Monday, July 21, 2008

"Pancakes, Anyone?"

Yes, it's true. Pancakes are what this woman has on her mind. The lady is Dorian Leigh Parker, the very first supermodel, whose name was a household item in the 40s and 50s. She started modeling at the late age of 27 and eventually joined the Ford modeling agency on the condition that they also take her sister, Suzy Parker--sight unseen.

She came to my attention somehow last week, because she died this month, at the age of 91. Her obituary in the Times of London begins: 'Dark-haired, blue-eyed, 5ft 5in tall, with an hourglass figure and exquisite features, Dorian Leigh appeared on no fewer than six covers of Vogue in 1946, and, over the next six years, graced the covers of 50 more glossy magazines.

"She played muse to a clutch of photographers – Avedon, Beaton, Blumenfeld, Horst and Penn among them – and in the 1950s became the signature model for Revlon's Fire and Ice lipstick and nail polish campaign in a series of images, photographed by Richard Avedon with the advertising slogan: 'For you who love to flirt with fire; who dare to skate on thin ice.' Avedon later stated that she was the most versatile model, and the loveliest, that he had ever worked with.

"In his Photobiography (1951), Cecil Beaton observed that Dorian Leigh was able to convey 'the sweetness of an 18th-century pastel, the allure of a Sargent portrait, or the poignancy of some unfortunate woman who sat for Modigliani'; but he also noted that she was as demanding as those who photographed her." The photo above is by Avedon.

She led an exhausting life, marrying five times (with numerous affairs in between or on the side) and giving birth to five children.

But, it turns out, as is so often the case, that there was another side.

As her modeling career drew to a close, she cultivated another of her talents: cooking. Having moved to Paris in 1959, she studied at the Cordon Bleu cookery school in Paris and opened a successful restaurant, Chez Dorian, in southern France. In the 1970s she returned to New York, where she set up her own catering business and, according to her son, worked with Martha Stewart, developing recipes.

When one of her sons committed suicide at the age of 21 in 1977, Ms. Parker became a born-again Christian and, one presumes, mended her ways. She wrote an autobiography, published in 1980, called The Girl Who Had Everything. "I really wrote it for Kim [her deceased son], who will never read it. But perhaps other Kims and their parents may learn from my unhappy experiences."

She published two cookbooks, Doughnuts and Pancakes: From Flapjacks to Crepes. It is hard to imagine two cookbooks more at odds with being a supermodel. From the introductions to the recipes in Pancakes, it seems that Ms. Parker did ingest each kind she writes about. A native of Texas, she dedicates the book "To my sisters, Florian, Georgibell, and Suzy, in memory of those Texan women, our valiant forebears."

If you love pancakes, and I do, this is the book for you. Ms. Parker includes a short history of pancakes and their ubiquity in civilized life over the ages and personal reminiscences of pancakes cooked by her father (who disapproved of her modeling), and offers recipes for three types: breakfast, savory, and dessert. They all looked great to me!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. To my mind, this woman is a spiritual giant, having overcome pherhaps the worst that can befall a mother--the death by suicide of one of her children.