William Adrian — Eight Decades In Teen Modeling

William Adrian discovered Cheryl Tiegs, Linda Gray, Kim Carnes and Barbie Benton.

Since 1948, Adrian has operated a teen modeling agency and modeling school out of Pasadena, California.

I call him Friday morning. He’s busy placing a second girl in the lead float in tomorrow’s Rose Parade. He’s been doing that for eight decades.

William has a memoir and he is looking for a publisher.

We connected because I interviewed TV producer Al Burton a few years ago. Bill used to send talent to Al’s TV show Tele-teen Report.

Luke: “Mr. Adrian, how are you today?”

Bill: “I’m all right. I’m having a tough time getting another girl for the Rose Parade. I know who I want but I don’t know if I can get a hold of her.”

Luke: “When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?”

Bill: “I wanted to be a race car driver. And then I wanted to be a movie star.”

“I was a good looking guy and the girls all liked me and so a lot of people thought I should be in the movies and I started getting ideas like that.”

Luke: “How did you become a modeling agent?”

Bill: “I had that idea in the back of my mind all the time as I was growing up. Then I got into sales work and I was very good at it. I was with Proctor & Gamble and Lehman Brothers. I married a wonderful girl, Mary Egner, who was an artist. She was from a wealthy family in New Jersey. They were number one in Who’s Who in America.

“We went to California together. She to be a great artist and me to be a movie star. We saved our money up and got married and came out here.

“We were married for about three years. She had an unfortunate death in the family. Her mother. It screwed up our marriage because she inherited a fortune and they wanted to keep it away from me. They appeared and ruined our marriage.”

Luke: “How did you start up your modeling agency?”

Bill: “I had already started it. I had the idea that Pasadena was a good place because they had the kind of girls I grew up with back in New York. A real clean-cut outdoorsy look. And I started with three girls.

“When my wife left and went back East and she decided not to come back, I had nothing more to do than to continue where I was and I made a big success of it.”

Luke: “Was there a turning point?”

Bill: “I realized I could be very successful because I had people come to me and want to put up a 100 franchises nationwide with no money out of my pocket. After thinking it all over, I turned them down. But I realized I had something. I was the only teen agency in the country. And the original.

“I had some terrific girls like Cheryl Tiegs, Linda Gray, Kim Carnes and Barbie Benton.

“Look magazine did a beautiful feature on me in its July 3, 1951 issue. It was called, ‘School For Teenage Models’. It looked like an ad and it did a world for me.”

Luke: “How did you discover Cheryl Tiegs?”

Bill: “When I spoke at Alhambra High School on career day. I picked her out of over 200 girls. She was 16. I thought she had a great look. Nobody called me for 30 days and then all of a sudden someone called. It was her mother. It turned out her father was an undertaker. Cheryl had a personality just like one. I made her a famous model.”

Luke: “How long was she with you?”

Bill: “Four-and-a-half years.”

Luke: “And how did you find Linda Gray?”

Bill: “The same way. When I spoke at Notre Dame Catholic over at Santa Monica, I picked her out of about 150 girls. I gave her a card and told her to give it to her mother and if she was interested, to call me.”

Luke: “And Barbie Benton?”

Bill: “Barbie Benton was a pain in the ass. Her real name is Barbara Klein. She was Miss Junior California and was down here on a social visit, and a prominent photographer spotted her and called me and said, ‘We’ve got a girl here who’s a cover girl. Do you want me to bring her over if she is interested?’ I said, ‘Yeah, bring her right over.’

“I worked with her and got her a cover assignment that weekend she was here. Then she went home. She lived in Carmichael, outside of Sacramento. Her father is a prominent doctor. But she was real hot to model for me but I didn’t like her mother. Her mother brought her down for some testing. I did some testing. I made her mother wait in the office, in a hot office, for a couple of hours.

“And the next week, she called. I told the mother right over the phone, ‘I don’t think that I can work with your daughter. I don’t care for you. I know I’ll never get along with you.’ She blew her top.

