CATEGORIES OF SWINGIN' CHICK: Model
IMPACT ON THE '60s: While the name isn't as instantly recognizable as Twiggy's, Penelope Tree was still a powerful presence on the fashion scene in the '60s. Playboy mentioned her in the magazine's year-end roundup of '68 events, presented in a Judith Wax poem entitled "That Was the Year That Was" in January '69. Here's Penelope's stanza, with a reference to Twiggy and her manager/lover, Jacques Villeneuve:
"Penelope hath frightened stare
And nests of robins in her hair
'Twas Villeneuve caused Twig to be,
But only Vogue could make a Tree."
In September 2000 Vanity Fair ran a cover story on "it" girls, the women of the 20th century who had "it," an indefinable quality that made them eminently watchable centers of attention wherever they went. Penelope was shown as one of the "it" girls of the '60s, along with Angie Dickinson, Mia Farrow, Jean Shrimpton, Edie Sedgwick, and Jane Fonda.
CAREER IN THE '60s: She came from a rich and traditional English family who didn't appreciate her rebellious decision as a young teen to become a model. Her father was a multimillionaire, and her mother Marietta was the first woman delegate to the United Nations, and she had many powerful and famous friends in politics. The legendary photographer Diane Arbus discovered Penelope when she was only thirteen, and her outraged parents promised a lawsuit if pictures of her were published. She didn't make it into a magazine (Mademoiselle) until '65, when she was fifteen. At seventeen she met with Vogue editor Diana Vreeland. Penelope herself said that she first encountered both Vreeland and photographer Richard Avedon at the Black and White Ball thrown in late '66 by Truman Capote. Supposedly some of the Vogue editors thought she was too gawky and plain, but Avedon saw the strange beauty within her. According to Michael Gross's Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women, Avedon knew Penelope was a rare find: "She's perfect," he declared, "don't touch her." Avedon then shot her for Vogue, and her rep spread around the world. By this time her family relented in their opposition. Penelope was on three Vogue covers during the decade.
CAREER OUTSIDE THE '60s: She quit modeling in the early '70s, with stories of a strange skin disease possibly explaining her sudden disappearance. She is listed in the credits of the '78 spoof on the Beatles called The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash. In that movie, her husband, Ricky Fataar, played Stig, "the quiet one," and Penelope played his wife. She had no lines but got some screen time in fab fashions walking next to her husband. Penelope made some kind of contribution to the 1996 Mantra Mix CD, which was created in Australia to benefit Tibet, she's listed as an "assistant."
TALENT: Richard Avedon once said of her, "Penelope is never only of today. To each gesture she brings a sense of all the things that have ever interested her, out of this she invents every moment a new little role for herself which she plays with devastating humor ... she is a delight." Her best talent may have been for being original, according to famed photographer David Bailey: "Penelope Tree is the most original model there's ever been. She's the most original-looking girl I've ever seen." Still, there's no evidence of any acting, musical, or otherwise creative talent, unlike Jean Shrimpton, Veruschka, and Twiggy, all of whom at least attempted movie careers and wrote books.
HER '60s LOOK: "The face of the decade" she was called by Women's Wear Daily. Photographers loved her, so she must've been doing something right. She had a face like a doll, at once young and innocent but with a scary force behind the eyes, amplified by her sometimes extreme makeup and her reluctance to ever smile in any photo we've ever seen of her. In the book The Sixties: A Decade in Vogue, she explained her exaggerated makeup: "I started it all at thirteen, I think to annoy my friends' parents." Starting with that kind of anti-establishment attitude, she was a perfect reflection of what was going on in the late '60s, and her unconventional looks symbolized and reflected the strangeness and nonconformity of the times. So different was her makeup, Jean Shrimpton said, "Her style is almost science." Weird science, that is: Penelope once shaved off her eyebrows because she wanted "to look more like a Martian than I already did." Tall and gangly, she was another of the bone-thin models who were all the rage in the swingin' '60s. David Bailey described her as being an "Egyptian Jiminy Cricket." Penelope stood 5' 10" and at that height was on par with Jean Shrimpton, plus she was some four inches taller than Twig, though they all still must bow to the magnificence of the mighty Veruschka, who may have been as much as 6' 4." Like Veroosh, Penelope was often shown in bizarre settings, sometimes as a mythic figure or a wood nymph. In Radical Rags, Fashions of the Sixties, she explained her unique poses and why the public can't emulate her look: "You can't look like Vogue. It doesn't want you to. It just wants to show you what individuality is." Later Penelope admitted that she was anorexic throughout her modeling career in order to maintain that waif-like body.
LIFESTYLE: In '67 Penelope met David Bailey in the Vogue offices and soon moved in with him. Bailey, of course, had already enjoyed a passionate early-'60s romance with Jean Shrimpton and was married at the time to Catherine Deneuve, whom he wouldn't divorce until '70. Supposedly Catherine could see what was coming: One story has it that when she saw a photo of Penelope, she told her husband Bailey that he was going to fall in love with her. He did, and he and Penelope got a house and painted one of the rooms black and another one purple. Supposedly Penelope installed a UFO detector, and the place was often filled with various hippies and radicals. She and Bailey broke up in '74, and she left for Australia. Penelope later married rock musician Ricky Fataar, who briefly joined the Beach Boys and contributed several songs to their Holland LP in '72. She married again and has two children, Paloma and Michael.
EXTRAS: Penelope's mother was considered a legendary beauty, and she had passionate affairs with director John Huston -- who called her "the most beautiful and desirable woman I have ever known" -- and Adlai Stevenson ... Penelope's mom hobnobbed with the social elite of Europe and America and had homes in Europe, New York, and Barbados ... Penelope's father, Ronald Tree, was a member of British Parliament, Penelope's sister, Frances Fitzgerald, was a writer who won the Pulitzer Prize for Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam ... the U.K. band Felt had a song in '83 called "Penelope Tree," but the composer said it wasn't about her, he just liked the name ... here are those lyrics, just in case:
"I didn't want the world to know, that sunlight bathed the golden glow, loneliness is like a disease, triggers off my sense of unease, I was lonely until I found the reason, the reason was me
Oh, Penelope Tree...
Why don't you just enter the night, why don't you just do what you like, loneliness and all that heartache, that's something I just can't take, you've got your head on back to front, that's easy, so easy for me, oh that's easy for me, you know that's easy for me...
Oh, Penelope Tree
Hey tell me why are you so scared, it's like the beginning go there, gold mine trash seeks brave dark warrior, what are we doing, why are we here, why must we die? Oh no no no, that's easy, so easy for me."