Twiggy is a top model of the late 1960s, who made skinny an “inny”, along with other famous skinny models such as Jean Shrimpton (“The Shrimp”), Veruschka von Lehndorff, and Penelope Tree (“The Tree”). She was born Leslie Hornby on September 19, 1949, in Twickenham, Middlesex, England, one of three daughters of ‘Nell Hornby’ (née Nellie Lydia Reeman), a factory worker, and Norman Hornby, a master carpenter and joiner. By blending pop art with fashion, the doe-eyed, pouty-lipped gamine with the angelic puss and boyish crop took the industry by storm at age 17 defining the age of “flower power”. She originally was nicknamed “Sticks” because of her reed-thin figure, but then switched it to “Twigs” and, finally, “Twiggy.” A model for a scant four years, she had never even walked the runways by the time she exploded onto the scene. Educated at the Kilburn High School for Girls, her look and image was an instant globular sensation. She was even imitated by Mattel when they issued a “Twiggy Barbie” in 1967 and by Milton Bradley who created a board game out of her. Lunch boxes, false eye lashes, tights, sweaters, tote bags and paper dolls — all these bore her famous moniker. In her prime she graced the covers of Vogue and Tatler, and even had her own American publication “Her Mod, Mod Teen World.” The “psychedelic ’60s” would not have been the same without her.
In 1970, Twiggy was able to parlay her incredible success into a respectable career in film and TV and on the musical theater stage. It was the iconoclastic director Ken Russell who instilled in her the ambition to move away from modeling and study acting, voice and dance. An extra in his movie The Devils (1971), Russell ushered her front-and-center with the jazz-age musical The Boy Friend (1971), his homage to the Busby Berkeley Hollywood musicals. Taking on the role originated on stage by Julie Andrews, Twiggy was awarded a Golden Globe for her efforts.
Her second feature, the thriller W (1974) cast her with future husband Michael Witney, who was nearly two decades her senior. They married in 1977 and later appeared together in There Goes the Bride (1980). She also cameoed in The Blues Brothers (1980) with Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. Following Witney’s untimely death in 1983, she appeared in The Doctor and the Devils (1985) and the comedy Club Paradise (1986) with Robin Williams before meeting her second husband, actor Leigh Lawson, while filming Madame Sousatzka (1988) in which she played a singer.
Though Twiggy has worked from time to time on TV, her exposure has been somewhat limited. She hosted a couple of self-titled shows in England and co-starred in the very short-lived sitcom Princesses (1991) here in America, but not too much else. The singing stage is a different story. She made her West End debut as “Cinderella” in 1974 and played Eliza Doolittle in a legit performance of “Pygmalion” in 1981. In 1983 she reunited with her “Boy Friend” co-star Tommy Tune and together dazzled Broadway audiences as a tapping twosome with “My One and Only,” a warm, nostalgic revamping of the Gershwin classic “Funny Face.” The charming waif went on to appear in a 1997 London revival of Noël Coward’s “Blithe Spirit,” then played star Gertrude Lawrence alongside Harry Groener’s Coward in the song-and-sketch musical “Noel and Gertie” (later retitled “If Love Were All”), which focused on the close “blendship” between the two icons all to the accompaniment of 20 Coward songs.
Back to her modeling ways, Twiggy came out of retirement to be photographed by the likes of John Fwanel and Annie Liebovitz in the 90s and has recently joined the professional elite of judges led by Tyra Banks on the reality show America’s Next Top Model (2003), her warmer, more unassuming demeanor filling in for the aggressive, vitriolic Janice Dickinson.
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