The overwhelming majority of Colleen Corby fans are women, and it always amazes me that so many of them, all of these decades later, still remember Colleen Corby with such fondness. But why does she have female fans? After all, these days it seems men are the biggest fans of all of those beautiful “supermodels”.
Well, as a teen model during the Sixties, Colleen’s image dominated virtually every teen magazine of the time, and teen magazines are almost exclusively aimed at teen girls. Since Colleen appeared on the scene when venues like Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Edition were just in their infancy and fashion models were just starting to be presented to a male audience, there are not many men who are aware of Colleen Corby. However, there are male fans of Colleen. Almost all of them, I suspect, discovered her the same way I did: as a boy who happened to come across this beautiful model in the pages of a catalog like Sears or JCPenney. Of course there is a difference between the few male fans of Colleen Corby and her many female fans. While I can fully understand why a man would admire such a beautiful woman, I was surprised to find that many women admired her for her beauty as well – as a role model.
One of the reasons Colleen stays in the memory of so many people is almost certainly the time in their lives when they first discovered her. The early teen years are a time that many remember with fondness, and when encountered at that age, a beauty like Colleen is most likely to make a lasting impression, especially for a young boy.
The first time I ever saw Colleen Corby, she was modeling a white bodysuit in a 1972 JCPenney Christmas Catalog. I never forgot that image. But I didn’t realize the woman in that photo was Colleen until I accidentally rediscovered that picture in an old catalog I purchased on eBay a few years ago. All that time I thought the woman in the white bodysuit was just some other beautiful, brunette model that I never saw again.
A few months after I saw that first image of Colleen (and then promptly forgot what she looked like), the Penney’s Spring and Summer Catalog arrived, and eventually I took a look at it. There are many pictures of Colleen in that catalog, but the one that stood out the most for me was a picture of her in a flower-print mini dress. This time I was so impressed by Colleen that from that moment on I deliberately looked for her in all of the subsequent catalogs that came to my family’s house.
Decades later I could still remember that gorgeous model I loved so much as a boy, and in particular that picture of her in the flower-print dress. But I couldn’t remember her face, and I sometimes wished I could come across an old catalog with that photo in it, just so I could see what she looked like again.
That wish was suddenly a possibility when I became aware of eBay, and eventually I tried looking for some old catalogs there. Sure enough, there were many being offered. The catalogs were cheap, so I thought I’d take a stab at trying to find that photo, since that was the one image of her that I remembered. I didn’t know what year or what catalog to look for, so I took a guess and bought one Sears catalog from 1973.
Even though I could not remember Colleen’s face and didn't know any of her photos in that catalog, the moment I saw her image again, I knew it was her. That feeling was confirmed when I began to recognize certain familiar features: her “pageboy” hairstyle for instance (which she wore from 1973 onwards), and some of her more common poses (including her often parted lips). But the one picture that I had hoped to find in that catalog, the only one I really remembered of her, was not there. I decided to try a few more catalogs. I still did not find it (until much later, and again by accident), but I did keep finding more and more images of Colleen.
Then a catalog auction appeared in which the seller made a point of mentioning that the model “Colleen Corby” was in it, and showed a photo of her from the catalog. All of a sudden I knew her name! I had always thought she was just some anonymous model. I was surprised that she was someone worthy of mention. I had never heard the name before. Did she become an actress and was that why this seller knew her? I didn't’t know her from anywhere but the catalogs. I asked the seller about Colleen, and this was her response:
I was curious to find out more, so I searched Colleen’s name on eBay (why I didn't’t search for her on the web, I don’t know), and I found her mentioned in the auctions of various teen magazines from the Sixties. I started bidding on any magazine in which an article about her appeared, and won almost all of them. The magazines were interesting in themselves, as little time capsules of the past, as were the old catalogs I collected, but my main impetus at first was to find out whatever I could about Colleen Corby - who she was and why she was “famous”.
I eventually came across an auction for the 1965 Professional Children's School Yearbook. The auction page featured Colleen's yearbook photo, but the seller did not merely promote the fact that Colleen Corby was in the book, he also directed people to a fan site devoted to her! Not only did my model have a name, she had fans too!
The creator of the site, I soon found out, was a man who had been friends with Colleen throughout most of her career. From what I could gather, he knew her from the time they were both teenagers, though I never did find out how they met. He answered some of my questions about Colleen but for the most part was not very forthcoming with information. He had created several different unrelated sites on the old (and now gone) MSN Groups, and he finally decided to make a Groups site honoring his old friend – but not without getting her permission first.
Unfortunately, Colleen was very reluctant to have anything posted on the web about herself. Here’s her response to a fan’s praise of her on a fashion newsgroup (the fan had mentioned how Colleen was a role model to her, though she [the fan] was a little heavier and only 5’6”): “Thanx for remembering! I'm not that much taller. Still, I really don't think that I need a fan site and all of that." In fact, Colleen wanted the thread that contained that message (in which a discussion about Colleen also occurred) completely deleted! And at the mention of a possible fan site, she immediately bought the domain name colleencorby.com, apparently so that no one else could use it.
But eventually she relented and allowed her friend to make the site. It was an interactive site, as all MSN Groups were, in which anyone who joined could post images and messages. So I joined and started posting what I had, both the articles and the many images I had from the magazines and catalogs in my collection. I enjoyed participating in the site, but since I had such a large collection of material (and making a site at MSN Groups did not require any real knowledge of website building), I eventually decided to go out on my own and make my own Colleen site on MSN. And so I did. But after a year or so of slowly building my own site, Microsoft suddenly ended its MSN Groups service, and both the original Colleen site and my new one disappeared. (The original fan site ended up migrating to another service called Multiply, but Multiply did not have the same look and functionality as MSN Groups, and I chose not to move my own site there.)
However, I missed having a site. I had amassed quite a collection over the years and I liked scanning and posting what I had for others to see. I didn't’t want to give it all up now. So I went through the trouble of learning what I needed to know to create a “real” website – and this is the result.
Though I may have started my collection because of Colleen, collecting these old catalogs and magazines has become a hobby in itself. They are an interesting window into the past. Of course you will find that the main years covered by my collection are pretty much the same as those in which Colleen was most active as a model: the mid Sixties to the mid Seventies, with magazine images (though not catalog images) limited almost entirely to the Sixties. The beginning and end of Colleen’s career is rather sparsely represented I’m afraid. But I do have something from every year of her career (except for her brief return in the Eighties).
You might wonder if I’ve ever had any contact with Colleen Corby. I have not. Though I do have her address, I know from those who have written to her that she will not respond. I think the reason is that she does not want to get into a correspondence with anyone, or answer any questions about her life. I don’t think she wants anyone writing about her either, even if it’s complimentary. Perhaps she just doesn’t like being the center of attention or doesn’t want to be praised above any of her fellow models. Still, I think maybe Colleen does deserve the praise - and the attention. Sorry, Colleen. ;-)