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Search for mystery magazine cover girl has sad ending

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The search for a Los Angeles woman who 53 years ago was a Sports Illustrated cover girl has ended sadly for a collector of autographs from cover subjects.

Model Dolores Greer, 81, died last month on the same day that cover autograph collector Scott Smith was being interviewed by The Times for a story that was published Tuesday. Greer’s obituary appeared in Sunday’s Times.

The saga of Smith’s search for the model who illustrated the magazine’s Oct. 17, 1960, cover story on the “new look in sports clothes” has spanned more than three decades. The retired New Jersey investment banker and corporate debt specialist has collected the signatures of 4,413 individuals who have been featured on 2,913 of the sports magazine’s covers. He figures he has the autographs of 95% of all cover subjects.

Tuesday’s story about Smith’s search prompted Times readers to offer suggestions about who the mystery cover girl might be. It turned out that former Brentwood fashion model Julie Chandler held the answer.

Chandler, who now works in real estate, emailed the newspaper: “Just a guess, but if it was shot in Los Angeles, one of the top models was Dolores Greer. Just read an obituary of her in your paper. Same look.”

Chandler explained that she remembered Greer because “we often modeled in some of the same fashion shows.”

Greer’s obituary included the names of family members. When reached, Greer’s daughter, Robin, hadn’t yet read the story about Smith’s search. She quickly looked at the photograph of the mystery cover that accompanied it.

“Oh wow, it’s her!” Robin Greer exclaimed. “The thing that’s so interesting that she was a big model back when you didn’t have super models that everybody knows their name. My mother was constantly on magazine and album covers. But darn, nobody knew who she was.”

Robin Greer, an actress known for her roles in such TV movies and series as “Falcon Crest” and “Ryan’s Hope,” now works as a Beverly Hills realty agent.

Smith was dismayed by the news that Dolores Greer passed away when he was so close to finding her and securing her signature. He was stunned by readers’ swift response.

“Oh, my goodness. This is unbelievable. I wish I’d done this two or three years ago. This is a bummer,” he said.

Smith was philosophical about missing his elusive cover girl by mere days, however.

“Looking for her was a great journey and a lot of fun. It was nice to finally identify her. I’m just sorry I can’t put her in my collection.”

Robin Greer said she and her sister, Liza, and brother Donn are planning a celebration of their mother’s life on July 28 in Beverly Hills. She said the memorial service will include a retrospective of their mother’s active career as a magazine cover model. Asked if she would sign Smith’s magazine cover on behalf of her mother if he attends, she readily agreed to do so.

Smith politely declined the signature offer since he only accepts autographs from the actual people pictured on Sports Illustrated covers. “But I have some spares of that edition of the magazine. I can send her an extra copy if she wants one for the service,” he said.

“This is such unbelievable timing.”

[For the record, 5:31 p.m. July 17: An earlier version of this post said Dolores Greer was 71. She was 81.]

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bob.pool@latimes.com

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