Tara Says:

    Great post! I don’t remember Corby, but I also avidly read SEVENTEEN. The photo layouts suggested a glamorous, fun life I could only imagine. I remember one particular layout featuring the teen daughter of, I think it was Eileen Ford, (I think her name was Lacy?) and her best friend. They lived in New York and they were so cute, dressed in great outfits, best of friends. I remember sitting alone on my bed, in my little room, reading about their exciting lives. They were in a different universe, a world away
    from my chubbiness and acne and frizzy hair and hand me down clothes. Of course now I have to wonder if they were really happy, and if they were even really friends! I wonder whatever happened to them? Do you think they’re dealing with mid-life and gray hair and the feeling that they didn’t achieve what they wanted in life and peaked when they were teens? I hope not!

  4. msmeta Says:

    I dunno, Tracie, those pictures of me from my early years are still pretty scary. But I’m sure YOU were cute.

    Tara, I couldn’t find very many links to Lacey Ford (other than a NYT article that mentioned her lavish wedding to some TV mogul). I suspect she’s had enough money to keep middle-age at bay, but it would be interesting to see if she — or any of those other privileged teens of that day — had all their dreams come true.

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