Before they were famous: 35 celebrities who were models before becoming stars

Before they were famous - Models before stars at Click Americana

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There’s an undeniable thread woven through the fabric of fame: many of today’s biggest stars have risen from relatively humble beginnings — such as on the catwalks or in the glossy pages of magazines — before they really hit the big time.

Over the years, we have assembled these old pictures of celebrities from before they were famous. In most cases, their names did not appear because it was long before they could demand higher rates as well-known names endorsing a product.

Of course, the model-to-actor/actress career switch and rise to stardom isn’t just a coincidence — it’s usually part of a long journey, which requires a mix of talent, looks and luck. It also takes a discerning eye to find faces with the perfect blend of qualities that will make them recognizable even decades later.

Some of the top talent scouts and photographers can sometimes make the stars align — almost literally — and wind up with two up-and-comers in the same photoshoot! Here’s an example of that from the early 80s, featuring actress Phoebe Cates on the left, and singer Whitney Houston in the middle:

Future stars Whitney Houston & Phoebe Cates in the early 80s

From model to actor: The magic transformation of these celebrities from photoshoots to film fame

The modeling industry can be an excellent training ground for aspiring stars. Beyond providing a platform to showcase physical appeal, it offers exposure to high-profile clientele, photographers, and industry insiders.

It’s a fascinating journey, marked by perseverance and opportunity, that continues to bring fresh faces into the limelight — from the pages of fashion magazines to the big screen — shaping the entertainment industry’s landscape in unexpected and fascinating ways.

Below, check out some long-forgotten photos of today’s celebrities who started out as models! (We know there are more out there. Who did we miss? Please let us know in the comments!)

BEFORE THEY WERE FAMOUS: MODELS OF THE 1960s & 1970s

Young Candice Bergen before she was an actress

As someone who had grown up in the limelight as the daughter of Edgar Bergen (of ventriloquist fame), young Candice Bergen became the face of many different brands, and appeared in hundreds of different outfits for fashion magazines.

This early foray into the public eye and her inherent grace helped the future Murphy Brown star navigate a successful transition to both the small and big screens. Her modeling days were instrumental in developing her poised persona, a quality that later became her trademark in the entertainment industry.

MORE: Candice Bergen: The early career of the model, actress, daughter of Edgar Bergen & sister to a famous puppet

Candice Bergen for Bonne Bell Ten-O-Six lotion (1965)

Models acting: Young Candice Bergen for Bonne Bell Ten-O-Six lotion (1965)

“Candy” Bergen modeling long braids for Vogue (1969)

Candice Bergen modeling for Vogue - long braids (1969)

Candice Bergen talks about Murphy Brown on 60 Minutes

YouTube video


James Bond actress Maud Adams

Maud Adams, after her stint as a model, transitioned into the world of acting with a strong, captivating presence. This versatility, initially showcased in her modeling days, lent itself well to her later roles in two different James Bond movies (The Man with the Golden Gun and Octopussy).

Maud Adams for Germaine Monteil makeup (1960s)

James Bond actress Maud Adams modeling for Germaine Monteil (1960s)

Here’s young Maud maud-eling for Avon (1969)

Actress Maud Adams for Avon (1969)


Love Story actress Ali MacGraw (1969)

Ali MacGraw was a hugely successful model in the 60s and into the early 70s. That’s when her acting career really hit the heights with the movie Goodbye, Columbus (alongside Jack Klugman) and movie Love Story. A few years later, in 1973, she would marry actor Steve McQueen.

MORE: From model to movie star, Ali MacGraw was Hollywood’s unstoppable heroine (1972)

Ali MacGraw for Johnson’s Baby Oil (1971)

Ali MacGraw for Johnson's Baby Oil tan from 1971

Ali MacGraw for Heublein cocktails (1969)

Actress Ali MacGraw for Heublein cocktails (1969)


Partridge Family & LA Law actress Susan Dey

Future LA Law star Susan Dey, who emerged in the public eye as the youthful face of Dial Soap, Pursettes tampons and Monet jewelry, among others. The spirit she embodied, reflective of the vibrant 70s, later came to life in her portrayal of Laurie Partridge in the Partridge Family.

MORE: Meet the Partridge Family & see the TV show intro – C’mon get happy!

