Susann Shaw arrived in New York City in 1937 at age 17 with no money and an eagerness to prove herself. She had been raised in boarding schools and, while she lacked the support of a family, she was intelligent and hard-working. She found a room at the YWCA and a job in a secretarial pool. She remembers the City then as being so bright and lively and clean.
Susann’s fellow secretaries urged her to become a model; she assumed they were just trying to be nice to her! But on June 27, 1938, the very day Susann was married, her new husband drove her to the Fifth Avenue address of the John Robert Powers Modeling Agency and asked his young bride to go up and try her luck. Unassuming Susann was easily discouraged by the haughty receptionist, but when she was halfway back out the door she heard a man’s voice: “Hey you! Miss! Wait!” Although, as Susann recalls, she had been brought up to ignore the calls of strange men something made her turn around. Moments later Mr. Powers called Vogue magazine to tell them he was sending over the new face for which they had been searching. Within weeks Susann was John Powers’ top model.
Susann graced the covers of fashion magazines like Vogue, Look, and Mademoiselle. She posed as a bride for Vogue more than 1000 times. She was called “The Most Beautiful Woman in New York City” by the print press reporters organization. In 1943 she appeared in the movie “Cover Girl” with Rita Hayworth and Gene Kelly.
But Susann craved motherhood more than fame. She left Hollywood to return to New York City, where she was able to combine motherhood and a career at a time when that was far from the norm. She still worked for high fashion magazines, but she also posed for countless inserts in big mail-order catalogs such as Sears, and she was featured as the woman at a sewing machine in the Singer logo of the time. The advent of television brought her back to acting and introduced her to her second husband John Connelly, who worked for NBC news.
In later years she turned her attention from modeling to fine embroidery and earned a Master Craftsman certification from the Embroiderers’ Guild of America. Her artistry has proved far more satisfying to her than her modeling career. Susann always believed that the accident of nature that gave her “good cheekbones” had little to do with a person’s true worth.
Susann is the lovely woman in “someone was going to have to set a bad example”, “there was nothing passive about her aggression”, “of course it buys happiness”, “guess where I’m tattooed”, and the all-time customer favorite “I dreamed my whole house was clean”. Susann passed away on June 11, 2009. She will be missed.