People just couldn’t get enough of the stunning model, Dorian Leigh. Her career transformed her life into a dramatic rollercoaster filled with countless men and awful tragedies. Dorian may have looked picture-perfect, but her distressing story is far from it.
Dorian Leigh Parker’s parents were still teenagers when they welcomed her into their lives on April 23, 1917. Two more daughters followed closely. The young parents seemed to have a creative flair when it came to naming their children. After Dorian, there were Florian and Georgiabell.
When the family moved from Texas to New Jersey, Dorian's father had a eureka moment: He’d invented something that would set him up with cash for life.
George Parker was ecstatic. His invention of a new kind of etching acid meant he could stop working forever. It was around this time that his wife also had an "aha" moment—something that would harshly alter her husband’s plans for a relaxing retirement.
Elizabeth Parker was starting menopause—or she thought she was. It seemed that Elizabeth had mistaken her symptoms because she was actually pregnant. Dorian’s third sister was born in 1932, 13 years after Leigh.
It looked as though George Parker’s retirement wouldn’t be that peaceful after all.
In the wake of her new sister's arrival, Dorian did something incredibly naughty. Her mother wanted to name the new baby after her three best friends: Renee, Anne, and Cecilia. That's when Dorian made an awful suggestion.
She convinced her mother to order the names in a specific way. The new baby's name became Cecelia Renee Ann Parker...but as you can see, the first initial of every name spelled out a shockingly crude word.
Dorian Leigh clearly had a crafty side. But as an adult, this would turn into bold-faced lying.
After high school, Dorian signed up for Randolph-Macon Women’s College. Her autobiography says that when she was still a sophomore, she already had a husband. She claimed she was just 17 at the time, but the records tell a different story.
Dorian wasn't a teenage bride at all. Records prove that she was actually 20 years old when she married Marshall Powell Hawkins. Either Dorian was a liar, or she wasn’t good with numbers. This next fact suggests that she had no problem with her calculations.
As a young married woman, Dorian took a job in Manhattan as a department store file clerk. She also worked as a tabulator, which meant keeping tabs on the ratings of radio shows. Dorian was trying to figure out what she wanted to do with her life.
After her first two jobs, she realized she had three different skills: math, engineering, and drawing. To capitalize on these skills, she headed off to Stevens Institute of Technology and got a degree in mechanical engineering.
Dorian certainly had the brains, but her life was about to take a challenging turn.
While Dorian hoped to find her spot in the engineering world, she was still a wife and mother. She and her husband had two children: a son, Thomas Lofton Hawkins, and a daughter Marsha Hawkins. You can only guess how organized Dorian must have been to juggle her education and motherhood.
But once she finished school, she had a new problem to attend to.
By this time, WWII had started and the effort needed airplanes. With her engineering degree, Dorian Leigh soon got a job with Eastern Air Lines as a wing designer. For her efforts, she received an hourly wage of 65 cents—but not even a raise could make her happy.
The company wasn’t taking her seriously because she was a woman. She wanted out of engineering—and turned down a completely different path.
Dorian had her head turned by the entertainment industry. Republic Pictures had a reputation for making B movies and westerns and needed someone to write ad copy for its films. Leigh got the job and got right down to it. But while working there, someone discovered something that no one seemed to have noticed before.
Dorian was downright gorgeous. It was a woman—a Mrs Wayburn—at Republic Pictures who advised her to look into modeling as a career.
As far as modeling went, Dorian did not have a lot going for her. She was 27 years old, she’d already had two kids, and to make matters worse, she was just 5’5”. The modeling agency—Conover—wasn’t sure what to do with her, so they sent her over to see Diana Vreeland who was then the editor of Harper’s Bazaar.
Vreeland was famous for discovering acting legend Lauren Bacall and starting her career. But what would Vreeland make of the pint-sized Dorian?
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Vreelend showed Dorian to fashion photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe, and both women became obsessed with one of Dorian's features: her eyebrows. According to the two women, her brows had a natural zig-zag pattern to them.
