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Cleo Dorman; Artists' Model for Thousands

August 10, 1990|BURT A. FOLKART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cleo Dorman, who displayed her supple figure to literally tens of thousands of would-be and actual artists in a modeling career that extended through six decades, has died in West Los Angeles, it was learned this week.

Robert Service, a longtime friend, said she was 82 when she died July 19 at the Veterans Administration Hospital in West Los Angeles.

Although essentially retired for several years, she consented to pose for a group of artists as recently as two years ago.

The subject of paintings and sculpture by artists ranging from the famous (Sister Mary Corita Kent) to those known best for other talents (Peter Falk and Nelson Eddy), Miss Dorman amassed a small fortune by accumulating some of those works. Often she accepted a painting or piece of sculpture in lieu of a fee.

Service said the works were sold recently to finance a scholarship for minority students at Otis Art Institute of Parsons School of Design.

Forced into modeling as a teen-ager by her family's economic straits, she began work in Chicago in the early 1930s.

Although she had visions of seeing her face on magazine covers when she started, it was other areas of her anatomy that brought success.

Painters such as Hans Burkhardt, Raphael Soyer, Joe Magnani and Charles White became her fans and her friends.

"I was like an actress," Miss Dorman said in a 1989 interview with The Times, shortly after she announced she would sell her personal accumulation of art treasures.

"The artists (were) my audience."

Her first modeling job was at a Chicago art school, where she at first refused to disrobe but--needing the 50 cents an hour the job paid--finally agreed.

"I thought the next 25 minutes would never end," she recalled. But after seeing how her image was being interpreted by the students, she relaxed--for what proved a near-lifetime.

She began to frequent museums, studying the work of Degas, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec and Goya, and took ballet to improve her poses.

Soon she became a favored model at the Art Students League in New York, the Pennsylvania Academy of Art in Philadelphia, and art departments at such college and university campuses as Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, Ithaca and Cornell. At the old Chouinard School of Art in Los Angeles she posed for Walt Disney animators working on "Fantasia" and "Pinocchio" for what was then the princely sum of $1.50 an hour.

Miss Dorman moved permanently to Los Angeles in 1949, shortly after she was discharged from the Women's Army Corps, where she served as a Medical Corps technician during World War II.

Over the years, she cheerfully admitted, she moved from buxom to bountiful and abandoned nude modeling for costume modeling about two decades ago.

But the "lumps" she said she acquired with age did not lessen her popularity.

"People are always telling me they see me wherever they go--in someone's gallery, on La Cienega or in a living room or kitchen or den," she said.

In 1966, USC organized a "Hail to Cleo" exhibit of dozens of the portraits that had been made of her.

Miss Dorman, married and divorced twice, had no children. "My paintings are like my children," she said. "When I am on the model's stand, there is a spirit that comes over me . . . to be needed after all these years. I cannot think of anything more wonderful."

She is survived by a niece, Doreen Vaughn.

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