Richard and Doe Avedon, Photo by Paul Himmel, Fire Island Ferry, Late 1940s.
Last week my Curate column focused on the aesthetic of one of fashion’s favorite films; Funny Face. The Pygmalion-like story of Dick Avery (Fred Astaire), a photographer who falls for the book shop worker turned model he discovers. I couldn’t help but rumble about the 2-dimensional approach to Hepburn’s character in the film, a young woman with ideas and ambitions who begins to question the very foundation of her identity after a first meeting - and first kiss - with Astaire’s character. Such a turn seemed rushed and I interpreted the quick turn as a shallow take on female characters in a time in which complex roles for women were few.
However, upon further examination I realized that the love story, also based off of Richard Avedon’s life was as close to a real life storybook romance as it gets. A relationship that spawned a career and love that seems unlikely to take place in our busy, modern culture. Avedon, as I mentioned previously, consulted for the film but Leonard Gershe, the Funny Face screenwriter was also a friend of Doe Avedon, whom Hepburn’s character was based off of. When 21-year-old Avedon first met the 19-year-old book loving beauty in the 1940s, she went by the name Dorcas Nowell. The story goes that the then budding photographer walked in to Nowell’s bank and fell in love at first sight. The Hollywood Reporter stated in their 2011 obituary for Doe that the two met while she was already modeling. Most accounts report that Nowell had no modeling aspirations prior to meeting Avedon. The photographer convinced her to change her name to Doe, inspired by her bambi-like eyes and transformed her in to a fashion model which she would turn away from to eventually become a stage, television and film actress.
The two wed in 1944 and divorced in 1949. The model divorced Avedon to marry an Actor named Dan Mathews. According to a 2011 New York Times obituary for Doe Avedon Siegel, Richard Avedon told ABC News in 1993 “I would have crawled to the Bronx on my knees to bring Doe back.” The last photo the acclaimed photographer would take of his first muse was in 1947 in which the slender beauty posed in a fur-trimmed Dior coat at the Gare du Nord in Paris.
(L) Doe Avedon, coat by Dior, Photo by Richard Avedon, Gare du Nord, Paris, August 1947. (R) Doe, Photo by Richard Avedon, 1940s.