Andrew Tobias - Demystifying Finance

fireandice2.gif (10415 bytes)

Previous chapter

FIRE AND ICE
The Story of Charles Revson - the Man Who Built the Revlon Empire.

Chapter 9

The Revlon Girl(s)

"I did not like him."

-Suzy Parker

As one of the largest advertisers in the fashion business, Revlon's appetite for beautiful women was insatiable. Just as a great many of New York's ad men and designers passed through Revlon's mill at one time or another, so did a great many models. Candice Bergen was at school in Philadelphia when Revlon's Sandy Buchsbaum "discovered" her and spread her across the pages of Vogue. Barbara Feldon came rolling out of a rug in a commercial for Chemstrand when Revson happened to be watching television. She was signed to an exclusive contract. (After three years with Revlon, she became Get Smart Agent 99.) Mary Bacon was a jockey — and, it turned out later much to Revlon's embarrassment, a Ku Klux Klanswoman — before she became a "Charlie girl." Most models were sent to Revlon by agencies for specific assignments. Model mogul Wilhelmina herself posed for Revlon. Just four women — Dorian Leigh and her sister Suzy Parker, Barbara Britton and Lauren Hutton — became so closely identified with the company over a period of years that they were, in effect, "the Revlon girl."

Dorian Leigh, the stunning redhead in the Fire and Ice ad, was already a top model when she did Fatal Apple, her first Revlon spread, in 1945. From then on Revson considered her "lucky" and used her in shade promotion after shade promotion. But he barely knew her while she was "the Revlon girl." "He only became very very friendly with me," she says, "when I came to Europe and he came here." In Europe still, running a restaurant she calls Chez Dorian about an hour outside Paris, she says that in the fifties Revson became "very romantic" with her — but that he didn't get very far. "He was used to buying everything he wanted," she says, as though writing jacket copy for a pulp novel, "and in me he met someone he couldn't buy."

Still, there was the weekend in 1959 when she kept inviting him down to her place in Portofino, letting it be known, according to one of those at lunch, that she was wearing no bra. (In 1959 that made Ms. Leigh a swinger.) So they were at least, as she says, "very very friendly."

"When I knew him," she says, "he couldn't make up his mind whether to really divorce [Ancky]. He didn't want to divorce her until he found something better, you see?" One candidate who apparently crossed his mind was Dorian herself — an excellent cook, very well spoken, cultivated, glamorous, and beautiful.

"The last time I saw him in Paris, in 1959," she says, "I was just about to get married again. And he was advising me against it, naturally. [Because he was interested himself? "Yes, that's right, more or less."] And he sent me a tremendous thing of orchids — I think probably there must have been forty different varieties of orchids. I don't know where he bought it, but a tremendous thing. And I called him up and said, 'Charles, that's just about the most vulgar thing I ever saw in my life!' And he said, 'Well, I didn't want to send you the money . . .'"

He did have a tendency to overdo. Having become so rich so fast, it would take him a while to develop a light touch. When Barbara Britton, Revlon spokeswoman, opened on Broadway in Thee and Me, co-starring Derwood Kirby, Charles sent two enormous, waist-high vases of roses. "One would really have been more than enough." Ms. Britton can't help smiling. Particularly as the play closed that same night.

Later, when she and Revlon parted on friendly terms after twelve years, she got not so much as a thank-you note from Charles. She was no longer important to the business, so what was the point? "I must admit I was a little bit piqued," she says.

She had, in the early years, been anchoring nine commercials a week: three each on The $64,000 Question, The $64,000 Challenge, and The Walter Winchell File. Models would play out the scenes in the ads, but she did all the talking. In her busiest year she earned $130,000 — more than twice what the president of TWA was making. Her work load diminished after the quiz-show era passed, and when taped commercials replaced live. But her famous line — "If it's the finest of its kind it's by Revlon — Revlon London, Paris and New York' — opened The Ed Sullivan Show week after week. "And now here's the star of our show," she would continue, a gracious version of jolly Ed McMahon, "Ed Sullivan?'

