Exclusive Interview Sunny Griffin
Sunny Griffin has always had a sophisticated and elegant style all her own and she has not lost a bit of her beauty and grace now that she is over sixty years old. She attributes her ageless beauty to a diet of mostly raw foods and the wonderful beauty products she manufactures.
Sunny started a natural, botanical skin care company in 1997 called Astara Skin Care. They are written up in the fashion magazines all the time and a favorite of celebrities.
"The extremely dry climate, we live at 9000 feet altitude, led me to start a skin care company." Sunny Griffin said. "There was nothing on the market that could help my skin so dried out from my life of skiing and hiking in the mountains. Being a raw food fanatic, I learned that no-one makes skin care products from raw, uncooked botanicals, so now I do." It certainly seems to be working for Sunny. Astara is sold is upscale spas all over America and on many websites including Sephora.com.Their website is: www.astaraskincare.com.
were your school days like?
I was 5’8” in 6th grade with kinky
curly hair and thick glasses. My mother kept my hair cut
really short because it was such a problem and the kids in
school teased me about it saying I had ”roads” on my head
because the nappiness of my hair made ridges.
Needless to say, I was not attractive and my
mother reassured me by telling me “Don’t worry that you are
not pretty, it’s more important to be smart”. Later I had
friends who said they couldn’t believe I was a model because
I had “that hair”.
Sunny au naturelle
with "that hair."
special interests did you have as a child?
loved dolls and made hundreds of outfits for them. I was
devastated that I wasn’t voted Best Dressed in High School.
Instead I was voted Most Talkative and Most Talented.
Were you shy or
Very extroverted. I am told that as a 2 year
old I would walk onto the porch and announce “Children, here
How did you decide
to be a model?
I didn’t. I wanted to be an actress and,
after graduating from college and a semester in graduate
school studying theatre, I went to NYC to try to get a job.
I went to 5 employment agencies who all asked “How many
words a minute do you type?” I couldn’t type at all – I
refused to learn as I did not want to end up as some ones
secretary. (I still can’t type which makes this life of
computers a little challenging).
In my senior year of college, 1962, I was
chosen by Glamour Magazine as one of the 10 Best Dressed
College Girls in America which was an incredible thrill and
a great honor. Martha Stewart had won the year before
and she was with our group as a kind of chaperone. Glamour
flew us to NYC for 2 weeks of photo shoots, visits with
designers, lunches with important people in the fashion and
cosmetics business, etc, so when the employment agency angle
didn’t work out, the thought occurred to me that I might try
to be a model.
I had an aunt, who had a sister, who had a
modeling agency in NYC and I went to see her. She spent 2
hours telling me how smart I was to have come to her instead
of Eileen Ford (I had never heard of the Ford
Modeling Agency) and that at Ford I would just be a
number, lost in the crowd, and she could give me lots of
personal attention. Being no dummy (after all I had all that
college behind me) I walked out and to the closest phone
booth and looked up Ford Model Agency. It was only a few
blocks away so I went there.
It was about 4 in the afternoon. There were
dozens of beautiful girls sitting in the lobby and Eileen
was seeing them one by one. They all came back out, some
angry, some crying and I was the last to go in at about 6
PM. The minute I walked in Eileen’s phone rang and she
answered it and spent the next hour on the phone with
Suzy Parker barely looking at me. At the end of the call
she simply said “go in there” to an office where a booker (Jane
Halloran) was waiting who had me fill out a bunch of
cards with my name, phone number and sizes and said “call us
every morning, noon and night”. I was a Ford Model!
Now here is the ironic part – Eileen
was telling Suzy Parker that $60 an hour was plenty and that
Suzy should not raise her rate to $75 an hour as she wanted
to. Four years later Eileen called me in to her office and
told me that I should raise my rate to $75 an hour and I
said no, for all the reasons I had heard her tell Suzy, so
she raised the rate of Lauren Hutton, Veronica Hamel and a
few other girls and my bookings fell off. Seems like people
only want the best and if you don’t cost the most, you are
not the best. A few months later I raised my rate and my
bookings soared again.
you work right away or did you have to struggle?
My career started very slowly. I think I made $3000
the first year (1962). I mostly did test photos, made rounds
begging to be tested, and did the occasional booking for
Hair Do type magazines – hair dressers loved my curly hair
because they could set it once and the curl lasted all day
through dozens of styles. The next year I made $30,000, the
next $60,000. Then, in 1966, Eileen told me I made more than
anyone else in the agency - $100,000 (what a top model today
makes in a week).
