When photographer David Bailey barged into the dressing room of the new model sent over for a British Vogue assignment, he took one look and snarled, “Is this her?”—making no secret of his aversion to unfamiliar faces. To herself, the model, Marie Helvin, reproached the famous fashion photographer as “a nasty man who disliked me without even knowing me.”
Click! Two months later Marie and David met by chance on the Paris-London air shuttle. Champagne flowed. David was charming. “He made me feel like a princess,” Marie remembers.
Click! Soon thereafter, the two of them dashed off for a weekend in Rome that Marie treasures as “the most glamorous experience in my life.” Actor Helmut Berger, a Bailey chum, sent a Rolls to fetch them at the airport and installed them in his lavishly appointed bedroom, popping in and out to see how they were doing. “We had to retreat to the bathroom,” Marie laughs, “to be alone and make love.”
The leave-’em-gasping technique that won over Marie has made Bailey one of the world’s most flamboyant photographers and lovers, a Cockney Casanova whose romantic life is always on motor-drive. The beautiful faces he photographs—Jean Shrimp-ton, Catherine Deneuve, Penelope Tree—become the beautiful women he lives with. During the 1960s Bailey became a symbol of “swinging London” and the prototype for the dissolute, detached photographer played by David Hemmings in Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 film Blow-Up.
After his Roman holiday three years ago with Marie, Bailey cleared out his previous mistress’s gear and asked the $750-a-day Tokyo-born model for Saint Laurent and Valentino to be his roommate. “I didn’t like that in-and-out taxi feeling,” she admits, but accepted nonetheless. That they bothered to marry two years ago—he for the third time, she for the first—was incidental to David (“Only a bit of paper”), if not to Marie (“Maybe I’m just old-fashioned”).
Bailey still bears scars from his traumatic split with Jean Shrimpton, whom he made the Face of the ’60s. When she wanted to wed early in their four-year affair, Bailey was still tied to his first wife, Rosemary, a typist he’d married at 21 and ditched after nine months for the Shrimp. But when his divorce came through, Jean bolted. For David, the loss was “not only my love life, but my work as well. It was like losing your favorite camera.”
He found solace with a post-Vadim Deneuve. He is still the only man she ever married. Then, confoundingly, Bailey split from the glamorous Deneuve—for Penelope Tree, then only 17, daughter of New York socialite and former U.N. delegate Marietta Tree.
David is still friendly with all three women—which leaves Marie unfazed. “I respect their importance to him,” she says. “There are no hangups.” Bailey elaborates, “I’m the way I am because of Jean, Catherine and Penelope. They ironed out the faults in me. Marie is the beneficiary. If there’s cause to be jealous,” he adds, “it’s not over loves of the past.”
David, 39, and Marie, 26, are nesting in his five-story Victorian townhouse in London’s shabby Camden Town section. They share the place with David’s 60 parrots, as well as 14 rabbits, four cats, three lovebirds, two dogs, two turtles, two finches and a Brazilian houseman. The déclassé digs reek of animals and are painted bright blue outside (“like a Jamaican brothel,” he says).
Born a tailor’s son in London’s East End, David showed talent at 5 by drawing Bambi and other Disney characters. (“When a V-2 hit the neighborhood cinema, I was upset because I thought Mickey Mouse had died.”) He bought his first Brownie at 12 to snap some parakeets he was breeding—the beginning of his lifelong infatuation with both ornithology and cameras. After an overseas hitch with the RAF in Singapore, David turned up back in London as a photographer’s assistant. At 21, he emerged full-blown in boots and black leather (“I’d been reading a lot of Kerouac”) into the swinging ’60s—a period he now reviles, because “people began cashing in on what had been a natural thing.” He still huffs that the “distorted view” of Blow-Up cost him jobs because “I looked like I never did any work. Actually, I work my ass off.”
Marie was raised in Hawaii, the daughter of an American real estate investor and a Japanese mother who are divorced. She remembers being “an ugly child”—skinny, with glasses and later braces. “I was always being sent home from school because my skirts were too short.” An early flower child, she was into drugs at 15 and remembers doing “nutty things like buying crinolines and wearing them around my breasts instead of my waist.” As for dressing in purple togas and pinning bougainvillea in her hair, she says, “I imagined myself as Aphrodite. I must have been out of my mind.” She discovered modeling when, on a graduation trip to Japan, her lanky 5’8″ beauty and muted Oriental features created a sensation. But by the time she arrived in London at 20, she looked, Bailey recalls, like “a painted doll—not the kind that appeals to me photographically.” Playing Henry Higgins to her Eliza, David “turned Marie into a woman more sophisticated and grown-up.”
Part of Bailey’s own maturing since marriage is a prominent paunch. Marie’s vegetarian couscous, Indian curry and banana milkshakes laced with soy flour, wheat germ and raw egg must share the blame. “I have to keep him healthy,” she explains ingenuously. They enjoy wee-hour partying with old cronies—the Michael Caines, Mick Jaggers and Paul McCartneys—and getaways to the countryside in their Range Rover. (David has sold his Rolls and Ferrari.)
None of Bailey’s previous liaisons yielded children, though he notes, “There’ve been a few abortions.” Neither he nor Marie wants a family. “I’m too selfish and don’t have the time,” says Bailey, “and I don’t need the ego trip of little David Baileys running around. I’d rather leave a few snaps.”
The Baileys’ professional partnership (she does 80 percent of her work with him) will soon produce a book on Marie—mostly nude photos. She will also appear in a film, Paperback, which Bailey wrote and hopes to start directing next month in France.
David, Marie believes, has “opened my eyes to a lot of things. He taught me to accept beauty and vanity as part of a woman’s gift, not to fight it. For the first time I’m at peace with myself.” David values “the Oriental side of her that she doesn’t realize.” But one friend observes, “The pressure will come when he stops using her as his model and moves on.” Marie counters, “I just accept Bailey for what he is, the man I love and the most important thing in my life.” David agrees, “I don’t know what will happen in 10 years. All I know is that if it’s good now, it’s good. Marie makes me happy. It’s better to have five years of an intense relationship than 50 years of mediocrity.”