While Barbara was integrity-grace-and- beauty on television, Suzy Parker was the same, only with a dollop of elegant come-hither thrown in, in print. Born "Cecilia" Parker (in 1932), she now lives in California with her husband, actor Bradford Dillman. She became an even better-known model than her older sister, Dorian. Life magazine devoted a cover to her in 1957, and no less an authority than The New York Times, in their obituary of Kay Daly, incorrectly credited her with the Fire and Ice ad.

Charles was wild for Suzy Parker, at least professionally. "They don't make combos like that anymore," he said of the two sisters. But when B.B.D.&O., the ad agency, suggested that she be put under exclusive contract — a novel concept at the time — he said no. The agency was talking about a lot of money; Charles wouldn't even throw out a counteroffer. "He thought I should be working for the sheer joy of working for Revlon," she says. Her $120-an-hour fee might have been more than fair for most kinds of work, but these Revlon shade promotions involved a single session, three or four hours, and that was the ad for the season. "So I finally said screw him," she says. "The next time they wanted me for an ad I said no thank you. Then the war was on. He hated me. He absolutely hated me. He said, 'I can't stand the girl's face, I don't want to see it anymore.' Which was okay by me — I had other accounts and I was interested in movies.

"As time went on it became really very funny. They did this particular Cleopatra ad and shot it with ten or twelve different black-haired girls, at great expense. It wasn't the photographer's fault; it was just that they couldn't choose the model. So they had to keep paying Avedon for the pictures. It was a disaster. Finally, at the last minute, they brought me in and put a black wig on me and they never let Revson know it was me in the ad. He never realized." (He doubtless realized full well. Out of pride he may have pretended he didn't.)

Earlier she had done a similar last-minute bailout retake on Stormy Pink. "We worked at night [double the fee] off Montauk Point, in the ocean, and I had to hold a stallion. We really did that. It was very dangerous because it was windy and the pebbles kept rolling out from underneath the horse's feet, and I'm trying to hold him down. We worked on that for almost six hours in the middle of the night, in the middle of the ocean [well, not quite], and I was in a chiffon dress. I think the reason I was such a good model wasn't that I was such a particular beauty or anything, but that I was as strong as a horse. And that occasion proved it!"

 

The Revson/Parker relationship was such that when Time sent a photographer around in 1960, Charles had to pay her to appear — as if it were a modeling session and not a simple publicity shot. (See photo.) While the photographer was setting up in Revson's office, Parker was dressing in the ladies' room and putting on her false fingernails. "I wore false ones in all the ads because I've never had long fingernails," she says. "I had gotten them all glued on, rather unsatisfactorily, and I was trussing my white mink, and I make my entrance and everyone says, 'Wow, wow,' and all that — and I lose one of the damn fingernails."

"I'm crawling under the desk and the Time man says, 'What are you doing?' 'I'm looking for my blinking, bloody fingernail,' I said — and Charles turned absolutely beet-red. 'You mean you wear false fingernails? the photographer asked. He thought it was a riot. I thought Charles was going to explode with rage, because I said, 'Of course I do, I always have — in all those ads.' At which point Charles turns to me and says, 'All right, let's change the subject.' He thought I had done it deliberately . . . and I don't know that I didn't."

And yet, even after he turned her down for the contract she wanted, she kept doing the ads. "It was my own vanity, I suppose . . . my own challenge that I could come in after they'd spent all that time and money trying with other girls and in two or three hours do the ad."

In terms of exclusive contracts, she says, she paved the way for Lauren Hutton. "But," she adds, laughing, "Lauren should really get her own expression. She's still using mine."

Mary Laurence "Lauren" Hutton, as practically any red-blooded American knows, is Ultima II and gets a bit more than $200,000 a year to play the role. Less well known is that before he signed Lauren, Revson was considering Racquel Welch for a similar job, presumably at a higher price. He got as far as summoning her then husband, Patrick Curtis, to a meeting in his office at which he proceeded to tell him, in front of several others, that Racquel had no taste — or at least came off appearing as if she had no taste — and that she didn't know how to dress. He would have to make her over. Curtis played along, saying he would be willing to allow Charles to buy her a new wardrobe, and from there they went over to the Waldorf Towers to meet the sex symbol herself. Whether Charles was unimpressed, the money was too much, or Curtis/Welch nixed the idea — most probably the latter-it went no farther. Had it, Revlon would have taken on a rather different image from the ones projected around Barbara Britton and Lauren Hutton.