What magazines did
you work for?
Harpers Bazaar, Vogue, McCall's, Woman’s Day,
Family Circle, all the Bride magazines, fitness magazines
and pretty much everyone else.
Did you make
friends with other models?
Absolutely. My best
friends were, and still are, Anne Larson and Maud Adams. We
had a group we called “The Family” who came to my house in
the country every weekend for years. It was Anne, Maud,
Tania Mallet, Carl Richards (who worked for Altman Stoller
Advertising) and his girlfriend, Josephine (who worked as a
stylist for Bill Helburn), and sometimes Dorothea McGowen
and Moira Swan.
What was it like
working for those magazines/clients?
In those days we
did our own hair and make-up for everything other than a
cosmetic ad and the catalogues insisted we wear waist
cinches and girdles under everything. They would pin the
garments to the waist cinch to hold the bodice tight and
some catalogue studios made us wear things called “sides”,
which were pieces of padding they pinned to the side of the
waist cinch above the waist to make the waist look very
tiny. My model bag had at least 30 wigs and hair pieces in
it, including all my make-up, and was so heavy that one day
I was at my first booking when I realized my cat had curled
up in my model bag and I had to schlep her to 6 bookings
did you work with?
Hiro, Avedon, Neil Barr, Louis Faurer, Jean Loup Sieff, Bob
Richardson, Jimmy Moore, Bill Helburn, Norman Parkinson and
everyone else who was shooting in those days. I was booked
all day every day – usually 5 or 6 bookings a day.
Did you have a
and Jimmy Moore. I loved working with Bill – it was
fun – it was sexy – and I always looked good in his photos.
I felt like he “got me”. With Jimmy it was totally
different. I thought Jimmy Moore was a great artist. He
worked mostly for Harpers Bazaar.
I don’t think Jimmy Moore ever spoke one word
to me and I did lots of shoots with him, including a trip to
Portugal. He directed his photos by pointing a finger above
the camera or with sly facial expressions. Now, I am really
nearsighted, and contacts made my eyes too bloodshot to be
photographed, so I had to squint at the camera to try to see
him. He used that squint in lots of photos. Jimmy was a
special artist. Working with him felt like being part of a
piece of art being made. I could contort my body into shapes
that pleased his eye or blended with other models in the
shot. It was heady. It was creative.
What agencies did
you work with?
I was only with Ford and I was with them for
Was there any
person that was especially helpful or encouraging to you?
Not really. I think everyone was a little
stunned that I could be a model at all.
Did you travel in
your career? What places?
I traveled all the time. I learned to not
even go to the supermarket without a passport in my purse.
One winter I went to Puerto Rico 6 times. I went to Tahiti,
Portugal, Ireland, Italy, France, Germany, Canada, Hawaii,
all over the Caribbean, and all over the USA for Avon.
Tell us about your
favorite location shoot or shoots.
I think my
favorite trip was 3 weeks in Tahiti shooting a huge spread
for Peck and Peck that ran in Vogue. The other model was
Barbara Jansen, who I loved and remained my best friend
until she died, far too young from cancer, and the
photographer was Norman Parkinson. This was in 1964 and
there was only a dirt road around the perimeter of the
island. It was unspoiled and magnificent and I did not want
to leave. They had to drag me onto the plane. I loved
Portugal where I went for Modern Bride and again for an
eight page spread for Celanese, and I loved working with
Frank Scavullo in the islands for Bazaar because he would
only shoot before 10 AM and after 4 PM. He said it was
because of the lighting but we knew it was because he wanted
to get a good tan.
What was your worst
Honest to God, I don’t have any bad memories. It was a
wonderful ride and I loved every moment of it. I feel like
the luckiest girl in the world. Were there painful moments?
Of course. Remember, I was no great beauty, I was just
photogenic. How about the time I arrived at a booking a
little early as always (we insecure types always try to over
compensate) and an hour and a half later I hear the studio
assistant screaming at the agency because the model wasn’t
there. They all saw me but no one could imagine
I was the model.
did you stop modeling, if you have?
