In 1966, Ford Model Agency declared Ms. Griffin as the highest-paid fashion
model in the world. Over her illustrious career, she has graced the covers of
Harper’s Bazaar, Woman’s Day, Red Book, Ladies Home Journal, Family Circle,
and Saturday Evening Post, to name just a few. She modeled for numerous
famous names including Ralph Lauren, Saks Fifth Avenue, Clairol, Avon,
Seagram’s, Timex, Wrangler, Virginia Slims, Naturalizer, Maidenform, and Tab.
Sunny enjoys the distinction of being photographed by renowned photographers
Richard Avedon, Francisco Scavullo, Hiro, James Moore, and Bill Helburn,
among hundreds of others.
In 1995, Sunny realized a life-long dream and moved to the mountain town of Telluride, Colorado. There she discovered that the extremely dry air of high altitude was so hard on her skin that she felt it was aging her prematurely. All of Sunny’s exposure to the world of cosmetics and beauty lead her to the realization of a desperate need for a natural skin care line with truly live constituents. To achieve this, she became a serious student of raw foods. It was at this time that Sunny’s vision became reality. She married her experience in nutrition, health,beauty and cosmetics, and in 1997, Astara Skin Care was born. To this day, Sunny and the Astara Skin Care team continually strive to bring to market the best and most current skin nutrition science.
Date of Birth: November 17, 1940
What 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
What special interests did you have as a child?
I 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
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
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.
SIDENOTE: Martha Stewart became a model after being chosen for Glamour’s Best Dressed List 1961. Sunny followed in her footsteps and went on to a long career.
I had an aunt who’s friend was a model agent in New York City so 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.
Did 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, McCalls, 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 that day.
What photographers did you work with?
Francisco Scavullo, 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 favorite photographer?
Bill Helburn 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 18 years.
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 Celenese, 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
What was your worst modeling experience?
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 since no one spoke to me, I
just sat in the waiting area. 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!
Why 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 Avon.
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 today. I NEVER did drugs. I was terrified of not being in total control.
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”.
What career path or paths have you followed since retiring from modeling? 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 www.astaraskincare.com
What have you learned from life that you might wish to share?
I 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 back. 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
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