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c. 1937

The mannequin who became a legitimate celebrity in the 1930s

'Cynthia' made the cover of LIFE magazine and was invited to King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson's wedding.

How would you like to be famous? Maybe having your own TV talk show, your own magazine column, cast in Hollywood movies, dressed in super-expensive freebies from the world’s best designers — in short, to be a household name?

Alfred Eisenstaedt / LIFE Magazine / Getty Images

Well, wouldn’t we all. But one woman achieved all this and more, seemingly overnight. Her name was Cynthia — though she perhaps had an unfair advantage over you and I. She was a model. As in, an actual model. She was made out of plaster.

Alfred Eisenstaedt / LIFE Magazine / Getty Images

The person who shaped that plaster was Lester Gaba, from Missouri. Having taught himself to model figures out of soap (a craze during the Great Depression), Gaba moved to NYC, and began work dressing department store windows.

Alfred Eisenstaedt / LIFE Magazine / Getty Images

He created a new form of realistic shop mannequin known as Gaba Girls. To enhance the realism of his figures, Gaba included “imperfections” like feet of different sizes. Gaba Girls became de rigueur for NYC retailers.

Alfred Eisenstaedt / LIFE Magazine / Getty Images

Enter Cynthia: She appeared on the New York scene on the arm of the then-25-year-old Gaba. Gaba took Cynthia with him to society events, nightclubs, restaurants, you name it. Should anyone attempt to engage Cynthia in conversation, Gaba neatly stated that she had laryngitis.

Alfred Eisenstaedt / LIFE Magazine / Getty Images

The result for Cynthia was fame, fan mail, and a lot of free clothing from brands such as Cartier and Tiffany. She was even issued a credit card from Saks Fifth Avenue. And her fame spread — soon she was written about by the press in society and gossip columns, featured on the cover of LIFE magazine and — preposterous though it may sound — was invited to the wedding of Britain’s King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson.

Alfred Eisenstaedt / LIFE Magazine / Getty Images

It wasn’t until 1942, a full five years from her introduction into society, that Cynthia’s fame began to wane. Gaba was drafted into the U.S. Army and he sent Cynthia to live with his mother, back in Missouri.

Alfred Eisenstaedt / LIFE Magazine / Getty Images

Cynthia’s current whereabouts are unknown.

Alfred Eisenstaedt / LIFE Magazine / Getty Images
Alfred Eisenstaedt / LIFE Magazine / Getty Images
Alfred Eisenstaedt / LIFE Magazine / Getty Images

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