Suzy Parker, 69; Was a Supermodel Before Term Was Coined

Times Staff Writer

Suzy Parker, one of the fashion world’s legendary beauties who became the industry’s highest-paid cover girl in the 1950s, has died. She was 69.

Parker, who parlayed her modeling fame into a short-lived Hollywood acting career, died Saturday after a lengthy illness at her home in Montecito, where she and her husband, actor Bradford Dillman, have lived since the late 1960s.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. May 7, 2003 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday May 07, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 1 inches; 52 words Type of Material: Correction
Parker obituary -- An obituary of former model-actress Suzy Parker in the California section Tuesday stated that she was 69. Various biographical reference books say Parker was born on Oct. 28, 1933. But her stepdaughter, Pamela Dillman Harman, said Parker was born on Oct. 28, 1932, and was 70 when she died.

During her modeling heyday, Parker was photographed in Paris, Rome, London and New York City in fashions by all the top designers.


At $200 an hour, the tall, auburn-haired Parker was the era’s highest-paid model.

“We didn’t use the term [supermodel] then, but she certainly qualified for being a supermodel, and if the term had been around I’m sure we would have used it: She was absolutely phenomenal,” said Edie Locke, former editor-in-chief of Mademoiselle magazine. “A lot of the models are beautiful, but it takes a lot of makeup and this, that and the other trick to make them look fabulous,” Locke said. “But all Suzy had to do was shake out that mane and she’d look fabulous.”

Parker was a favorite subject of fashion photographer Richard Avedon, who used one of his photographs of Parker on the cover of his 2001 book “Made in France,” a collection of his work.

“Suzy Parker gave emotion and reality to the history of fashion photography,” Avedon said in a statement Monday. “She invented the form, and no one has surpassed her.”

It was Avedon who introduced Parker to director Stanley Donen in Paris. Parker was one of three Paris models who appeared in Donen’s stylized 1957 musical “Funny Face,” starring Fred Astaire as a fashion photographer who transforms Audrey Hepburn into an elegant model.

On Donen’s recommendation, 20th Century Fox gave Parker a screen test for her first leading role: in Donen’s 1957 comedy “Kiss Them for Me,” starring Cary Grant.

“I’d guess Suzy Parker probably was the first of the major supermodels and one of those ladies that, in those days, would be snapped up for pictures immediately,” said veteran Hollywood publicist Dale Olson, who first met Parker in the late 1950s.


“Those were the days where ‘the look’ was more important than anything else,” Olson said. “I think she was everybody’s dream: the dream of the American woman, who always wanted to look like that, and the dream of the American guy, who always wanted a girl like that.”

But there also was an “accessibility” to Parker, Olson said.

“She came across as gorgeous, but still kind of the American girl next door,” he said. Parker is best remembered for playing Gary Cooper’s young lover in her next film, “Ten North Frederick” (1958), but her film career never really took off. She appeared in only a few other films, including “The Best of Everything” (1959), “Circle of Deception” (1960), “The Interns” (1962) and “Chamber of Horrors” (1966).

Parker also made guest appearances in a number of television series in the ‘60s, including “The Twilight Zone,” “Dr. Kildare,” “Burke’s Law,” “Tarzan” and “It Takes a Thief.”

She was born Cecelia Ann Rene Parker. Although various biographical sources cite her birthplace as San Antonio, Texas, Parker was born in Long Island City, N.Y., said Parker’s stepdaughter, Pamela Dillman Harman.

“She liked to cast a mystery over her background, so she’d quite deliberately talk about being born in different places,” she said.

Parker’s older sister was model Dorian Leigh, who helped Parker get into modeling at age 14.


“By the time I went to the Garden Day School in New York, Milton Greene was photographing me for various women’s magazines,” Parker told Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper in 1957. “I was 17 when I went to Paris under contract to Harper’s Bazaar, and when the contract ran out I stayed.”

In 1963, Parker married Dillman, with whom she had three children. Parker also had a daughter from a previous marriage, and Dillman had two children from a previous marriage. “And we all grew up together, so she really raised six children,” said Dillman Harman.

Parker and Dillman moved to Montecito in 1968, where Parker devoted her time to domesticity and a close circle of friends. Parker didn’t miss her life in Hollywood.

“She was a fabulous model and did enjoy that work because she was so good at it,” Dillman Harman said. “She acted through the still camera brilliantly, but when she acted in front of the moving camera she was not so free and comfortable and she said she wasn’t the actress that she wanted to be.

“So she decided, ‘OK, I’m going to give up on this and devote my talents to being the best wife and mother,’ and she really was that.”

Parker is survived by her husband; her daughter from her previous marriage, Georgia De LaSalle of Paris; her children with Dillman: Dinah Dillman Kaufman of Irvine, Charles Dillman of Los Angeles and Christopher Dillman of San Diego; her two step-children, Jeffrey Dillman of Wilmington, Del., and Pamela Dillman Harman of Summerland, Calif.; and four grandchildren.


At Parker’s request, no funeral service will be held.