Vreeland was so taken with the eyebrows that she wanted Dorian for the cover of Harper’s Bazaar. Talk about starting at the top!
When Dorian found out she had the job, she quickly told the people back at the modeling agency. The ecstatic staff at Conover gave her a sage piece of advice before she went on the photo shoot.
They told her to—at all costs—lie about her age. Luckily, Dorian hadn’t mentioned to Vreeland that she was 27. When she went to the shoot, she insisted she was just 19 years old. Oh yeah, and of course, she didn’t mention her two children. The lies, however, didn't stop there.
When Dorian's parents found out that their oldest daughter had become a model, they made a demand. Because they thought modeling wasn’t a respectable career, they told her that she could not use her last name. For this reason, she became Dorian Leigh and not Dorian Parker.
Years later, however, when Dorian began raking in the dough, the Parkers came around and let her use her last name. Talk about too little too late.
After her Harper’s Bazaar cover debut, more cover jobs came Dorian's way. She was soon appearing on the covers of Vogue, LIFE, Elle, and Paris Match. As an engineer, she had earned $1 an hour—but as a model, she was practically rolling in it.
In 1946 alone, she appeared in six issues of American Vogue. However, when world-renowned photographer Irving Penn took her photograph, he also took something else...her heart.
Dorian dated Penn for a short time but continued to work for other photographers as well, including Paul Radkai. Now, she had no problems with Radkai, it was his wife that made life difficult for her.
You see, Radkai’s wife Karen also wanted to be a fashion photographer and asked if she could snap a couple of photos of Dorian for her portfolio. But Dorian when told her no, Karen threatened to “ruin her”. The consequences were shocking.
Karen followed through on her threat and Dorian never worked for Vogue again. Was this the end of her modeling career?
As it turned out, Dorian didn’t really need Vogue. She struck up a working relationship with Harper’s Bazaar’s hot new photographer Richard Avedon. But while the model focused on her career—becoming the toast of Manhattan—what was happening to her children?
Dorian's fabulous lifestyle was not one that could include children, so she packed them up and sent them to live with her parents in Florida. This freedom allowed her to really enjoy what the Big Apple had to offer.
Vanity Fair magazine called her lifestyle "wayward," and it soon caught the attention of an up-and-coming author.
Truman Capote, when visiting a friend in a Manhattan apartment building, became interested in what was going on in another suite down the hall from his friends’. There seemed to be a steady stream of men coming and going, and there were also constant parties happening at the address.
Capote wanted to know the fabulous woman who had such an amazing lifestyle. It turned out to be none other than Dorian Leigh.
Capote struck up a friendship with Dorian and soaked up all the titillating details of her life. The author was so attracted to her lifestyle that he even gave her a nickname: Happy-go-lucky. Now wait, doesn’t that name sound familiar?
In 1958, Capote wrote one of his most famous novels, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, about a writer who meets a fabulous single woman in Manhattan—named Holly Golightly. It seems likely that Dorian was the inspiration for the character.
Clearly, the popular model was living large—but she also needed a large paycheck to fund all her indulgences.
It was in 1944 that Dorian Leigh really found her mother-ship. Cosmetics behemoth Revlon was looking for a face for its new lipstick shade, “Fatal Apple”. They wanted to do a full-color, two-page national ad. Revlon recruited Dorian for the ad, and it was the start of a beautiful—and lucrative—relationship.
She went on to advertise for Revlon’s “Sheer Dynamite," “Fashion Plate,” and “Cherries in the Snow”. Her most famous pose, however, was just around the corner.
Dorian Leigh was 35 years old when she hit her prime. It was another Revlon ad, this time for a shade called “Fire and Ice”. Leigh was literally sewn into a silver sequined dress and also donned a huge red wrap. The ad copy was provocative for the time.
It suggested that the Revlon shade was for those “who love to flirt with fire…who dare to skate on thin ice". It is an iconic ad that won the Magazine Advertisement of the Year award. Dorian Leigh had officially reached her peak—but what followed was a slow and merciless decline.
By 1947, Dorian’s younger sister Florian—who was now going by Cissy—had found a husband. She thought that married life looked good on Cissy and decided to try it out for the second time. Cissy set up Dorian up with Roger Mehle, who was an officer just like her husband.
Sparks flew and by 1948, a slightly pregnant Dorian strolled down the aisle with a new husband on her arm.
Now that Dorian was a wife and feeling more maternal, it was time to get her other children back. Her parents brought the kids up from Florida to Pennsylvania, where Dorian and Mehle had settled. Even though she had three kids to take care of, she was now anxious to get back to work.
She’d been with the same modeling agency since the beginning but was having trouble getting her calls returned. The model also noticed that the agency was neglectful in paying her in a timely manner. In short, she was fed up with the agency. That's when she put a wild idea into action.
Dorian decided to start her own modeling agency: Fashion Bureau. Her idea was to revolutionize the way models received money for their work. She developed a voucher system for models so, instead of waiting for the clients to get around to paying them, they would receive their salary weekly.
Dorian also shared her ideas with Eileen Ford, who went on with her husband to start Ford Models—one of the world’s most prestigious agencies. But sadly, the model's own business pursuits didn't go as planned.
Dorian eventually closed her modeling agency when she married and, ironically, approached the agency she had helped create: Ford Models. She had an unusual offer for the Fords, who were still trying to get their feet on the ground. She said that she would work for them on one condition—that they hire her little sister sight unseen.
The Fords were intrigued. A high-profile client like Dorian Leigh would certainly be a leg up. But who was this sister?
While the Fords were certainly interested in signing on Dorian, they came back at her with their own demand: Before they signed her sister on, they wanted to meet the girl for lunch. Likely, the Fords expected to see a young woman resembling Dorian, but boy, were they wrong.
When the Fords met Cecilia (now Suzy Parker), she was just 15 years old. She was a good head taller than her sister and had a fairly large body, red hair, and green eyes. But Suzy's appearance didn't phase the Fords, and they eagerly signed up both women.
In the end, Suzy’s career would eclipse Dorian's. She would go on to grace the covers of many magazines and even have a TV and film career. Suzy would also be the first model to take home $100,000 annually. Not only that, The Beatles would even write a song for her.
Dorian Leigh, on the other hand, had an ever-expanding family to deal with.
After her third child arrived in 1949, Dorian's husband was busy with his naval career, while she busied herself with jobs in New York and Paris. Yes, life was frantic, but if you think that maybe she had regrets about starting a family, you’re wrong. Dorian told Look magazine that she “would rather have a baby than a mink coat".
Yes, the model knew she wanted her children, but did she still want her husband?
The summer before Dorian's famous quote about babies over furs, she met someone in Paris. His name was Alfonso Cabeza de Vaca and he was a married Spaniard who was 11 years younger than her. He was a race car, bobsleigh driver, and pilot. But best of all, he was a part of the Spanish aristocracy.
What was Dorian doing? Didn’t she have a happy home life back in the states?
It seemed that Dorian Leigh’s Spanish lover had a thing for older women: His wife was also several years older than him. This love match between Dorian and Alfonso, however, hadn’t been totally random.
It seemed that Alfonso had seen the famous model in her Revlon ad for “Ultraviolet” and had become obsessed. When he got the chance to meet his Revlon siren, he jumped at it. They met in Paris and the city of love helped spark a passionate romance.
While Dorian pranced around Paris with her racecar-driving lover, her kids were back in Florida with her parents and her husband had his army duties to attend to. So, what if she had a lover in Europe? What harm could come of it? Well, complications did arise—and they were unimaginably terrible.
Near the end of her summer of love, Dorian found herself pregnant with Alfonso’s child. It was clear to her that her husband would be able to do the math and know that the baby wasn’t his. If she went ahead and had the child, she would risk ending her marriage and worse still, losing custody of the child she shared with Mehle.
Dorian had a hard decision to make, but neither choice seemed right.
In the end, Dorian decided to end her pregnancy. Ironically, Alfonso’s wife had also become pregnant—we may want to add “impregnating women” to Alfonso’s already very impressive resume. Dorian fled the scene.
She returned to the US and promptly divorced Mehle. However, the second phase of her plan took place in neither France nor the states. She needed to go south.
As soon as her divorce was final, Dorian went to Mexico where she had arranged to meet up with her Spanish lover, Alfonso. The plan was for them to tie the knot down there, but there was one little problem.
Alfonso hadn’t divorced his wife yet. Well, they’d come all the way down to Mexico. Why not go through with the marriage anyway? They did, which meant that Alfonso now had two wives.
The truth was, Alfonso didn’t really have two wives. The fact that he was still married when he tied the knot with Dorian just meant that his marriage to her didn’t count. Of course, just because they weren’t lawfully wed, it didn’t mean they couldn’t carry on as if they were.
Even when Alfonso’s real wife gave birth to their child, he continued his affair with his model "wife". Most people thought she was crazy for wasting her time with Alfonso, including renowned designer Coco Chanel.
Dorian refused to listen to Chanel's warning—that she was "throwing her life away on an idiot". Unsurprisingly the model fell pregnant again. But because she was no longer married to Mehle, this didn’t have to be a huge scandal. However, this was still 1955, and getting pregnant out of wedlock was still considered taboo.
But Dorian didn’t want to end another pregnancy, so she came up with a plan.
In order to avoid the scandal of giving birth without a husband, Dorian decided to hide away when her pregnancy began to show. She knew silent film star Charlie Chaplin had a place in Switzerland, so she asked if she could join his rather large family there until she could secretly give birth to her child.
Dorian didn’t even tell her parents the truth. Instead, she claimed to be staying at a tuberculosis clinic.
When Dorian had her son—who she named Kim Blas—she thought she could finally solidify her relationship with Alfonso. But did Alfonso still want her? He was now dating Linda Christian—who had previously been married to actor Tyrone Power.
In addition to this insult, Alfonso had borrowed $15,000 from Dorian. Maybe it was finally dawning on her that she couldn’t count on Alfonso for anything. Still, the new mother needed money for her and her baby, and at the age of 40, modeling was no longer an option. So, she did what came naturally: She opened a modeling agency.
In spite of his open relationship with Christian, Alfonso still wanted to be with Dorian. Apparently, Alfonso promised to leave his wife, and he even set a date. He planned to sign the official papers on May 9, 1957. The day before that, however, Aflonso entered a race called the Mille Miglia in Italy. If you sense a tragedy coming—you got it right.
The day before Alfonso was set to be free of his wife, Dorian received a distressing phone call. It wasn’t from Alfonso but from his mother. It seemed that Alfonso had lost control of his vehicle during the race—a tire had exploded, and the car plowed into a group of spectators.
Nine people, among them five children, lost their lives. Alfonso and his co-driver didn’t survive the fiery explosion. Dorian was devastated, but there was more heartache to come.
When Alfono’s car crash happened, Dorian’s sister Suzy Parker was in the middle of filming a movie with Cary Grant. Suzy exposed her sister's hard-kept secret: She let it slip to a gossip reporter that Dorian and Alfonso had a son together. Sadly, this was how Dorian's parents found out about her latest child.
They quickly let Dorian know how they felt—and gave her a chilling ultimatum. They told her that they would be taking her children away from her and that they would never accept Kim Blas into the family. Dorian begged her parents to let her see her children. They eventually relented...but lived to regret it.
When Dorian arrived in Florida to visit her three children, she had a secret plan. The two older teens were already in high school so she felt they were better off with her stable parents. Young Eve, however, was still a child.