“Barbie kept hounding me. The next call I got from her, she was at UCLA. She had just been accepted. And that’s how it started. I kept putting her off. One day she said, ‘Mr. Adrian, if you don’t take me as a model, I am going to answer this thing called ‘Playboy After Dark’, a TV show put on by a guy named Hugh Hefner.’ And she said, ‘I’m going to try for it.’

“That day she went over, Hugh Hefner happened to come down and watch what was going down, and he spotted her and that’s how it all happened.”

Luke: “How about Kim Carnes?”

Bill: “Kim Carnes is a San Marino girl. A beautiful small girl. Just a lovely girl in every department. She did well with me even though she was so tiny. She became Junior Miss California through my promotion and she was very grateful for that.

“I remember her asking me to listen to some songs she had. She and this girl were writing songs. She said, ‘Mr. Adrian, I love the modeling but I know I am very limited because I’m small, I want to be a famous songwriter.’ I said, ‘Oh Christ.’

“She said, ‘Will you come up and let me play a couple of tunes for you. I think I’ve got a couple of hits.’ I said, ‘Well, all right.’ I went and listened and they sounded like everything else I heard in rock n’ roll. But I told her they were good.

“And she went from there and she made it. I didn’t help her much get into the song business.”

Luke: “Why do you think you’ve been so successful in the modeling business?”

Bill: “Because I’m honest. Because I’m straight-forward. Because I’m damn good at picking talent. And I know what to do with it. Eileen Ford said I had the best eye for talent in the business.”

Luke: “How do you think you developed that idea?”

Bill: “I was born with that gift. I’ve always had an eye for the girls. The funny part of it is, Luke, that I am not very interested in models. I’m interested in girls on the heavy side. The plump side. That round old fashioned look. But I have a real good eye for talent, for girls who can do things.”

Luke: “Have you ever fallen in love with any of your models?”

Bill: “Yeah, I think I fell in love with one, but I didn’t realize it. I never admitted it. I still don’t. I don’t know if she knew it or not. Nothing ever happened. We were very good friends. I am very good friends with her family.

“There was another one who was determined that I was in love with her. I thought that maybe I was, but she was impossible. She was just so aggressive, so forward. I’m glad I broke that one off.

“She became a famous pianist. That’s what I told her she was really good at. I said, ‘You’re OK as a model but you’re sensational as a pianist.’ She lived next door to the Reagans. When Reagan became president, she was invited to play at the White House. She was on all the big shows. She had her own program. She was terrific. That was Linda Gentile. She changed her last name to ‘Gentille.’

“She said, ‘This business is all run by Jews. They’ll see my name spelled ‘Gentile’ and they’re not going to like me.”

Luke: “How many times have you been married?”

Bill: “Twice. Both times for three years to the same girl. I married her twice out of sympathy.”

Luke: “How did your work in modeling affect your social life with women?”

Bill: “I got very very dominant and very impatient with women in general because I could read them like a book. And I didn’t want anything from them. But I knew how to promote. They’re way ahead of men. I think women are ten times smarter than men. So I just went about my life. I’m very frank with women. I don’t get involved any more. I had lots of romances in my twenties and a few affairs in my thirties and forties but it doesn’t bother me any more. When I see a girl I know I could really go for if I was young again, that’s as far as it goes. I don’t do anything about it. I may tell her that. I’ve said, ‘I wish I was 30 years younger. I’d be a candidate for you.'”

Luke: “Were women you dated intimidated because you worked with models?”

Bill: “Yeah. They all got jealous. One girl is like my daughter. Omega Mitchell. I love her very much, but I love her as a daughter, not as romance. When her mother died, I stepped in and helped her. I’ve got her to a point now where she is very successful. She’s the administrator of a hospital. I got her into nursing when I knew that I was getting older and something might happen.

“When she got older, she became my assistant. Then I gave her the agency but after about three months, she wanted to give it back to me. She said it was too difficult.”

Luke: “What do you love and what do you hate about your work?”

