Supermodels Recall Lives of Sex, Drugs, and Fear of Aging


Jerry Hall, still fabulous after 50 with her long blonde hair and leopard print dress, her down-home, gutsy, throaty Texas twang still there after the years she has spent living in England, says she thinks it's bad that we have as role models people who look scary to small children.

Many of the women in the film touch on the peril of aging for those who make their living by being beautiful. "You do live in a bubble. Everyone tells you how beautiful you are," says Beverly Johnson , who became the first African American woman to grace the cover of Vogue in August 1974.

When she was modeling, a career lasted three to four years. She had a good friend who was graduating from college, getting married, making a down payment on a house. "And I'm living in fear of getting older," she says, as we see her strutting down runways looking gorgeous.

There are tales of racism, of drug overdoses, of AIDS. There is the story of a fashion director calling for one black woman in a cast of more than 30. Hall recalls the era when you'd wonder if a friend was so thin because he was smoking too much, drinking too much …. or because he had AIDS. Jade Hobson, fashion director for Vogue, says she used to stand by the photographer with binoculars just to make sure everything was in place. One day she saw track marks on supermodel Gia Carangi's arms. Carangi died at age 26 of AIDS.

"We exploited these girls," admits Hobson. The drugs, adds Hobson, "brought a certain look." So the industry turned the other cheek.

But the women who lived to tell the story tell it well in "About Face," and while they remember the pain of their youth, they revel in where their lives have taken them today. Great fun are the stories of being discovered: Jerry Hall went to Paris, then to the French Riviera, expecting to be discovered. And within an hour after she walked outside one morning, she was.

Carol Alt has a different tale of being discovered. "I was waitressing at a beer and steak place on Long Island," she told ABC News. Her father -- "the first feminist I knew," she says -- was a fireman with four children in college, and Carol was in ROTC so that she could attend Hofstra University in the fall. A photographer who was on his way to the more tony enclave of the Hamptons told the tall 17-year-old waitress she should be a model. She rolled her eyes. But he kept at her. "It was Friday night, I was busy," says Alt. "I finally said, 'OK, give me your number.'"

Two weeks later, after breaking up with her boyfriend, she called the photographer, who directed her to an agency. It wasn't long before she was at a magazine where an editor squawked, "Who cut your hair? Your eyebrows look like s---, and you're too big for our clothes." But it wasn't long before she found herself, 15 pounds lighter, on her way to Europe for an Italian Harper's Bazaar fashion shoot.

"We were up at four o'clock in the morning, living on three hours of sleep for two solid weeks," she said. "They'd bring a sandwich of bread and ham with the crusts cut off. It was very very hard work and very little food." Returning to New York, she said, she had changed so much that her mother didn't recognize her at the airport. "She walked by me six times. I burst into tears. I was pale, I was green, I was emaciated."

Nevertheless, Alt speaks of her modeling career with great fondness. (It's hardly over: She posed partially nude in Playboy at age 48, and she's acted in more than 50 films, most recently Woody Allen's "To Rome With Love.") Ask her what her favorite thing about modeling was, and she doesn't hesitate to answer in one word: "Freedom. Freedom to be who I wanted to be. I wasn't that gawky kid in high school that everyone wanted to make fun of."

"We lived the greatest adventure," Hall says of the glamour and the days and nights with Warhol and Dali and transvestites in Paris who were great fun. "It was about making a whole world."

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