They are three generations of women, all from the same family. One was born during President Woodrow Wilson's Administration, one during Franklin Delano Roosevelt's, one during John Fitzgerald Kennedy's.
All three walk the same walk, talk the same talk and feel proud doing it. And they all learned it at the same place--John Robert Powers, a finishing school now celebrating its 30th year in San Diego.
The thread running through each of these graduates is, in the words of one, the "rush" of being a lady.
"Being a lady is very important to me," said Barbara Caddel, who refuses to say her age. "It's important because I so want respect."
"It's important for a woman to like who she is," said Brandi Fahlsing, 25, Caddel's daughter.
"It's important to have a daughter be a lady," said Dell Smith, 72, Caddel's mother and Fahlsing's grandmother.
The most important thing to Smith is to walk like a lady. She said the most important thing ever learned from Powers, which touts itself as a "school of personal development and modeling," was to walk and talk in a ladylike way. Her look seemed to suggest: Why be Madonna when you can be Grace Kelly?
Smith described the Powers walk as "a kind of glide, a regal dance, where you move your hips this way and that way instead of . . . well, like this." Her hand motions indicated more a sway than a swivel. And then she laughed.
This month, John Robert Powers is celebrating its 30th birthday in San Diego. Nationally, it's been around for 65 years, turning out such esteemed graduates as Raquel Welch (a graduate in San Diego), Cicely Tyson, Diana Ross, Jane Fonda, Lindsay Wagner, and from an older generation, Lucille Ball and Lauren Bacall.
As Bacall might say, Powers teaches women a lot more than learning how to whistle. Grandmother Smith, who looks two decades younger than she is, said the program has "embellished my life" with character, confidence and perseverance. She's a devastating golfer and claimed Powers helped with that too.
She got into it all in a funny way. She enrolled her daughter, Caddel, in a Powers course in Long Beach in 1953.
"The teacher said, 'Why don't you take it with her?' so I did," Smith said, "and you know what? I loved it."
Mother and daughter launched a modeling career together. Smith modeled for a decade, serving such employers as Bullock's department store and the Disneyland Hotel.
"I did this one show with actor John Forsythe sitting in the crowd," she said. "Boy, did I ever strut that day."
Later, after the family moved to San Diego in 1966, they switched to the Powers school now located in Mission Valley. They're among several local families to have put multiple generations through classes.
Sherry McClain, president of the Mission Valley school, said several four- and five-generational groups have completed its courses. McClain has been with Powers since 1957, in San Diego since 1962.
McClain acknowledged the usual criticisms--about Powers enhancing phoniness, a kind of dress-for-success compromise that some say squashes character and individuality instead of enhancing either.
"The program teaches you to express your feelings," Fahlsing said. "It hardly advocates denial of feeling. It suggests, 'It's OK to have these feelings.' It says it's OK to cry. Women cry, so don't be afraid to be a woman. Powers would never deny that."
McClain said the program "has forever sought" to enhance individuality rather than stifle it. She said Powers has never been at odds with feminism, that most of its honor rolls move on to lucrative walks of life that don't include modeling, acting or anything "based purely on image."
If Powers were anti-individuality, McClain asked, how could it brag of a student like Fonda, who, when known as "Hanoi Jane"--opposing the war in Vietnam--had already taken and passed Powers' mode of basic training.
Caddel, a public health executive, agreed. She said the confidence gained at Powers has been a cornerstone in her professional life.
"We are a program of personal success," McClain said. "We go by the Benjamin Franklin philosophy. He said there's one kind of education where you learn how to make a living and another where you learn how to live. We're closer to the latter. Few college courses teach the things that we teach."
"Powers teaches you--at least it taught me--how to dress and speak, and of course walk ," Caddel said. "It teaches you social skills, which are so important. We're not talking about being good at parties. We're talking functioning, communicating. Those are vitally important for anybody, not just women."
McClain said the Powers age range is 5 to 75, with prices from $500 to $2,000. A variety of programs is available to the poor and to blind and disabled students. Not all students are women.