Bill: “What I hate about my work, well, like right now, this decision I’ve got to make about which girl I’m gonna get when I get through with you for that float. I’ve got three girls in mind. I’ve got a good reason to give it to each one of them. I know my favorite, but I can’t get a hold of her. So it is going to the second girl. She’s the best one of all. She’d do more for the agency. The third one is very beautiful but she’s every narrow. She doesn’t know much about what is going on. Whichever one I pick, I’m going to feel bad for the other two. The one I should pick is not one of my favorites. I don’t care much for her, but she’s real social and she’s a big time operator at her high school. She’d do me a lot of good so I’ll probably pick her if I can get her. I don’t know who the hell I can get.”

Luke: “What type of girls become your favorites?”

Bill: “Girls that are understanding, sympathetic, have compassion. Girls that I can talk to like a Dutch Uncle or just like a model agent. Girls who will listen and don’t think that they know everything.”

Luke: “What percentage of the girls you work with are like that?”

Bill: “If they don’t become too successful, I’d say that maybe 40% are like that, but if they hit it big time, they start believing their own publicity, and they start believing that I was just put on earth to discover them and to get them going, but they think that they did it all. That’s 90% of them. Fortunately, the other 10% do remember me. I always have girls coming back. Some of the big ones have remembered me all the way, but most of them have just taken what they could and gone on.”

Luke: “Who were some of the big ones who remembered you?”

Bill: “Linda Gray appreciated everything I did for her. Linda Gentille was very appreciative, but she was over-bearing. I had to get rid of her. She ended up working for Donald Trump. At his hotel, she was it. She could do what she wanted. She was the number one attraction.

“They opened up a place up the street called the Mirage and she left Trump to go up there. Trump was really upset. She was supposed to start a couple of days later.

“She had this manager. I have a suspicion that he was also her boyfriend.

“She went and tried the piano out. She played it for about five minutes and said, I’m not going to play this piano. I don’t like it.

“They said, you better play it. This is a brand new piano. My boss paid $10,000 for it. She said, I don’t care if you paid $100,000, I’m not going to play it.

“He called up his boss and his boss says if she doesn’t play that piano, she doesn’t work there. He told her that and she said, that’s fine, I won’t work for you.

“So, she couldn’t go back to Trump. She was embarrassed. So she opened up a little music school in her own house in Atlantic City.”

Luke: “What do you remember about Marilyn Monroe?”

Bill: “I met her three times.

“The first time I met her, I was trying to get into the business. I picked up this woman (Miss Emmeline Snively) who had this place called Blue Book Models in the older Ambassador Hotel. Miss Snively was very nice and let me go over there. I took a real snobby gorgeous girl from USC with me to get her opinion.

“Miss Snively showed me everything she did. She was just as kind and nice as she could be.

“All of a sudden, she says, ‘Three of my girls are out at the swimming pool. They’re doing a story with the LA Examiner.’ She said, ‘If you want to go out there, I’ll introduce you to them and you can see what you think of them.’

“So we went out and she said, ‘This is Miss Jayne Mansfield. This is Marilyn Monroe. This is Mamie Van Doren.’

“I turned around to the girl with me and said, ‘They look like three hookers to me.’ And the girl smiled and said, ‘They do to me too.’

“I never thought any more about her.

“About a year later, I was starting to get a little done. I was interviewed on a television show at CBS on the old Vine St. place. I was waiting for my ride up front.

“This girl comes sauntering up the street. She was very cute. I said, I know this sounds corny, but haven’t I seen you somewhere before? And she looked at me and said, ‘You know something? You look familiar too.’

“I said, ‘I swear I met you somewhere. What do you do for a living?’

“She said, ‘I did some modeling for Blue Book Models.’

“I said, ‘Miss Snively.’

“She said, ‘Yes. I met you at the swimming pool.’

“I said, ‘That’s right. Which one are you?’

“She said, ‘I’m Marilyn Monroe. I’m living across the street at the Studio club for $7 a week. A lot of young actresses stay there when they are trying to get started.’

