Overshadowed by her more popular sister (Anita Colby), Francine Counihan was still a well known model of the 1940s and 1950s, who, with several fellow models, helped usher the golden age of modeling and made an lasting impact on the US advertising world.
Francine Lynn Counihan was born on November 18, 1915 in Washington, DC, to Daniel Francis Counihan and Margaret Ann McCarthy. Her father, nicknamed Bud, was a cartoonist for the New York Evening World and the artist for the Betty Boop series. Her older sister Anita was born on August 5, 1914.
They family lived in Washington, DC. The girls mother, Margaret, was a very conservative and strict disciplinarian: they were bred to be perfect ladies, always thinking of propriety, with a perfect carriage and maintaining their decorum at all times. It was forbidden to swear or use any “unladylike” language.
Under Anita’s tutelage, Francine started modeling in 1935. As she later reccounted:
Colby started me in ’35. Conover said, ‘Have her come with you on one of the jobs and I’ll talk to her.’ I was eighteen, and Colby was nineteen. Conover said, ‘You’re crazy if you don’t start modeling. There’s so much money in it.’ Well, in those days it was five dollars for an hour and a half. So I went to Powers. He was very interested in people, and he was interested in you being successful. He was a great morale builder. I went into everything. Fashion shows; Sears, Roebuck; Vogue; Harper’s Bazaar; all the catalogs. I went to Canada, and I went to Arizona—any place that there was money.
The girls were social butterflies of New York, frequenting all the places high society cold be seen in: Twenty-one,’ Stork Club, El Morocco, Plaza Hotel. Yet, when they went for dates, it was forbidden to go without a chaperone – if Francine wanted to go out with a man, she had to find a date for Anita so they could chaperone each other. Imagine the many awkward situations that came out of this!
Anita decided to try her luck in Hollywood (she would have better luck as a heartbreaker than an actress), and Francine followed suit.
Again, I quote some of the previous posts about her movie career:
Her first credit is Cover Girl, a now classic Rita Hayworth/Gene Kelly Technicolor musical. While today remembered primarily a springboard for the two stars (Gene Kelly, loaned out from MGM; finally got the treatment he deserved at his home studio after this movie, and Rita crawled out of the B movies and supporting roles in A movies and got her due with Gilda and other great movies), it’s a fun, sweet movie nonetheless. Rita is simply enchanting, and Gene, while his character is somewhat of a jerk, redeems himself with his superb, athletic dancing. A great and breezy way to pass an hour and a half!
Francine was one of 14 cover girls who appeared in it. The others were Betty Jane Hess, Eileen McClory, Dusty Anderson, Jinx Falkenburg, Cecilia Meagher, Anita Colby, Karen Gaylord and so on.
Francine returned to New York after this and never had another Hollywood role.
On January 5, 1936, at just 20 years old, Francine married Robert J. Riordan in Manhattan, New York. Riordan, born in 1912, was the son of a banker, who finished 2 years of colledge and never graduated. The couple lived in New York, and soon Francine was the main breadwinner in the family.
Their son Robert J. Riordan Jr. was born on October 11, 1936. Their daughter, Francine Lynn, was born in 1940.
Colby was more glamorous than I was. I thought glamour was fine, but I wanted the money. She was doing a lot of Vogue and a lot of Harper’s. I was more commercial, and she was more high-fashion. I made a lot of money. See, for me, being a model wasn’t as important as the money. I had a seven-room apartment in New York, I had two children in private school.
Francine and Robert’s marriage was not a stable one and they separated in 1941. They remained separated for six years, until 1947. In the interim, Francine occasionally dated somebody who caught her fancy. In 1946, she was a duet with Richard Carolson, just out of the army.
Francine varied the color of her hair through her long modeling career. She was originally a light brunette, but changed the color to ash blonde in the mid 1940s. She got back to blonde in 1949, just before the end of her career.
Francine married John B. Okie in 1949. Okie was born on August 27, 1914, in Marshall, Virginia. He was an OSS operative during World War II and an international businessman afterwards. They met when Francine and Anita sailed to Europe on a luxury ocean liner (wth many other dignitaries like Rita Hayworth, an Indian maharaja, the Churchills and so on). Churchill was pretty impressed by the sisters, and even gave them a signed copy of his book about painting! There is a funny story concerning the camaraderie between the sisters and the maharajah: he was a free wheeling, great spender type of a fellow, but his government forbade him to spend any more more on women an d gambling as he was deeply in debt. Known for showering ladies with jeweles, he met the two sisters, liked them a great lot, but could not give them the customary rubies or diamonds. The girls, when they came to England, as a consolation, they send him a crystal nipped from a chandelier!
Lets go back to Fancine and John. They lived for a time in Connecticut, before moving to Kent, Rhode Island. Thier mansion in Kent featured a huge swimming pool beyond a set of magnificent floor-to-ceiling glass doors.
Okie was not ecstatic about his wife modeling, and persuaded her to give up that life in 1950. Conover owner her a load of money, but she gave up on ever trying to get it from him. She retired for good after 13 years as a model (a pretty long time for such a fickle job).
Francine Okie died on November 14, 1994, in Kent, Rhode Island.
Francine’s widower John Okie died on February 6, 1999 in Kent, Rhode Island.