See young Jennifer Connelly before she was famous (1982)

See young Jennifer Connelly before she was famous

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Academy Award-winning actress Jennifer Connelly was born in 1970, and started her career as a child model in the ’80s — often appearing in catalog layouts.

It wasn’t long before her work expanded beyond modeling. Her movie debut was in 1984’s crime film Once Upon a Time in America, but it wasn’t until Labyrinth in 1986 that America first really took notice of her.

Her greatest success to date has perhaps come from playing Alicia Nash in 2001 film A Beautiful Mind — for which she won an Oscar, Golden Globe and BAFTA Award.

Best of all, though, that film introduced her to her husband, actor Paul Bettany. Together, they have two children — Stellan and Agnes — and are also raising her son, Kai, from a previous relationship.

Young Jennifer Connelly - 1982 - Dynamite

Jennifer Connelly – Meet Jenny: A young model’s story

by Pat Brigandi

If you’re a model, you’ve got it made! You’re very popular, you get to wear beautiful clothes, and, of course, you make a lot of money. Right? Dynamite wanted to know what it’s really like to be a model.

So we went straight to the top — Ford Models Inc., and its director of models, Claudia Black. After all, if anyone knows about the modeling business, the Ford Agency does. After all, that’s where Brooke Shields and many other top models got their start.

Claudia told us that modeling is a tough field to break into. “We get about 175,000 applications from kids ages 7 and up each year, and only about 2,000 last,” she said. “The reason why they don’t last is because they are just not right for this business.

Meet a model

One model who turned out to be just perfect was 11-year-old Jenny Connelly. Jenny came to the Ford Agency a little over 7 months ago “and started working immediately.

Claudia explained that it was unusual for things to work that fast. “It takes three good months of pushing on the part of the agency to get a model her first job. Jenny was an exception!”

“Jenny’s look was compelling. She was dressed in a party dress with an almost Mona Lisa-like look on her face. The picture made her interesting right away. When you meet her, you’ll see what I mean.”

Before she was famous Meet a young Jennifer Connelly (1982)
Looking at some of young Jennifer Connelly’s clothing catalog work from the ’80s

At that moment, Jenny came into the room, and Claudia was right. Jenny did have something special in her look.

She looked like the all-American girl with dark hair, green eyes, and freckles. Jenny had just returned from a photography session and was on her way to a fitting. Still, she took time out from her busy schedule to talk to us.

Dynamite assumed Jenny’s morning had been pretty hectic, but what we found out surprised us. “Everything is prepared ahead of time so that there are no problems the morning of the job,” said Jenny.

We asked Jenny what fashion-show modeling was like. “People are running around backstage putting clothes on. It’s very hectic.” Then Jenny laughed, “I never wore the wrong clothes during a show, but I have gone home in someone else’s outfit.”

Model Jennifer Connelly as Jenny Connelly in 1982

Young old pros

Claudia added, “Most people don’t realize what’s involved in being a model. The glamour part is what’s advertised, but none of the work is.”

Claudia smiled, “When you look at a picture of a 12-year old model, you don’t realize that she’s probably been working since she was a year old. By now, she’s an old pro. She knows exactly what to do before the photographer tells her.”

Isn’t there any fun? Dynamite wanted to know. Of course there is! Jenny and Claudia just wanted to make sure we realized how dedicated to the modeling business you have to be if you want to make it. A model does get to meet a lot of interesting people and wear a lot of nice clothes.

Fashionable '80s clothes for girls in the 1983 JC Penney catalog

And there’s always the money. How much can a model make? Anywhere from $65 an hour and up, Claudia said. Not bad for an hour’s work!

But for Jenny, money isn’t the most important thing. She really likes what she is doing. “Modeling is just kind of a fun thing for me. I usually work with the same kids, and we’ve become friends,” she explained.

Claudia pointed out how a child has to ready to give up a lot of things for a career in modeling.

“They have to be willing to give up after-school activities and be ready to work Saturdays and all summer. That’s the busiest time of the year, and most children don’t want to give up their free time.”

David Bowie Jennifer Connelly in Labyrinth movie 1986
David Bowie Jennifer Connelly in the Labyrinth movie – four years later, in 1986
A class act

How does Jenny manage to find the time for a modeling career and school? “I go to a private school,” Jenny told us, “and they don’t mind too much as long as I make up the work. And there are always the weekends to catch up on things.”

Modeling can often be difficult work. Jenny recalled her first modeling session.

“My first job was the worst. I didn’t like the people that much.” Jenny explained that one of the models that day had a pin stuck in her. But when the model told the photographer, he just wanted to keep taking pictures.

Cindy Crawford's Cosmopolitan & Vogue covers of the 1980s

Despite that first job, Jenny stuck with modeling, and she’s had some challenging sessions herself. One involved having to work with a chimpanzee.

“He was a baby-sized chimp,” Jenny said. “He sat on my lap and kept blowing bubbles and messing up my hair.”

Jennifer Connelly on the cover of Seventeen - April 1986
Jennifer Connelly on the cover of Seventeen magazine – April 1986
Going in style

That didn’t exactly sound glamorous, so we asked if it was exciting to dress up in the latest fashions.

“I’ve done a couple of things for some clothes designers. They had nice clothes silk shirts with ruffles and long skirts. I really liked that!”

Time was running out. Jenny didn’t want to be late for her next assignment. But before she left, Dynamite asked her if she had any advice for kids who wanted to become models.

“People often ask me that. They ask me if I think they are pretty enough and can they make it as a model. I just tell them they have to talk to their parents about it and see if they really want to do it. You have to be committed — it’s not something to do in your spare time. It’s not hard work, but it’s a lot of work.”

Gunne Sax prom dresses of the eighties
Jennifer Connelly on the cover of Seventeen - April 1987
Jennifer Connelly on the cover of Seventeen magazine – April 1987
Would she make it?

“When I first saw her, I didn’t think Jenny would make it,” Claudia told Dynamite. “She reminded me of a little girl we already had working for us, and we don’t like having two models that look alike.”

But a photographer convinced her to look at Jenny’s pictures, and is she happy she did.

A model carries her portfolio everywhere she goes. It contains samples of jobs she’s already done. This is one way a company judges if a certain model is right for a job. Another way is to have the model try the clothes on.

Jenny explained, “You try on the clothes and if they fit, they hire you. If they don’t fit, and the people really liked you, they will do some pinning, but this can’t be done all the time.”

“There are models who are 10 years old and dress up like they’re 25,” Jenny said. “I’ve done that a couple of times, and it’s okay to do once in a while. I think you’ll grow up soon enough, and you don’t have to push it.”

Jennifer Connelly - A Beautiful Mind

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Comments on this story

One Response

  1. Jennifer is the most beautiful woman in the industry and now I see that she was always beautiful. Her acting has progressed over the years and now she can hold her own with top stars. Go Jennifer!!

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