Murph Damron, Indiana native, former model and fashion show producer extraordinaire worked in the fashion industry back when Betsy Johnson was a Chicago-scene newcomer, when models were first showing unbridled emotion in their photos, back when midriff showing was newly acceptable. Next week Murph will celebrate her 65th birthday, and in honor of that milestone we bring you a brief chronicle of her modeling journey, in her own words.
Happy birthday, Murph!
As the daughter of a dentist in northern Indiana, I’d never envisioned myself with a “white picket fence” life. Instead I wanted to be a truck driver, you know, a BIG RIG. That free wheelin’ lifestyle appealed to me, but then I became interested in clothes and fashion through the teen magazines of the time (Teen, Co-Ed) and I idolized the models, especially Colleen Corby.
As I got older I graduated to magazines like Mademoiselle, Glamour, Vogue and Harpers Bazaar and idolized the ‘50s models, like Wilhelmina (later my N.Y. agent and very close friend), Sonny Harnett (Later my first booker on Ford’s Jr. model board and a great friend) and Suzy Parker (a muse of famed photographer Richard Avedon.) Suzy’s sister, Dorian Leigh (also a model and good friend) was Truman Capote’s muse for Holly Golightly’s character in ” Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” I didn’t know then that I would come to know these beautiful women quite well, I only knew I wanted to be like them.
After high school, I went to Chicago to study fashion merchandising and met a photographer who took the photos that formed the basis of my modeling career. After I graduated, I lived and worked in Chicago, appearing in the Chicago Tribune nearly every Sunday along with the Sun during the week. Jobs would vary from swimsuits with fur coats to hanging off the pier or a pole on Navy Pier which is now a beautiful arcade and park.
Besides the print modeling, I worked for Marshall Fields doing the weekly Tea Room shows/collections and it was here that I began to pick up the “Show Biz” scenario, in other words the clothes, fittings, accessories and the fine-tuning which goes into producing a show. All the nit-picking appealed to my own perfectionist nature.
In 1965, the English trendsetter Paul Young brought his British boutique Paraphenalia to Chicago, which featured young, unknown designers like Betsy Johnson, Mary Quant (mother of the miniskirt) and Dianna Dew; the movement was called “Youth Quake.” I quickly became friends Paul and his partner, Jerry Weinstein. Their shows were such a refreshing change from the tea room—the Beatles were blasting constantly. In 1966 when Paul and Jerry asked if I would like to be a part of the film for Paraphenalia in New York over the New Year, my obvious answer was yes.
So I stored my things with my Japanese photographer, Woody Kozumi and headed to NYC. There were just four of us in the film, and Beanie was my partner running and playing in the deep snow in these amazing clothes. It was just magical and make believe which is what modeling always was to me. Playing dress up and being another person was the real “Mrs. Murphy.”
After the film was completed, I stayed in New York and signed with Ford Agency on the Junior Board, booked by Sonny Harnett.
Making the usual ’rounds’ and doing tons more test shots, my experience and book evolved. I did a lot for the teen magazines and one of my ‘go sees’ turned out to be at the Algonquin Hotel for Mary Quant. There were three of us, all different in looks and personalities to represent her line and we’d do 5 – 8 shows a day for all of the media across the U.S. and abroad. Mornings began with champagne and OJ with toast or croissants and we had so much fun. Again I was taking in ALL of the different styles of the show/production and what went on behind the scenes in very tight quarters.
At the end of the 3 weeks, Mary asked me if I would like to do prêt-à-porter (ready-to-wear) in Paris for a week, then for three weeks in London, all expenses paid. I thought about it for 5 minutes and said “YES.” I rang my parents and said I was off to Paris and London, stored my things with another Japanese photographer, Hideoki, and off I went.
The Paris and London shows were FAB and totally/wonderfully exhausting! When you do 5 or so shows in very tight quarters, you become real close with other models like my wonderful friend Karina.
After the London collections were finished, Karina introduced me to a photographer and agency. From there I set out establishing my name and self, once again. I lived with another model and she was a music/rock ‘n’ roll buff who would drag me off to concerts as she had this knack of meeting and going with an amazing variety of men. She went with this drummer and the concerts were so loud I’d just go out and watch the punting on the Thames or take a walk and afterwards go back to the flat and serve up lots of tea and Jaffa’ biscuits. It wasn’t until later that I realized that I was a groupie for the Rolling Stones. But again, the role behind stage was another learning experience as long as I could take the music. Later, she hooked up with Sammy, yes Davis Jr. and that was a whole lot better with the sound vibes.
A couple of years after I’d arrived, Wilhelmina visited London looking for models and asked me to work with her agency in N.Y. As Ford hadn’t really kept in touch I signed with Willy and for some wonderful reason, we became such close friends and I would stay with her when I returned in ’98 for a few months in N.Y. I was already established with U.K. tear magazines like: British Vogue, Tatler, Queen, 19 magazine for which I had my own “Murph Series” (another story), so I began to work for the similar magazines in N.Y.
After, nearly a decade of modeling and working with photographers like Skribneski, Richard Avedon, James Moore, Norman Parkinson, Barbara Bordnick (Sam Waterston’s 1st wife), I decided I wanted to leave the modeling before others thought I should.
I began to represent photographers selling their work and quite often models that I liked to ad agencies and magazines. Everywhere was a new experience now being on the other side of the camera. After 13 years in London, I returned home to Northern Indiana and ended up in Indianapolis in May of 1983 as a Corporate Consultant for U.S. Shoe Company. Again, on another side of the ‘rag trade’ business doing seminars for wardrobes then striking out on my own in the fall of 1984.
With lots of street smarts and logic, doing seminars, organizing, and helping friends with their wardrobe, I was asked to do a show and since I’d been on that side of the profession I agreed. From there it all snowballed and now my ultimate favorite shows are working local not-for-profits.
Today, I just ‘hook em’ and book em’ and that’s a great feeling. Often I will use new models on the scene and take the same chance that clients did on me.
My mother always said I’d never be rich because I’d either give it away or spend it on something to make the show or occasion just right.
Hey, I figure as long as I have enough money to pay Uncle Sam, feed my animals and have wine and cheese in my house, I’m a happy camper!