Saturday, May 22, 2021

The Lost History of a 30s Supermodel (From My Hometown)

Dana Jenney, photo by Lusha Nelson, Vogue 1937

Dana Jenney Horvath (1914-1992) grew up in Shenandoah, Ohio, a tiny town 12 miles north of Mansfield (my hometown), where her parents ran a general store. I've driven past it thousands of times on OH-13. The store's sign is how you know you are in Shenandoah. 

She went on to become one of the most successful models of the 1930s and early 40s, appearing on covers of every major fashion magazine. She was one of the first supermodels, yet she is little remembered today. 

Dana Jenney then, she attended and graduated from Mansfield Senior High School rather than Union High, a much smaller school closer to Shenandoah. While still in high school she met Charles King, who ran the Ohio Brass Company and whose elegant mansion was a short walk from the school. King's nephew was one of Jenney's classmates and she often swam at the mansion's pool.

King was new money. He entertained often, liberally, and sometimes scandalously. The main business of The Brass (as we always called the company) was selling insulators, conductors, resisters and other components to streetcar lines. In the 20s, new streetcar lines were being built all over the U.S. and King's business was booming.

Jenney graduated from Senior High in 1931 and immediately eloped to Kentucky with her high school sweetheart, the son of another wealthy Mansfield family. Even in my day, growing up in Mansfield almost 40 years later, it was still popular knowledge that if you wanted to get married before age 18, you ran away to Kentucky or West Virginia.

When the young couple returned to Mansfield, both families insisted on having the marriage annulled. King then helped Jenney launch her modeling career, first in Cleveland, then New York. They remained friends until his death in 1952. Whenever she visited her family in Shenandoah, King put his car and driver at her disposal. 

In New York, her social circle included Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, and Whitneys. She was one of the first American models to work extensively in Europe. In the early 1940s, Jenney married a wealthy industrialist named George Anton 'Tony' Horvath. They owned two homes in New York, and also in Miami, London and on the French Riviera. Each had their own yacht. 

They had one child, a daughter. Tony died in 1990. Jenney and her daughter moved to Arizona, where she died two years later, age 77. She is buried beside her parents in Shenandoah. 

Charles King is still remembered in Mansfield today because, childless, he left his mansion and its beautifully landscaped grounds to a generously endowed foundation. Today known as Kingwood Center, it figured prominently in my young life and that of many other Mansfielders. The swimming pool where Dana Jenney likely launched her glamorous life was filled in years ago.   


Genseric said...

Great story.. and given the size of the US, probably one of the thousands that, collectively, make the US what it is today.

Anonymous said...

Born and raised in Mansfield, I had no idea or awareness of Dana Kenney Horvath. The stories she would have told...