Contrary to publicity photos, and certainly contrary to rumor, there was nothing between Lauren Hutton and Charles Revson beyond a friendly mutual respect. She was not Revson's discovery; she was, she says, just the logical choice: "I was the only big brand-name model in the country." Nor did she meet him during the five months of negotiations that led to her exclusive Revlon engagement. It was only at the signing, in 1973, that they met for the first time — and established a rapport.

It was photographer Richard Avedon who had sold Revson on the twenty-eight-year-old one-time Playboy bunny. And now, for the signing, he was asking her to be on her best behavior — to appear, not in jeans, which was more her off-camera style, but in "high drag," as she puts it. She complied. She even agreed to wear her "tooth," the dental falsie that bridges the gap in her smile. She didn't want to, "because it always creates an artificial situation," but she wore it anyway.

They were all sitting around stiffly — she and Avedon, Charles and Paul Woolard, agents and lawyers — having tea. When the crumpets came around, she grabbed one, completely forgetting about her tooth. Naturally it got caught in a wad of crumpet — and she cracked up. She looked over at Avedon, who was a nervous wreck, and gave him a grin — with a big black gap in the middle of her teeth. He sort of choked on his tea. Not knowing what else to do, she just made an announcement. "You'll have to forgive me," she said in her backwoods-Florida, liberated-hip mellow-dy, "but my tooth is stuck in a wad of crumpet here and we'll have to do something about it because it cost fifty dollars and I'm not going to lose it." Charles laughed. (Yes, Charles laughed.) Lauren retrieved her tooth. She went back to behaving, she says, and sitting there silently. Avedon, trying anything he could think of to make conversation, and knowing that Revson liked to vacation in Mexico, mentioned that Lauren was trying to buy some land there. Charles asked where. Suddenly she got this vision of the monster tycoon going in and stealing her land. "Outside Acapulco," she said reluctantly. "Where outside Acapulco? I know the whole area." "Down the coast." "East or west? .... East." Eventually he got her into a corner. "I got real paranoid and I said: 'All right, I'll tell you where — but you better not get my land.' And that really cracked him up. Here I am telling this giant tycoon to lay off my land. I think it was basically that thing that made us become friends."

Revson liked her candor and her spunk. He used to refer to the "chicory in her soul."

As for her having an affair with him — or with Julie Christie, as was also rumored — she says that their total contact was confined to five or six "high teas," like the first, and to one dinner at the Beverly Hills Hotel — at which several others were present. She was in Mexico (not on that land, she never did get that land), virtually incommunicado for two or three months, when the story broke that she and Julie Christie were buying a house in New Jersey and living together. She had never even met Julie Christie, she says, and only found out about the story when she called the Ford modeling agency to find out whether she had any business to attend to. ("What are you doing in Mexico?" her agent joked. "You're supposed to be living in New Jersey with Julie Christie.") She ignored the story, which took on a life of its own, and eventually returned to New York, where she was ushered in to another tea with Charles to discuss her next picture session. At the end of the meeting he said: "I just want you to know that I don't care what you do with your private life . . . I just think you should be a little discreet." "I had no idea what he was talking about because I had forgotten all about it. And I kept looking at him and he kept avoiding my eyes. He kept talking around it — and finally I caught on. I started laughing." She assured him there was nothing to the rumor.

A couple of weeks later, the news of his own divorce broke, along with the word that he was leaving Lyn for Lauren. (Or else Lee Radziwell, which was equally absurd.) At their next meeting she told him that a friend had called to say he didn't care what she did with her private life, but that he thought she ought to be a little more discreet. She suggested that they run an ad with the three of them — he, Julie, and she — in a big four-poster bed, peeking out from under the ruffled coverlet. "He didn't go for it, but he thought it was funny."

Lauren Hutton is one of the few who credit Revson with having had "a wonderful sense of humor. We always joked back and forth," she says. She also appreciated what she saw as his courtliness.

If only he had been as charming with everyone else.

***

Next Chapter