Sometimes a blank piece of paper is the only way to begin, as it is today. December is a blank canvass, I look out the window and there are only stark undressed tree trunks, and tiny snow rocks on the front lawn. The sky is pale winter blue and the temperature is ten degrees. December is the month that reminds me most of Casey, a woman that threw the dice all her life. She gambled on her dreams.
Casey never told me much about herself. She lived in the present moment, and considered her past a private matter. Once I learned of her struggles as a young woman and the life she’d chosen, she became more real than when I’d known her. During the years we were friends, she handed out selected stories, abruptly, with final endings. Being the inquisitive character, the shallowness of her stories bated me. I had to pry the truth out from other people who had known her, and from government documents.
Casey’s first gamble was at sixteen years old. She sent in a photograph of herself for the Redbook Magazine modeling contest. If she’d won, the Powers Modeling Agency in New York City would grant her an audition as a model. Casey was living in East Orange, New Jersey with her mother and sister. Her father had died suddenly, leaving the family without a financier. Her mother was lost without her husband, and unsuited to join the workplace. Casey didn’t tell her mother about the contest, until she received the letter of congratulations.
John Robert Powers met Casey in his office on East 56th Street and signed her on as a Powers Girl. She was stunning to look at, she photographed like a movie-star, and she was modest. John Powers did not look for aggressive, pouty lipped, fearlessness. The Powers Girls were captioned, Long Stemmed American Beauties because they were wholesome, beautiful, tasteful, courteous, and virtuous. They were so far from the runway models of today it is almost a reversal of style. The models of the thirties were ordained to set the highest example of a classic good breeding, and education. John not only schooled them in fashion, and individual taste, he instructed them in moral integrity, independence, and patriotism for their country. So Casey went to school at John Robert Powers and became one of the top ten models in the country.
She was a blue black haired Irish beauty, with emerald green eyes and perfect teeth. She stood only 5’ 7” but in those days that was fairly standard. When I knew her, she was still thin and beautiful but she did not fuss about herself, or spend a lot of time at her vanity. As a Powers model Casey had a long line of gentlemen callers. Powers Girls were invited to all the nightclub and dinner show openings, the sporting events, community galas and fund-raisers. Social engagements were part of her job. Casey was not a woman of idle chat, in fact a lot of people thought of her as restrained and unfriendly, maybe even snobbish. I think it was more secrecy. People were always prying into her life, because it looked glamorous. But there was another side to that glamour she didn’t want to put a mirror to.
One evening Casey had a dancing engagement at the Copacabana nightclub in New York City. She was on stage with some other dancers when a certain gentlemen noticed her. The next chapter of Casey’s life began that night. At twenty- two years old, she fell in love with a man thirteen years older, of the Jewish faith, and who lived in Hollywood. Casey never told me that she fell in love with a gangster. I do know once she felt love for this man, it could not be reversed. The consequences of her love forced her to change, to adapt to a new kind of life, and different people.
She did not bury or give back her love after she learned what he did for a living. She asked him to reform his criminal activities and he agreed, if only she would marry him. We all know at twenty-two a woman believes she can change a man, and a man lets her think she can. Without that dream, many lovers would not have found their mates.
Casey did marry her love, and spent her life trying to keep her husband on the track of honesty. I met her husband just after he tried to reform, and was beaten down by his past mistakes. I called him Daddy.