Veteran Model's Agent: William Adrian William Adrian, who formed his talent firm in 1946, may be the world's oldest working model's agent. Adrian's lifelong career began with something he thought he'd try for a summer.
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Veteran Model's Agent: William Adrian

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Veteran Model's Agent: William Adrian

Veteran Model's Agent: William Adrian

Veteran Model's Agent: William Adrian

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William Adrian, who formed his talent firm in 1946, may be the world's oldest working model's agent. Adrian's lifelong career began with something he thought he'd try for a summer.

LUKE BURBANK, host:

Staying in the Southwest, we go to Phoenix. Okay, it's actually Charles Phoenix. Writer and DAY TO DAY contributor, he actually lives in L.A.

Anyway, one of Charles's hobbies is collecting old photos and slides from junk stores and garage sales. He presents them in slide shows he makes up with invented funny family histories. But every once in a while, there's a real history and a real person behind those photos he finds. Here's Charles.

CHARLES PHOENIX: A couple of years ago, after one of my retro slide shows, this guy came up to me with a copy of one of my books, "Southern California in the '50s". It was opened up to the Los Angeles county fair page. He points to this 1955 photo of a dozen bathing suit-clad fair queens perfectly posed in a row on their backs with their legs up in the air and this guy standing behind them. He says, do you know who this guy is? He's Bill Adrian; he's the world's oldest modeling agent, and you have just got to meet him.

Mr. WILLIAM ADRIAN (Modeling Agent): These are some of the girls right here. There's Tanya. She just graduated from Eagle Rock High School. This is Daria. She's from Moscow. She's a beautiful girl. Here's a model...

PHOENIX: Walking in the front door of his agency in Pasadena, I immediately had one of those amazing what-decade-am-I-in experiences because there are ads and all kinds of memorabilia and photos from his 60-plus-year career.

Mr. ADRIAN: You've seen girls hundreds of times on ads that were my models, but you never knew it because we didn't get credit.

PHOENIX: You've been in business since 1946, right?

Mr. ADRIAN: Unfortunately, yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PHOENIX: Why unfortunately?

Mr. ADRIAN: Well, I'm the oldest agent in the business, and I don't know why I've spent so many years in such a business. But I started in 1946 with three girls, and I thought I'd try it out for a summer and see if it would work.

PHOENIX: And obviously it did. He's kind of like Forrest Gump because over his long career, he's crossed paths with so many legends, including Walt Disney and Marilyn Monroe.

Mr. ADRIAN: I thought she was real nice. She was living at the Hollywood Studio Club for $7 a week. That's where a lot of those aspiring actresses lived.

Unidentified Woman: But this just talks a little bit about when you're on the runway...

PHOENIX: Along with his agency, he also runs a modeling school. He represents girls from 11 to 22.

Mr. ADRIAN: They say that I remind them of their - it used to be their father, now it's their grandfather.

PHOENIX: When you hang out with this guy, you totally get the impression that there's never been any hanky-panky going on here, and this is all completely on the up and up. The guy is a total professional.

Mr. ADRIAN: And people think, well, oh you're a model agent? Oh, you must just have a great time with all those pretty girls. That's not the way it is. Anybody that's been around women know that they're very businesslike, and you've got to be right there to keep up with them.

PHOENIX: Over the years, he's discovered many famous faces, including actress Linda Gray, singer Kim Carnes, and legendary playmate Barbi Benton.

Did you discover Cheryl Tiegs?

Mr. ADRIAN: I discovered Cheryl Tiegs at Alhambra High School when I spoke on career day. And Cheryl's father was an undertaker, and unfortunately she sort of acted like one. I estimate she's made over $20 million, but unfortunately, she didn't make any $20 million with me.

PHOENIX: After hanging out with Bill Adrian for a few years and being buddies with him and stuff, I don't want to be like Bill Adrian, I want to be Bill Adrian. I want to get up in the morning at age 87 and be happy to go to work.

Mr. ADRIAN: Well, this business gives me a reason to get up and go to work.

PHOENIX: Knowing Bill Adrian inspires my imagination and makes my spirit soar.

Mr. ADRIAN: I don't think I'd be around if I didn't have the agency. Just when I get kind of disgusted and discouraged and think what have I ever been doing this for all these years, there'll be a knock on the door, and some little voice will say: Are you Mr. Adrian? I'd like to be a model. And it starts all over again.

PHOENIX: Eight-seven-year Bill Adrian. As far as I know, he is the world's oldest modeling agent. For NPR News, I'm Charles Phoenix.

I see a picture over here of you playing the harmonica.

Mr. ADRIAN: Well I do play the harmonica.

PHOENIX: You've got to play it for us.

(Soundbite of harmonica music)

Mr. ADRIAN: How's that?

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