In 1975 I got an
exclusive contract with Avon as their Director of
Beauty and Fashion. I did all their
television commercials for several years and was constantly
photographed for their brochures, and I traveled the country
speaking to groups of Avon Representatives. Other than the
odd booking for Harpers Bazaar, I modeled for no-one except
My contract expired in 1980 and I went to
work for Good Morning America as a correspondent and did the
live commercials every morning. Following that I hosted a
syndicated TV show called Twice A Woman for 2 years, and
then I was considered as a co-host for a new morning show
with Regis Philbin. After months of on-air auditions the
producer called me to say they went with Kathy Lee because I
was “too old” (I was 45 and she was 30). By then I was
living in L.A. where I was definitely too old to model.
How do you think a
career as a top model has helped you in life?
It helped me
get my job on Good Morning America, it gave me confidence in
my looks, and it helped me tremendously when I started my
own skin care company because I understood how the editorial
business works and how to get great PR for my products. Most
of all, I think my modeling career influenced my lifestyle
out of sheer necessity. I was not a great natural beauty and
I came from a family of fat people who never exercised. I
needed to be thin and fit and beautiful to be in that
business so I learned everything I could about nutrition,
exercise and skin care and that knowledge is invaluable
So you lived a very healthy
never did drugs. I was terrified of not being in total
control and two models I knew of were said to have died when
high on LSD. Besides, there
was a camera in my face every morning and I did everything
possible to look my very best. I never even considered
taking drugs, but once, on location in Ireland, the
photographer snapped a popper under my nose in an elevator
and I felt like I was having a heart attack. That was not my
idea of fun. But then remember, I was brought up in the 40’s
and 50’s in a very proper old Baltimore family. I was well
into my 40’s before I smoked my first joint and now I think
it may be nature’s best universal remedy.
Has a career as a
top model hindered you in any way after you retired?
Absolutely not. The only challenge was being taken seriously
as an actress and not thought of as “just a model”.
Are you married or
have you been married?
Yeah, I have been
married. I’ve been married 5 times, but only 4 husbands. My
first husband, (who was also my third husband) Dick Wagner,
was a friend from college and I married him in 1964. We were
married for 5 years and only divorced because we were more
like brother and sister then husband and wife. We looked for
separate apartments together. We were married 5 years the
first time, then I married someone else (such a horrid
marriage that I don’t even want to talk about it) and I
remarried Dick and we were married for 14 years.
second marriage was because I was turning 30 and convinced
that my career would be over and I would be alone. That was
probably the lowest point in my life. In spite of the fact
that I was incredibly successful, I was terribly insecure
and got married, almost in desperation, to a man who turned
out to be a con man and lied about everything. I stuck it
out for 5 wretched years and fled back to my good friend
Dick Wagner. Dick was a CBS News correspondent and, in our
second marriage, he mostly covered wars. He was away 10
months a year so, after 14 years, I decided this marriage
wasn’t working and we got divorced.
Many years later I married another Richard (I
liked to say that “all my husbands were Dicks”) who turned
out to be an alcoholic and my co-dependant self thought I
could cure him. After 10 years and 4 long stays in rehab I
gave up and divorced him. Many years later, in 2004, I
finally got it right and married my wonderful husband,
Steven Eiche, who is incredibly supportive of everything I
do and we have a great time together.
Do you have
children, grand children?
I have 2 daughters,
Kelly (36) and Kerry (32), who are not yet married. I have 3
Granddogs. Kelly is a very successful Casting Agent in
Hollywood and Kerry works for Film Festivals around the
country. Because of my history of marriages I think they may
be waiting until they are sure it is forever.
Would you encourage
them to model if they could be assured of success? ( i.e. a
contract with a top client or agency.)
Neither of my
daughters is tall enough to be a model so it never really
What career path or
paths have you followed since retiring from modeling?
in TV a lot, did national media tours for DuPont, Avon and
Germain Montiel and then became a General Contractor
designing and building houses in L.A. for 11 years. When
the L.A. housing market crashed in the early 90’s, I got a
job as a motivational speaker for a business opportunity
company and traveled the country working in a different city
every week basically putting people into the vending machine
business. In 1995 I moved to Telluride, Colorado, at 9000
feet altitude, and ultimately started my company Astara Skin
Care. For that story see my website
have you learned from life that you might wish to share?
would like to quote a dear friend here:
“Imagine life as a game in which
you are juggling five balls in the air. You name them -
work, family, health, friends, and spirit - and you're
keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand
that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce
But the other four balls -
family, health, friends, and spirit are made of
glass. If you drop one of these,
they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged,
or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must
understand that and strive for balance in your life.”
Brian Dyson (b. 1935) Argentinian CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises