Kelle James was 16 – and looked like 13 – when she waved goodbye to her abusive father and set off for New York City. Hoping to make it as model, she set up shop at the iconic Barbizon Hotel for Women. One go see with Ford Models later, she was told that she was too short and would never model in “this city”.
Kelle did manage to get signed with My Fair Lady modeling agency, but actual jobs were slow to materialize. Kelle and fellow aspiring model Rayna bonded over their shared dreams, and equally shared homelessness, with Rayna looking out for her more innocent friend. Together, they endured living on $3 a day in a storage room of the modeling agency, crashing at abandoned and rat infested apartments and being prey to every “borderline pedophile in Manhattan”.
In her memoir, James recalls her experience as a young model in 1970s New York, as well as her inadvertent participation in a famous murder trial. While at My Fair Lady, she befriended Buddy Jacobson who was convicted – wrongly in her opinion – of brutally murdering his ex-girlfriend’s fiance (read the story here).
Smile for the Camera is a candid and honest account by a woman who persevered despite the odds, and who managed to tell her difficult story with a healthy dose of humor. At times, I had the feeling that James was relying too much on flashbacks and not delving enough into what her experiences in New York really meant. However, I appreciated any amount of introspection (difficult as it must have been) and James’ story kept me turning pages, eager to learn her fate.
This book was provided free of any obligation by Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.