Susan Dey for Dial Soap (1970)

Partridge Family actress Susan Dey modeling for Dial Soap (1970)

Susan Dey modeling for Monet Jewelry (1970)

Partridge Family actress Susan Dey modeling for Monet Jewelry (1970)


Actress Cybill Shepherd

Cybill was one of America’s top models back in the 1960s and 1970s — even after she starred in the Oscar-winning movie The Last Picture Show with Jeff Bridges. She would become well-known for her work in Moonlighting, and then truly became a household name on the 90s sitcom Cybill.

MORE: Moonlighting: Bruce Willis & Cybill Shepherd’s TV comedy/drama was a surprising success

Young Cybill Shepherd for Cover Girl makeup (1973)

Young actress Cybill Shepherd for Cover Girl makeup (1973)

Cybill Shepherd modeling vintage rings (1969)

This was an ad for…  the Savings and Loan Association.

Actress Cybill Shepherd modeling in an ad for the Savings and Loan Association (1969)


The modeling days of actress Pam Dawber

Before her career skyrocketed playing opposite Robin Williams on Mork & Mindy, Pam was a popular model for several advertisers, and also modeled several times for the Simplicity pattern catalogs. She went on to marry actor Mark Harmon, who is also featured below!

MORE PAM: Pam Dawber: From alien sidekick to the sexiest man alive’s better half (1970s-1980s)

Young Pam Dawber for Corn Silk makeup (1973)

Young Pam Dawber modeling for Corn Silk makeup (1973)

Actress Pam Dawber for Sealy mattresses (1976)

Young actress Pam Dawber for Sealy mattresses (1976)


Young actress Rene Russo (1973)

Rene is in the middle here, in this vintage ad for Long and Silky hair conditioner. (“Because the only important things you wear are your jeans and your hair.”)

Young actress Rene Russo for Long and Silky hair conditioner (1973)


Young Kim Basinger’s busy modeling career

In addition to appearing in several ads for Maybelline cosmetics, the future 9-1/2 Weeks and LA Confidential actress (plus, for a few years, the wife of Alec Baldwin) was one of JC Penney’s favorite catalog models.

Kim Basinger modeling clothing for JC Penney (1973)

Young actress Kim Basinger modeling clothing for JC Penney (1973)

Kim Basinger for Maybelline Kissing Potion (1975)

MORE: Remember Maybelline Kissing Potion & other flavored lip gloss from the 70s & 80s?

Kim Basinger for Maybelline Kissing Potion lip gloss (1975)


Brooke Shields, modeling superstar

Although her Pretty Baby acting career started when she was young, Brooke Shields was best known as a model until she became a star as the girl who didn’t let anything get between her and her Calvin Klein Jeans. 

MORE: Young Brooke Shields: The spectacular (& controversial) early career of the supermodel & Pretty Baby actress

Young Brooke modeling for Breck shampoo (1974)

Brooke Shields modeling for Breck shampoo (1974)

Models before acting: Brooke Shields for Colgate (1975)

Young Brooke Shields - model/actress in an ad for Colgate from 1975


Actor Tom Selleck before Magnum

Before he was the star of Magnum PI, Tom Selleck was a very successful male model, and appeared in ads for several major players, including Ford, Revlon and RJ Reynolds.

Tom Selleck for Salem cigarettes (1977)

Tom Selleck for Salem cigarettes (1977)

Tom Selleck for Chaz cologne for men (1980)

Tom Selleck for Chaz cologne - Vintage ad from 1980


Young actress Erin Gray

Before she became well-known for her turns in Buck Rogers and Silver Spoons, Erin Gray modeled for the Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogs, plus was a favorite of many advertisers in the 60s and 70s.

Model-turned-actress Erin Gray for Bonne Bell (1969)

Model turned actress Erin Gray for Bonne Bell (1969)

Actress Erin Gray for Breck Creme Rinse (1977)

Actress Erin Gray for Breck Creme Rinse (1977)

ALSO SEE: The history of the famous Breck shampoo ads, plus 25 iconic vintage Breck Girl images


Model turned actor: Young Mark Harmon

Here is former football star and future NCIS star Mark Harmon around 1978, going shirtless for Baxter of California Super Shape Skin Conditioner for Men.

