A model makeup for life, business

Cosmetics: For Towson native Sunny Griffin, now a business executive, the secret is being comfortable in your own skin.

September 04, 2000|By Rasmi Simhan | By Rasmi Simhan,SUN STAFF

The stranger at the restaurant did not know the woman at the next table ran a cosmetics company or owned a Chanel suit. He didn't even know she was the highest paid model in the world in 1966, moved in the same circles as Lauren Hutton and appeared everywhere from Modern Bride to Vogue.

But when he overheard her say she would be turning 60 in November, he strolled over and said, "Sixty. I don't believe it."

"Please, honey, I'm 60 years old and every minute of it," the woman says, laughing.

"I'm 60," the man says.

"You? You're not 60."

"Neither are you."

Sunny Griffin - described in a 1965 issue of Sun magazine as a "natural blonde" with "classic dimensions and boundless energy" - is still slender and doesn't seem to have a single wrinkle. She wears a moss-green suede Armani vest, a pale green flowered skirt and just a trace of makeup - mascara, lipstick and a hint of blush. Her straight blond hair - never mind that it took two hours with a blow-dryer and brush to get it that way - is loose and frames her face.

The Towson native returned to Baltimore last month to promote Astara, her line of beauty products.

Griffin wants to make at least one point clear: She's not trying to tell people how to look 35 when they're 60.

"First of all I don't look 35 and second of all I don't want to look 35," Griffin says. "I want to look really good for 60. Beauty products are not going to make you look 18, but they are going to improve how you look for sure."

Growing up in the late 1940s and '50s, she did what any kid would do: frequented a local soft-ice cream shop and jitterbugged with friends in the basement. Looking back at that time, she values the neighborhood spirit she grew up with when she lived on Colonial Court in Towson.

"My family had close friends and we could go to neighbors' houses," she says. "When I moved to California [as an adult], everything was so superficial. And I really believe it's because life in the East is more difficult. We have cold weather and if someone's out in the street starving, they'll die. In California, they're out in the street and starving, so what, they'll go pick something off a bush, nothing's going to happen to them. They take life easier."

Sunny was originally named for her mother, Betsy Anne Griffin, but later legally changed her name to her childhood nickname.

"Her name really fits her," says Betsy Anne Griffin, 83. "A sunny personality, optimistic about everything."

She majored in chemistry and math at Hood College in Frederick, and was nominated for a spot in Glamour magazine's 1962 "Best Dressed College Girl" spread because she was popular, she insists, not pretty. She was the "homeliest" girl anyone had ever seen, she says.

"I had kinky, curly hair - which I still do but I know how to straighten it - thick glasses, braces on every tooth. I was homely as dirt," she says. "But I was photogenic and I didn't know that. No one knew."

Even when she was voted Miss Touchstone, a special title printed in the college yearbook, no one applauded when her win was announced. They laughed.

"I was not only not the prettiest girl on campus, I was one of the ugliest," Griffin says. "If only I looked as good as I photographed." Nor were her parents thrilled to hear she planned to make a name for herself in New York.

"I was brought up thinking lipstick was a sin," she says. "Mother used to say, `Why don't you come home and sell blouses at Hutzler's?'"

Breaking into the modeling business was a matter of being photogenic, she says.

"You can't teach someone to be tall, to have wide-set eyes or a narrow, aquiline nose, or what it takes to be photogenic," Griffin says.

But staying in the business took stamina and the willingness to risk life, limb and the luxury of easy self-confidence.

"The photographer goes, `Did you put on a little weight? Oh honey, let's see, your eye shadow's smeared ... gee your face looks a little fat ... your hair doesn't look good today.' They're not there to tell you you're pretty, they're there to pick you apart with what's wrong. You've got to have a pretty strong sense of self to not be devastated by it."

She modeled full-time for 18 years and found other niches in the beauty industry, such as director of fashion and beauty for Avon, and health and beauty correspondent for "Good Morning America." She passed 30, wondering when people would start to ask her age. She passed 40 and, at 50, threw a birthday bash with hundreds of people.

Meanwhile, Americans' views on nutrition and fitness were changing, and she could see it in the healthy faces of fellow Towson High School graduates at reunions. "We've learned now that fitness and nutrition, these things will keep us young," Griffin says. "We don't have to shrivel and get old. That's a lot of state of mind."

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