How Ford Models rose to power under the auspices of a no-nonsense doyenne.
British biographer Lacey (A Brief Life of the Queen, 2012, etc.) colorfully portrays the agency founded in 1947 by Eileen Ford (1922-2014) and her husband, Jerry, and the ensuing modeling empire that would become a pre-eminent force throughout the industry’s heyday. A third of this biography focuses on Ford’s pert Long Island youth as a voracious reader and Nancy Drew fan who found pleasure in high school “sorority socializing.” She changed her Jewish surname from Ottensoser to Otte in order to ensure her acceptance into an elite university (she graduated from Barnard College). An outspoken and bumptious young woman, Ford’s “on-the-fly” (and swiftly annulled) wedding to naval officer Charles Sheppard was followed by her nuptials with 20-year-old Jerry Ford in 1944. A department store advertising gig procuring models stoked her interest in fashion merchandising and the possibilities of combined talent management with her husband. Culled from countless hours of interviews with talent scouts, bookers, celebrities, and Ford herself, Lacey diligently maps the agency’s explosive success and skillfully intertwines the glitz and cutthroat melodrama of the modeling world with Ford’s shrewd, intimidating business strategies, uncanny vision, and ability to merge beauty with fame. The author clearly demonstrates that Ford was a multifaceted woman through both her chilly if well-respected industry reputation and her morality as a doting mother of four who forgave the infidelities of her husband. For as tyrannical as Ford’s legacy has painted her, Lacey concludes his biography with a heartfelt, bittersweet road trip in the summer of 2010 during which Ford, then 88, became a contemplative, almost melancholy tour guide along the streets of her Long Island childhood hometown.
A briskly written, unapologetically frank portrait of “the empress of American modeling—a mixture of Mary Tyler Moore and Barbara Walters, but tougher.”