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A Stunner at 50, Model Kaylan Pickford Fights the Battle for Women Who Don't Feel 'all Washed Up'

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Has she had a facelift? No, but she isn’t against the idea either

Did you ever see a woman my age selling cars, clothes or perfume?” demands 50-year-old model Kaylan Pickford. “Advertisers have never been interested in anyone over 25.1 used to go weeks without a job. Then I’d work for one hour and come home at night and cry.” Kaylan still bristles at the memory of those early rejections. “I resented feeling that if a woman is over 35, she is not desirable. No potion will make a woman my age young. But she can be beautiful and vital, and the business world better start understanding this.”

These days Kaylan, a widow who took up modeling five years ago, is far more upbeat about her prospects. (Her real name is Anne; a numerologist suggested she use the name Kaylan.) In a profession dominated by 20-year-olds, her pioneering efforts on behalf of women over 40 in glamorous print ads and TV commercials are finally paying off. “She is an inspiration,” raves Eileen Ford about her middle-aged star model who doesn’t hide the gray and the wrinkles—or her 34-25-36 measurements. “She has a smashing figure and marvelous skin,” says Ford. “She is positive proof that being past 30, 40 or even 50 doesn’t mean your life and body are finished.”

At the start of her career in 1975, Kaylan appeared regularly in pharmaceutical magazine ads plugging treatments for menopause and hemorrhoids. (She scornfully labels those jobs “repair kit” work.) On TV, she has also peddled Bufferin and Correctol, a laxative. “You’re supposed to be frumpy,” she moans. “If you project anything sexual, advertisers don’t know what to do with you.”

Recently, however, she has starred in more alluring ads for DeBeers diamonds, Clairol’s Silk Silver hair color and Piper-Heidsieck champagne—not to mention snagging a bit part as an executive secretary in the new Alan King-Ali MacGraw film, Just Tell Me What You Want. “I want to help overcome the concept that advertising has created in the U.S. of making women over 35 feel they are washed up, over the hill and are not sensual anymore,” Kaylan declares. “The demography of this country is changing. Advertisers are facing the fact that money is now in the hands of mid-life people.” That does not necessarily translate into big residuals for Kaylan, however. Even though younger models like Jerry Hall and Cheryl Tiegs earn up to a million dollars a year, Kaylan, whose assignments have tripled in the last three months, figures she’ll be lucky if she makes $13,000 in 1980.

Kaylan came by her crisp Town & Country look, a style the agencies call “WASP” or “upscale,” by genes and environment. She grew up in exurban elegance in Pomfret, Conn., where her father was a businessman, her mother a housewife. Her childhood was “sheltered and conservative.” After five years at Concord Academy, she studied at Boston’s School of the Museum of Fine Arts. In 1961 her first marriage, to lawyer Charles Howze, ended in divorce, leaving her with two daughters, Perry, now 26, and Randy, 23.

Three years later, while living in Washington, D.C., she married hotel owner Bill Pickford. “He was just charming, a magnet,” she says softly. “Women and children adored him. Men loved him, too. He was as California as I was New England. He changed me from a girl to a woman.” A month after their marriage, he discovered he had cancer of the lymph glands. On New Year’s Eve in 1968 he died in Kaylan’s arms at a New York hospital.

A year of analysis helped Pickford cope with her grief. Then she took an acting course and, with a modest inheritance to fall back on, edged into modeling. She has had her teeth straightened and the pouches under her eyes removed, but has never had any body work done. “If I ever decide I want a face or breast lift, I will go right ahead and do it,” she states. “We prune everything around us—lawns, trees, gardens. Why should we neglect ourselves?” Kaylan’s diet is relaxed—she keeps herself at 118 pounds tramping two to three miles daily around Manhattan with her portfolio. “I love bread and sweets,” she says, “but when my pants start getting tight, I try to stay off them.” She quit smoking three years ago, occasionally drinks wine at dinner, washes her face with glycerine soap and water and combats dry skin with lots of moisturizer. Surprisingly, Kaylan also remains a passionate sunbather: “When I was a young girl, I wasn’t told it was bad for your skin. I’m hooked.” She does use a sunscreen tanning lotion.

Kaylan lives alone in a Manhattan studio apartment (with a weekend cottage in Pomfret). She has no plans to remarry, but spends lots of time with fashion photographer J. Frederick Smith. Of some nude studies Smith took for her portfolio—in a few she wears only pearls—Kaylan muses, “They are poetic. Women are still sexually viable after 35. After all,” she shrugs, “I’m not competing with the centerfold of Playboy.”