Dusting Off Portraits Of an Advertising Icon

REMEMBER the Breck Girl? Her shining tresses and squeaky-clean good looks were captured in soft pastel portraits that graced salons and then magazine pages from 1936 to the mid '70s.

Now 150 of the original portraits are back, not in magazines but at the recently opened Breck Girl Hall of Fame in the lobby of the Dial Corp's Phoenix headquarters.

"The Breck girl was an American icon," says Deborah Durham, a spokeswoman for Breck. "People really do relate to it."

Most of the first Breck models were employees, acquaintances, or family members of both John H. Breck, founder of the Springfield, Mass. company, and Charles Sheldon, who painted the portraits through the 1950s. In the 1960s and '70s, artist Ralph William Williams continued the tradition.

Many Breck girls were professional models or winners of Junior Miss pageants, including Jaclyn Smith, Kim Basinger, and a baby-faced Brooke Shields. Though the ads were mostly of young women, male infants and grandmothers were also featured.

An attempt in the 1970s to make the Breck girl into the Breck woman failed, and discounting further reduced the prestige of Breck products. (The Dial Corp is trying to revive the hair-care line, but using different advertising.)

The portraits were eventually stored in warehouses where they gathered dust and remained unidentified. Dial, which bought the Breck brand from American Cyanamid in 1990, launched a campaign to locate the short- and long-locked beauties when the Breck Hall of Fame opened June 1.

The company says it has been inundated with calls from former Breck girls and their acquaintances, including the first Breck girl - 93-year-old Olga Atkins of Springfield, Mass. Twenty of 130 portraits that were unidentified still need names. "It's been a bit of detective work," Ms. Durham says.

Former Breck girl Barbara Clement Gould responded to the search after reading about it in a newspaper article. She was a professional model and posed for portraits in 1962 and 1974.

"I thought being a Breck girl was quite exciting," she reflects. "The Breck ads were always lovely - they were always on the back covers or in special places. I've always kept the ads."

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