The Vanity Fair Story: Gabi Part II

Vanity Fair Magazine coverVanity Fair is a magazine of popular culture, fashion, and current affairs. It’s fair to say that most of its readers are under the age of 98. It’s also reasonable to assume that the average patron doesn’t write lengthy responses to articles and get them published, especially when they fill an entire page of the magazine (by comparison, a full page ad in Vanity Fair costs more than $250,000!). But, as was pointed out in our most recent blog article, there is nothing average or typical about Spring Gardens resident Gabi von Kahrs.

A quick Google search brings up several references to articles and artwork associated with Gabi, including this one about her move from Hollywood fashion shows to painter in Palm Springs, or this one about her 90-plus years of globetrotting adventure. It’s clear that magazines and newspapers have found Gabi’s life story to be fascinating. But Vanity Fair is a big deal, and the magazine reportedly never prints such lengthy letters from its readers, no matter who they are. Apparently, the editor had no regrets, sending a signed note to Gabi thanking her for her contribution and informing her that it received an inordinate amount of positive feedback from fellow subscribers.

Gabi’s motivation in writing the letter was the March, 2014 article about Sid Avery, the famous photographer of the Hollywood stars. Since this article is available online in its entirety, we will not say much about it here. We will, however, provide an extensive synopsis of Gabi’s printed letter for those who have taken interest. It reads:

“I was taken by the article on Sid Avery, which was long overdue [“Hollywood’s Private Eye,” by Michael Callahan, March]. I was shocked when he died and no one ever made a fuss about it, because he was one of the greatest photographers in Hollywood. Anyway here in Vanity Fair I am turning pages, and I come upon this picture of Sid Avery as a young man. Then, beneath it is a picture of his studio in Hollywood, on Wilcox and Selma, one block south of Hollywood Boulevard.

At the time, I was working for the Rose Marie Reid swimsuit company as a stylist. We had to have a headshot, which would run in the newspapers togehter with an article telling people that they could bring all their fitting problems to us and we would resolve them in one swimsuit. There was a little ad agency called Medberry Barth, and it booked Sid Avery to take my photograph. This was in 1953. I went on the road and used the picture and everything was fine.

About 20 years later, Rose Marie’s company folded, and I was working with Jane McGowan, a photographer. We had an assistant named Theo, a young Dutchman and a very sweet person. He got tired of Jane and went to work with Sid Avery.  As it happens, a couple of weeks later, Sid needed somebody to decorate a French floral cart for one of his shots for Max Factor. Well, Theo knew I painted, and he suggested me.

I went, I did, and lo and behold, I was Sid Avery’s stylist for the next 10 years. Some of our clients were Schwinn bicycles, Max Factor, US Steel, and Munsingwear, among man others.

One of the models was Alana Stewart. I went to get a beautiful gown from Jean Louis for Alana to be photographed in, and I think we were photographing Brown Jordan lawn furniture at Descanso Gardens. And, of course, it’s early in the morning, because Sid loved to photograph sunrises and sunsets. So Alana was sitting in a beautiful chair. Sid was shooting through raindrops. It was all fake rain – we had rented a rain machine – and the operator gave us just the right amount of rain.

And, Believe it or not, I painted an elephant white in the back of the studio. His name was Bimbo. I believe I painted him with white wash. I didn’t have to rinse him off. That was somebody else’s job. I’m the artist. I do; I don’t undo. I’ve really had a wonderful life.

This is how the Munsingwear underwear ad with Tom Selleck was done: All of the underwear was knit. The shirt goes inside the shorts. The bottom hem of the shirt would leave a welt under the shorts; you can’t undo all of the makeup and take the shirts off, so what you do is reach up under the shorts, pull the shirt down, and cut the seam off of the shirt so there were no lumps in the shorts. So I had to do that. It was the first time I saw these guys, and I didn’t even know their names, and here I am pulling the shirts under their shorts and cutting them off. Needless to say, I think they were very nervous about that, but none of them said a word – they were truly gentlemanly and businesslike . . .

And now, here I am in St. George, Utah, at the request of my brother, living in Spring Gardens Senior living. My brain still works. My hands are questionable. I still play an organ. I paint and teach painting and I am in my 98th year.”

Thank you, Gabi, for sharing this story with us. We love you and are proud to call you a friend!