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L.A. modeling agent Nina Blanchard's rise to the top

February 11, 2010 |  9:39 am


Nina Blanchard, the founder of an internationally known Hollywood modeling agency who died Feb. 7 at age 81, borrowed $300 and a tiny office from a friend to launch the Nina Blanchard Agency in 1961. 

Most of the $300 was spent on a brochure featuring her models, which Blanchard mailed to photographers and advertisers.  But most of the few models she started with had no professional experience, Blanchard recalled in a 1986 interview with The Times, and she was in a panic when photographers soon began calling to book her models: "I thought, 'Oh, my God, they can't! These girls don't know what they're doing.'"

To buy time, Blanchard told the photographers that the models they wanted were unavailable.  

"Suddenly, the word was going around town that all my models were booked," she recalled with a laugh. "Then I started getting calls from other models, who said, 'We hear you're the hot new agent in town.' And they started coming to me."

One was top model Dolores Hawkins, who introduced Blanchard to Eileen Ford, whose New York modeling agency was deemed the largest in the country. "Eileen couldn't have been nicer," Blanchard said. "I would call her and ask, 'What do I do about this?' She gave me lots of advice. Then she started sending models to me here in California." Ford quickly became a close friend, and over the years many of Blanchard's models would work with Ford when they had New York assignments and vice versa.

By the 1980s, Blanchard's current and past models included well-known names such as Cheryl Tiegs, Christie Brinkley, Shari Belafonte, Rene Russo, Cristina Ferrare and Catherine Oxenberg.

The complete obituary of Nina Blanchard is here.

-- Dennis McLellan

Photo: Nina Blanchard in 1995, the year she sold her modeling agency to Eileen Ford. Credit: Carol Cheetham / For The Times