“I said, ‘How are you doing?’ She said, ‘I just got signed at 20th Century Fox. I’m getting $75 a week on a six month contract.’ She said, ‘I’ll never last. I can’t act. I’m no good at it.’

“I said, ‘I hope you have good luck. God bless you.’ She said OK. My ride came and that was that.

“The third time I saw her and the last time was at the San Anita race track. I was doing publicity for the race track with models. And I had a pass to the best box in the place. And I sat there with my late sister and I said, ‘I’m going to put a bet on a horse. I don’t know anything about horses but I’m going to put a bet on one.’ And she said, ‘Put one for me too. Here!’

“She gave me $2. As I went up to the line, I could see this knock-out girl from behind in a short black silk dress. She was a blonde.

“As I got near to the line, she happened to turn around and looked my way and she said, ‘You’re Mr. Adrian.’

“I said, ‘For God’s sakes, you’re that same girl, aren’t you?’

“She said, ‘Yeah, I’m Marilyn Monroe.’

“We got talking. I said, ‘How are you doing?’

“She said, ‘Oh, I’m terrible. I go to acting classes every day. They’ve renewed my contract. I get a $150 a week. But I can’t act. They put me in a little part in a movie, a tiny speaking part. When that thing comes out next week, I’ll be finished. I know I’ll never go anywhere from there.”

“I said, ‘For God’s sakes, that’s wonderful. What is it? I want to go see it.’

“She said, ‘I’m not going to tell you what it is. I don’t want you to see it. I’m going to be terrible in it.’

“I said, ‘Hey, look, Marilyn. Tell me what it is. I want to see it. I have a lot of confidence in you and I have a feeling that you are going to be somebody.’

“She said, ‘Well, OK. It’s called All About Eve.”

“And that was the one she was discovered in.

“I never saw her again.”

Luke: “What affect does modeling have on teenagers?”

Bill: “It has a very different affect on different people. Some girls are just so excited about it that they can’t stop and every little thing they do, they just love it. Other girls are excited about it when they get started, but they’ve heard a lot about me and when they come in here, they think they’re going to become famous and I have to get that out of their head to start with. Very few people become famous in modeling or acting or anything.

“I had a girl one day who was just starting out. I had an appointment with a man like you who wanted to look over some of the girls. He was doing a story. She left. I got rid of her because he was there.

“I said to him, ‘Here are some pictures. Here are some of my best girls. Which one do you want to do a story on?’

“He said, ‘I don’t have to look at those pictures. I’ve already picked my girl. The girl that was in the office.’

“I said, ‘For Christ sakes, she’s just starting with me.’

“He said, ‘That’s the one I want.’

“So I got her. And he used her. And what do you think happened? It went to her head completely. She was worthless in a modeling class. The girls couldn’t get along with her. She thought she knew everything.

“The next thing that happened was that I got a call from an agency up on Sunset Bl. The guy said, ‘Hey Adrian, if you don’t get this goddamn girl out of my office, I’m never going to call you again for a model.’

“I said, ‘What’s the matter with her?’

“He said, ‘She’s sitting on my desk using my phone making an appointment with her boyfriend for dinner. She’s impossible to talk to. I don’t want anything to do with her.’

“That was the end of her. I called her father and said, ‘Come and get your daughter. I don’t want to work with her anymore. She’s impossible.’

“He said, ‘Well, it’s because she got that job too easy. It went to her head. She’s only 16. I’m sorry.’

“That’s how it affects some of them.”

Luke: “How about parents? Have they changed in relationship to their daughters?”

Bill: “Yes. In the old days when I got started here and I started getting publicity in Look magazine and people started hearing my name, because they were very suspicious of me when I started, they wondered who that guy was with all the pretty girls, what the hell is he up to?

“They saw this one girl who was doing very well with me… Just a gorgeous girl and I bawled the hell out of her a few times and this girl went home and she came back the next day and she worked hard. Well, the difference is, in those days, when I would bawl them out, they would go home and their parents would say in these rich homes, ‘You show him that you can do that.’ They’d come back and they would show me.

