Colleen Corby: Teen Fashion Icon (The Citizens' Voice - August 30, 2009)

The Citizen's Voice is a Luzerne County, Pennsylvania newspaper. I acquired this article from the paper's website. (Luzerne is where Colleen spent the earliest years of her life.) Parts of this article were clearly taken from the then current Wikipedia article on Colleen as well as fellow model and friend Terry Reno's account of Colleen as a model (see "Colleen the Model"). The author may have also seen some of the early magazine articles about Colleen, but much of the article is from a recent interview he had with her. The "Girl Scout Equipment magazine" was actually a catalog. (American Girl was the Girl Scout's magazine.) Colleen did appear on the cover of Seventeen for the first time when she was 16 years old but the year was 1964, not '63. Colleen's assertion that she was never interested in an acting career is directly contradicted by virtually every article written during her career that mentions her movie contract, including more than one direct quote from Colleen at the time (see 'Teen December 1964). Colleen's appearance on Oprah was actually some time in the mid 1990s.
 

Colleen Corby: Teen fashion icon of the 1960s

BY WILLIAM C. KASHATUS (CORRESPONDENT)
Published: August 30, 2009

During the 1960s, women's clothing fashions assumed a more significant role in American society than ever before. Reflecting the shifting political culture of the time, the styles were more rebellious than the rigid designs of the 1950s. "Hippies," college-aged youths bent on making a political statement, favored relaxed, comfortable and natural clothing such as blue jeans and tie-dyed T-shirts. More acceptable were "modern" fashions characterized by bright-colored bell-bottoms, revealing mini-skirts and hyper-tailored designs. Models who advertised the new fashions were young and appealed to a youth-driven baby boom generation. Among them was Colleen Corby, a native of Wilkes-Barre, who became a cultural icon among the teen girl crowd. One of the first young models to capitalize on the sultry look while retaining an innocent sweetness, Corby graced the cover of Seventeen magazine an unprecedented 15 times during the decade. She also appeared on the covers of American Girl, Teen, Ingenue, Co-Ed, Glamour and Mademoiselle, and modeled for Simplicity, McCall's and Butterick sewing patterns.

Boston Store Model

Born on Aug. 3, 1947, in Wilkes-Barre, Colleen Corby was the eldest daughter of Peggy and Robert Corby, a public relations executive. She was raised nearby in Luzerne, where she led a "nice, normal childhood." "There was really nothing extraordinary about my childhood," Corby recalled in a recent interview. "Just like all the other kids, I walked to school, came home for lunch and played outside after school." The only exception to the "normalcy" was modeling. As a child, Corby began posing for the Boston Store in Wilkes-Barre, usually doing back-to-school advertisements. Her career took off when the family moved to New York City in 1958. The following summer, Corby, just 11 years old, began doing assignments for Eileen Ford's modeling agency in Manhattan. Her first job was a cover shoot for Girl Scout Equipment magazine.

By the end of the summer the assignments were coming so steadily that her parents enrolled her in Manhattan's Professional Children's School, which allowed for the irregular schedules of actors and models. With her dark brown hair, glowing skin and piercing, green eyes, Colleen attracted the attention of several teen magazine editors and posed for the covers of the Girl Scout magazine, American Girl, Teen and Co-Ed. She was already an experienced model by age 16 when she first appeared on the cover of Seventeen in April 1963. Seventeen was a magazine that helped shape teenage life in America by running music and movie reviews, identifying social issues and celebrating icons of popular culture. During the 1960s, the magazine was also becoming a major influence in defining notions of beauty and style among adolescent females. Girls combed its pages, choosing their favorite brunette and blonde models - Terry Reno, Joan Delaney, Rinske Hali, Wendy Hill, Jennifer O'Neill and, of course, Colleen Corby - usually depending on their own coloring. Personal decisions about make-up and clothing were determined on that basis. At 5 feet 7 inches and just 107 pounds, Colleen was more petite than some of the other regular Seventeen models, but her alluring combination of unmistakable innocence and tempered boldness made her an ideal cover girl for the magazine. During the 1960s, Corby's image appeared on the cover an unprecedented 15 times (five times in 1964 alone), and seemed to be on every other page. As a result, she became a hero for a whole generation of 13- to 18-year old girls.

In a profession filled with sensitive egos, Corby was somehow able to bond with a fairly small group of models who appeared together in the ads and editorial pages for Seventeen. They played off one another so smoothly that Corby was comfortable taking center stage or complimenting the lead of another model. Unlike today's supermodels, Corby lived quietly in a Manhattan apartment with her businessman father, stay-at-home mother and little sister, Molly, who was also a model. Between modeling assignments, she spent time doing homework, listening to Andy Williams records and answering her considerable fan mail. "To be honest, modeling was just a job like any other job," said Corby. "I didn't get carried away with it because my family kept me grounded. Though we lived in New York City, my parents' value system was shaped by the Wyoming Valley. They stressed hard work, doing one's best and maintaining a sense of humility."

New Audiences

During the mid-1960s, Corby's popularity was at its peak. She had blossomed into a wholesome young woman whose 32-23-33 measurements attracted a new, adolescent male audience. Her image seemed to be everywhere: TV commercials, magazines and catalogs. Naturally comfortable before a camera, Corby signed a multi-year movie contract with Universal Pictures. "Acting wasn't really something I wanted to do," she admitted. "As a model I had to take acting lessons and I was offered the contract. But I never actively pursued it." By the 1970s, Corby's teen market had vanished, but she continued to appear in magazines like Glamour and Mademoiselle. She was also a fixture in the catalogs of major retailers like Sears and JCPenney.

Corby retired from modeling in 1979 after her marriage only to return briefly to the profession in the early 1980s. After giving birth to two sons - Alexander and Christopher - she left New York and the fashion world for good and turned her full attention to raising a family. "I had no regrets about walking away," said Corby. "I wanted to get married and to have children, and you can't really raise a family and be a full-time professional model. Besides, I was always very busy doing a lot of volunteer work at my sons' schools." Corby's last public appearance came in 2000 on the "Oprah Winfrey Show," though she had some initial reservations. "I had put the modeling career in the past, and I really didn't want to do the show," said Corby. "But Oprah's producers kept calling me, and many of my friends encouraged me to do it. As it turned out, the appearance was a very pleasant experience. I enjoyed meeting Oprah and was flattered to find out that I was her favorite model as a child. Apparently, she even papered her bedroom walls with some of the covers I did for Seventeen."

Corby, now 62, believes she was fortunate to have been a fashion model in the 1960s. "It was a very different industry than it is today," she said. "You didn't have the same pressures (i.e., short deadlines, intense competition, anorexia, designer drugs) that now exist. We were very protected, especially working for Seventeen magazine. The Ford agency was also very careful with young models. It was just a more innocent time." That innocence can still be found in the smiling face of an 11-year-old Corby who appeared on the cover of Girl Scout Equipment magazine 50 years ago.

William Kashatus teaches at Luzerne County Community College. He can be contacted at [email protected]