Young Mark Harmon for Baxter of California Super Shape Skin Conditioner for Men (c1978)

Here’s NCIS star Mark Harmon & wife Pam Dawber in 2011

USA - TV Guide Magazine Hot List Party - Los Angeles
Mark Harmon at the TV Guide Magazine Hot List Party at the Greystone Manor on November 7, 2011 in Los Angeles, CA (Jean_Nelson/Deposit Photos)

BEFORE THEY WERE FAMOUS: MODELS OF THE 1980s

Child actor/model Jason Hervey

By the time he was known for his role as Wayne Arnold on the TV series The Wonder Years, Jason Hervey’s face was already well-known from ad campaigns like these.

Little Jason Hervey for Del Monte Lite fruit cocktail (1980)

Jason Hervey for Del Monte Lite fruit cocktail (1980)

Jason Hervey for Levi’s jeans for kids – 1979

Young actor Jason Hervey for Levi's jeans for kids - 1979

Jason Hervey (bottom right) on The Wonder Years around 1988

Cast of The Wonder Years TV show (c1988)


Future Fast Times at Ridgemont High actress Phoebe Cates for K-Mart (1980)

Actress Phoebe Cates for K-Mart (1980)


Future actress Jennifer Connelly

The Academy Award-winning actress (and future wife of actor Paul Bettany) was a busy model as a girl and teenager. See more about young Jennifer’s career here!

In the Sears catalog with supermodel Cheryl Tiegs (1983)

Supermodel Cheryl Tiegs with future actress Jennifer Connelly in 1983

Teenage Jennifer Connelly for Coty and JC Penney (1986)

Jennifer Connelly for Coty and JC Penney (1986)

Jennifer’s Supporting Actress Academy Award win  for ‘A Beautiful Mind’ (2001)

YouTube video


Singer/actress Whitney Houston modeling 80s hairstyles (1984)

MORE: See how young Whitney Houston rocked as a model before she became a superstar (1980s)

Vintage Whitney Houston modeling 80s hairstyles (1984) - After


Titanic actress Suzy Amis (right) for Warner’s bras in 1984

Titanic actress Suzy Amis (right) for Warners bras (1984)

ALSO SEE: 80s lingerie & women’s underwear styles went through a bold transformation


Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9) actress Terry Farrell for New Freedom maxi pads (1984)

DS9 actress Terry Farrell for New Freedom maxi pads (1984)


Future thirtysomething actress Mel Harris for Sheer Energy pantyhose (1984)

30-something actress Mel Harris for Sheer Energy pantyhose (1984)


Young Geena Davis modeling in swimsuit for A&M cassettes (1983)

Young Geena Davis modeling in swimsuit for AM Records (1983)


Valley Girl actress Deborah Lynn Foreman in Maybelline Kissing Glosses ad (1985)

MORE: Remember Maybelline Kissing Potion & other flavored lip gloss from the 70s & 80s?

Maybelline Kissing Glosses vintage ad from 1985


Friends actress Courteney Cox for Noxzema skin cream (1986)

Friends actress Courteney Cox for Noxzema skin cream (1986)


Uma Thurman modeling the right way to put on makeup in Mademoiselle (1986)

By the time the 1980s rolled around, the trend of models transitioning into acting roles was well-established. The striking star Uma Thurman was a testament to this, who moved from amusing readers with these makeup do’s and don’t s in Mademoiselle to gracing the silver screen with her unique charm and versatility.

Uma Thurman’s perfect 80s makeup (1986)

Uma Thurman modeling the right way put on makeup in Mademoiselle (1986)

Uma showing the wrong way to put on eyeshadow (1986)

Uma Thurman modeling the wrong way put on eyeshadow in Mademoiselle (1986)

ALSO SEE: How to get awesome & authentic on-trend 80s eye makeup, like multicolored eyeshadow


Actress Kate Mulgrew before her acting days

Star Trek: Voyager’s Captain Janeway and Orange is the New Black’s Red did a little modeling back in the day, including posing in these very 80s ads for telephone services.

Kate Mulgrew for Bell South (1987)

Actress Kate Mulgrew in an ad for Bell South (1987)

South Central Bell’s neon bars couldn’t lock her in

Star Trek Voyager and Orange is the New Black actress Kate Mulgrew For Bell South (1987)

Kate Mulgrew as Captain Janeway in Star Trek: Voyager

Kate Mulgrew as Captain Janeway in Star Trek Voyager


Is this young David Boreanaz?