Dorian went behind her parents' backs and surreptitiously grabbed Young Eve and took her back to Europe. I guess she really wanted to bring home a nice older sister to her new baby boy. But what kind of life would there be for Young Eve in Europe?
Dorian set up her little family in France but realized she needed to make money. Luckily, she still had the modeling agency she’d set up after Alfonos’s accident. What's more? She was pregnant again. But sadly, this pregnancy would only end in tears.
Later that year, a pregnant Leigh was at the hospital when she received the most devastating news.
Turns out, a car her sister Suzy and her father had been traveling in was hit by a train. The pair had been on their way to visit Dorian's mother, who had been hospitalized because of cancer.
Suzy had multiple bone breaks, but her father had not survived. Overcome with grief, Dorian approached her gynecologist and made a drastic request.
Dorian was in so much despair over losing her father in the car crash that she asked her gynecologist to end her pregnancy—which he did. But in the wake of all this turmoil, she did something remarkable.
She married her gynecologist, Serge Bordat, only days later. And what was the first thing she asked her new husband for? A new baby of course.
Dorian’s new husband said he was too young to have a child. This was the wrong thing to tell the baby-crazy model. She immediately packed her bags and moved out of their apartment. Then, while on a ski vacation in Switzerland, she came up with a plan.
Dorian decided to sleep with a handful of men in one week and hopefully by the end of it, she’d be pregnant. She was at Klosters ski resort, which was likely swarming with hot young eligible donors. Dorian rolled up her sleeves and got down to work.
By September 1961, Dorian's little ski resort scheme had worked. Unfortunately, one of her own models exposed her dirty dealings to her husband. This betrayal likely contributed to their eventual divorce. But that wasn't all.
Dorian also kept the truth from her daughter Miranda, failing to tell her that Bordat wasn't her biological father. Miranda didn't discover her scandalous origin story until she reached her teen years.
But after all this hardship, Dorian still wasn't done with conventional marriage.
Three years after Miranda's birth, Dorian met and married a writer from Israel. Iddo Ben-Gurion was just 23 when he married the 47-year-old Dorian. Ben-Gurion was, however, not just a writer. He was also involved in the drug trade.
To make matters even worse, he was pilfering money from Dorian’s modeling agency. This was husband number five for Leigh, and she dispensed with him as efficiently as she’d done with the others. Divorcing him, however, didn’t bring her lost money back.
Since her fifth husband had squandered most of her money, Dorian found herself in desperate need of financial security. She decided to study cooking and even tried a risky business venture, opening a restaurant, which she called Chez Leigh. That establishment was open from 1973 to 1975. But sadly, by 1976, Dorian was completely broke.
Word got back to the states that the ex-model was in dire straits, and a call came in from New York City: Could she be an office manager? Dorian realized it was finally time to come home.
When Dorian arrived in New York to work as an office manager at a modeling agency, she realized she could reconnect with one of her children. If you remember, Kim Blas was the child she'd had with Alfonso. It turned out that Kim now lived in New York City and, against all odds, had become friends with Anthony de Portago—the son that Alfonso had had with his wife while seeing Dorian on the side.
It was great to reunite with her long-lost son, but not all was well with Kim Blas.
It didn’t take Dorian long to realize that her son Kim struggled with addiction. Her solution was to send him off to live with his aunt Suzy in California. Suzy assumed that Kim would be trying to quit his addiction, and when she found out he wasn’t, she kicked him out of her house.
Kim returned to New York City where he made the most tragic decision of all.
Dorian had only reunited with her son for a short six months before he took his own life. He left behind a note and jumped out of his apartment window on the 33rd floor. Dorian took time to recover from her son’s departure, and as she grew into her older years, the once-wild model left her dramatic life behind.
Dorian Leigh spent her remaining days in Pound Ridge, New York. To make ends meet, she made pâtés for local delis and even collaborated with uber chef Martha Stewart. The end came for the celebrated model in 2008 when she passed in a nursing home due to Alzheimer's disease.
Dorian made it to 91 years, outliving two of her own children.
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