Monday, October 20, 2008
Wilhelmina (May 1939 - March 1, 1980) was a Dutch supermodel. Born Wilhelmina Behmenburg in the Netherlands, she was known simply as "Willy" to her close friends and family. In 1954, she moved along with her family to Chicago. Illinois. It was during this time she began her modeling career, eventually being represented by Eileen Ford in New York City. Standing at a statuesque 5' 11", Wilhelmina would go on to be one of the most popular models during the 1950's and 60's, gracing the cover of 255 magazines.
In 1965 she married Bruce Cooper, former executive producer of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. In 1967 they founded Wilhelmina Models, a new modeling agency in New York that would cater to a more ethnic looking girl, unlike the girl-next-door blondes that the Ford Agency churned out. Eileen Ford was hurt and angry at first when she learned that one of "her own" that she had built and groomed was to become the competition. Internationally known at the time, known for working hard, Wilhelmina knew everyone in the fashion industry. She called top photographers that she had worked with extensively, to share her excitement over her new venture. To her credit, she was able to translate her knowledge of the business, and give new talent a look based on her own personal philosophy of beauty, glamor and elegance. Wilhelmina Models became the other leading model agency alongside Ford Models, years before Elite Model Management and other agencies began. She would represent such top models as Willow Bay, Gia, Pam Dawber, Janice Dickinson, Angelica Huston, Lauren Hutton and Beverly Johnson.
Wilhemina was a notorious chain smoker and sadly she succumbed to lung cancer at the age of 40 in Greenwich Hospital, Greenwich, Connecticut. She continued to guide the agency into the late 1970s until her untimely death on March 1, 1980.