We spotted a familiar face but couldn’t verify it… though we think that sure looks like the Buffy, Bones and Seal Team actor in this vintage ad for Newport Beach-based J Carroll Salon from 1987!

Is this David Boreanaz for J Carroll Salon (1987)

Here’s David Boreanaz & star Sarah Michelle Gellar in the 1990s Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show

David Boreanaz and Sarah Michelle Gellar in Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show


Actress Mariska Hargitay in 1988

Before her turn as Olivia Benson in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, the beautiful daughter of Jayne Mansfield was making it on her own in the Los Angeles area, working as a model for companies like the Southern California clothing store Rakish.

MORE: Young Mariska Hargitay: See her modeling in the 1980s, long before ‘Law & Order: SVU’

Young Mariska Hargitay 1988


Actor William Baldwin for Nike’s Side 1 Shoes (1989)

Billy Baldwin — brother to Alec Baldwin and the man who was later to become the husband of Chynna Phillips (daughter of The Mamas & The Papas singer Michelle Phillips) — was just getting his career going when he appeared in this part of an ad for Side 1 athletic shoes from Nike.

Actor Billy Baldwin for Side 1 Shoes (1989)


BEFORE THEY WERE FAMOUS: MODELS OF THE 1990s

Models acting: Denise Richards for Bonne Bell makeup (1991)

Denise Richards for Bonne Bell makeup (1991)


Young actress Angelina Jolie modeling for JC Penney (1992)

MORE DRESSES: 100 vintage 80s prom dresses: See the hottest retro styles teen girls wore

Young actress Angelina Jolie modeling for JC Penney (1992)


Species actress Natasha Henstridge for Lady Stetson perfume (1993)

MORE: Remember these 150 popular vintage perfumes from the 90s?

Model to actor: Species actress Natasha Henstridge for Lady Stetson perfume (1993)


Heroes actress Ali Larter for Windmere hair dryers (1995)

ALSO SEE: See 30 fab vintage blow dryers & handheld hair stylers from the 70s & 80s

Heroes actress Ali Larter for Windmere hair dryers (1995)


CSI actor Eric Szmanda’s McDonald’s ad from 1996

We’re pretty sure his CSI character Greg would have put on gloves before taking all those Happy Meal boxes and Big Mac packages into evidence.

MORE: Vintage McDonald’s: See 5 decades of the famous fast food chain’s retro restaurants, menus & history

Model to actor: Eric Szmanda in McDonald's ad from 1996


Mila Kunis (right) modeling Lisa Frank clothes and toys (1996)

MORE: Vintage Lisa Frank: Transforming technicolor whimsy into a fun neon reality (1980s & 1990s)

Model to actor: Mila Kunis (right) modeling Lisa Frank clothes and toys (1996)


Model to actor Audrey Marie Anderson for Gap (1998)

MORE: The Gap: See 3 decades of vintage Gap clothes & how the company started with a totally different concept

Model to actor: Audrey Marie Anderson for Gap (1998)

Audrey (center) as Kim Brown in The Unit

The Unit TV show cast (2006)
Dennis Haysbert (second from right), Regina Taylor (far right), Scott Foley (back, third from right), Robert Patrick (standing, far left), Audrey Marie Anderson (seated front right), Max Martini (back, third from left), Abby Brammell (seated front left), Michael Irby (back center) and Demore Barnes (back, second from left) starred in THE UNIT. Photo: Cliff Lipson/CBS © 2006 CBS Broadcasting Inc.

Young Tyrese Gibson for Tommy Hilfiger fragrance (1999)

Tyrese Gibson for Tommy Hilfiger fragrance (1999)

Tyrese Gibson with the cast of Furious 7

at the Vin Diesel Hand and Foot Print Ceremony, TCL Chinese Theater, Hollywood, CA 04-01-15
Tyrese Gibson, Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster and Ludacris at the ‘Furious 7’ movie premiere in 2015 (Photo by S Bukley/Deposit Photos)

MORE: See Leonardo DiCaprio’s old Bubble Yum TV commercial from the ’80s

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