“But today, if something doesn’t go right and they don’t like it, and they go home and tell their mother, their mother will say, ‘Oh darling, forget about that. Remember how you said you were interested in water skiing? Well, let’s look into that. Forget the modeling.’ That’s the difference.”

Luke: “Has the type of look that makes for success changed over the decades?”

Bill: “I started out with the idea of promoting the natural look, the All-American girl. I wasn’t well accepted because the sophisticate was the one they wanted, the tall, thin psuedo-sophisticated girl. My girl was not that type. But today it has gotten to be more and more the type of girl that I promote. The natural look is a hot number now.”

Luke: “Is this different from the very skinny look?”

Bill: “Back in New York, they still have to have that skinny look to model fashion but they are getting a little more accepting of a more natural figure. There are a few agencies that do the plump girl. What they hell do they call that? They have a name for it.”

Luke: “Curvy?”

Bill: “Yeah. But they haven’t been real successful. The skinny girl is still the big thing. I’ve never been into that. I’ve always worked with Juniors, which is a smaller-sized girl and usually clean-cut and outdoor looking. That’s the type of girl I feature.”

Luke: “Why do you think the fashion world likes really skinny girls who almost look like boys?”

Bill: “They have the idea that they show the clothes off better. They’re not selling girls. They’re selling clothes. And they feel that that type of girl highlights the clothes for the buyer.”

Luke: “Would you say that modeling is a healthy career for teenage girls?”

Bill: “A modeling career is a healthy career for any age girl if she uses it right, if she takes advantage of it. If she conducts her life, goes to school, does her homework, has friends, and models on the side, it’s a good thing. I don’t think it is a good thing if they quit school and just go all out for the modeling.

“In the old days with that San Marino bunch, an education was first. A good college was second. And then a good marriage was third. That’s why most of them went to college — to make a good marriage.”

Luke: “How has your business changed?”

Bill: “This recession has kicked me in the ass. I’ve been through a two or three recessions and I never felt anything. But this one has really hit me. And people are so enthusiastic when they come in. I do an interview. If I’m interested, they know it. If I’m not, they know it.

“We part friends. If I think they’re good, I make a little test of them. I don’t charge for it. I provided girls for over 700 Kodak ads in 32 years.

“If I think the girl is good, I find out from that test. I find out about her personality and her attitude. I don’t think that has changed too much except that the parents don’t have the money to send the girl to the modeling school.

“I tell them, if you’re not in a position to pay for this, then forget it. You can live without modeling.

“Too many of them think about it and take my advice.”

Luke: “How important is a modeling school to produce a model?”

Bill: “I have the head teacher here who trains the Tournament of Roses queen and court. That’s very prestigious. They hire her to pick the whole wardrobe.”

“Right now I have about 12 girls in my modeling class. I have about 40 people in my agency.”

Luke: “How often are drugs a problem with your models?”

Bill: “I’ve never known it to be a problem.”

Luke: “What are the good things about growing older?”

Bill: “People start opening doors for you. And smiling when you have a lousy look on your face and you don’t feel very good. What I don’t like about growing older is that many people who are younger, people like you, who do a lot of listening, and many times think ‘That bastard, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about’.”

Luke: “How do you like living in Pasadena?”

Bill: “I don’t like living in Pasadena. I never did and I never will. It’s full of snobby people with old money who came out here from the East, set up shop with beautiful homes and did a lot of entertaining… The generations have come down to now where there are a lot of people from other places who live here and making it more of a city but you still have a good percentage of people with a big bump on their shoulder… Some of them don’t even have any money anymore but they still have that attitude.”

“The other thing I don’t like about it is the goddamn Tournament of Roses white suiters. I can’t stand those bastards walking around like they are big-time operators wearing these white suits. They get a big head on their shoulders.”

Luke: “What keeps you working?”

Bill: “It gives me a reason to get up in the morning. Every time I get disgusted with these girls, some little voice calls on the phone like they just did a minute ago and says, ‘Are you Mr. Adrian? I’m interested in modeling.’ And it starts all over again.”

About Luke Ford

I’ve written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).

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