Doe Avedon

Doe Avedon
Doe Avedon
Doe Avedon
Doe Avedon

Doe Avedon obituary in “The Guardian”.

Doe Avedon born in 1925 in Old Westbury, New York.   She was married at one time to the photographer Richard Avedon and inspired Stanley Donen to model the Audrey Hepburn character in “Funny Face” on Avedon in 1957.   Doe Avedon starred opposite John Wayne in “The High and the Mighty” in 1954 and with Jose Ferrer in “Deep in My Heart”.   She was long married to director Don Siegel.   She died in 2011.

Ronald Bergan’s “Guardian” obituary:

In 1944, the 21-year-old Richard Avedon, just starting out as a professional photographer after leaving the US merchant marine, walked into a bank in Manhattan, New York, and saw a 19-year-old clerk called Dorcas Nowell. It was love at first sight. He called her Doe because of her deer-like eyes, and they soon married. Doe Avedon, who has died aged 86, was the first muse of the man who was to become America’s leading fashion and portrait photographer.

Richard Avedon, who had begun to get work as a photographer for the fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar, made his wife into a top model, against her own inclinations. Although Doe gradually backed out of the limelight as a model – one of the last photos Richard took of her was posing in a fur-lined Christian Dior coat and hat at the Gare du Nord in Paris in 1947 – she began a nine-year long acting career on Broadway, on tele vision and in movies after their divorce in 1949. “I would have crawled to the Bronx on my knees to bring Doe back,” Avedon remarked in 1993.

Dorcas Marie Nowell was born on Long Island, in New York state, where her widower father was butler to a wealthy lawyer. When she was orphaned aged 12, she was brought up by the family of her father’s employer. As soon as she could, the young woman, who had little education but was an avid reader, started work in New York in various offices and eventually the bank where she met her future husband.

Calling herself Betty Harper, and newly divorced, she first appeared in a small part in Jigsaw (1949), a standard gangster movie with pretensions to social significance. In the same year, she made her debut on Broadway in The Young and Fair, written by N Richard Nash, for which she won the Theatre World award for best performer. This was followed almost immediately by another play, My Name is Aquilon, based on a French play by Jean-Pierre Aumont, with whom she co-starred. In a live television broadcast of What Makes Sammy Run? (1949), Paddy Chayefsky’s adaptation from Budd Schulberg’s novel, Avedon was the calculating wife of the eponymous hero (José Ferrer).

Despite these initial successes, Avedon left acting for five years on her marriage to Don Mathews, a fellow actor whom she met during a national tour of Diamond Lil, written by and starring Mae West. After Mathews was killed in a car accident, Avedon returned to acting in 1954 with significant roles in two blockbuster movies.

In Deep in My Heart, Stanley Donen’s lavish biopic of the American composer Sigmund Romberg (José Ferrer), Avedon was somewhat lost among all the numbers performed by many of MGM’s roster of big stars. Nevertheless, she was delicate and decorative as Mrs Romberg, her husband’s inspiration. “What in the name of heaven you want me for, I don’t know,” she says to him. “I’ve no talent, no music or poetry in me.” Romberg replies, “None. Only the look of you and the spirit of you and your hand in mine.”

In William Wellman’s The High and the Mighty, the prototype of the Airport disaster movies of the 70s, Avedon is a flight attendant from heaven, keeping her cool while everyone else is flipping out. On television, Avedon was prominent in nine episodes of the newspaper drama series Big Town (1955-56) and on the big screen in Byron Haskin’s The Boss (1956), an efficiently directed film noir written by the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo, in which she is an attractive schoolteacher who rejects the marriage proposal of John Payne as a corrupt politician.

After her marriage to the director Don Siegel in 1957, Avedon retired to bring up their four children. About 10 years previously, the screenwriter Leonard Gershe, a friend of the Avedons, had written the book for a stage musical called Wedding Day about a famous fashion photographer who had made his wife into a top model, although she had no interest in such a career. However, it remained on the shelf until Gershe adapted it as the screenplay for the film musical Funny Face (1957), directed by Donen, with Richard Avedon credited as special visual consultant. Fred Astaire played the photographer “Dick Avery” who transforms a young, beatnik salesgirl (Audrey Hepburn) into a high-class model. Very few reviewers and audiences, then as now, made the connection between the film and Doe’s true story. She returned to the screen briefly, over two decades later, in John Cassavetes’ Love Streams (1984), having divorced Siegel.

Avedon is survived by her partner, the actor Michael Liscio; her two daughters, Anney and Kit; and two sons, Nowell and Jack.

• Doe Avedon (Dorcas Marie Nowell), model and actor, born 7 April 1925; died 18 December 2011

Her “Guardian” obituary can be accessed here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *