Carol Yorke started as a beautiful, feline model who tried Hollywood and failed. Nothing new here – tons of models went to Hollywood and never made anything worthwhile. However, Carol was not the one to take no for an answer – she completely reinvented her life and became one of the premier fashion connoisseurs and columnists of her time. Let’s learn more about her!
Carol Yorke was born Carolyn Bjorkman on April 25, 1926, in Swissdale, a suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Elmer and Ruth Bjorkman. Her paternal grandparents were Swedish immigrants – her mother was a native Californian. Her younger brothers were John, born in 1928, and Richard, born in 1934.
Carol’s parents died when in the late 1930s, and she and her two bothers were raised by their paternal aunt, Gertrude. In 1940, the Bjorkmann children lived in Swissdale with their grandparents, uncle, his wife, another uncle and Gertrude.
Carolyn was a talented child who, after graduating from high school in her hometown (Pittsburgh), attended Carnegie Institute of Technology Drama school. Due to her good looks, she soon landed into the modeling scene – she first modeled for the local manufacturer Joseph Home Co, and soon she was on the rise.
Buoyed by her successful modeling experience, she moved to New York in the mid 1940s and did work for John Robert Powers. She was a seasoned model when she tried Hollywood in 1947.
Carol made only one movie, Letter from an Unknown Woman, directed by Max Ophuls. But, what a movie it is! Note this: Carol shaved three years of her actual age, and tried to pass of as a fresh-faced 18 years old in 1947.
Here is a brief summary: In Vienna, about 1900, a dashing man arrives at his flat, instructing his manservant that he will leave before morning: the man is Stefan Brand, formerly a concert pianist, planning to leave Vienna to avoid a duel. His servant gives him a letter from an unknown woman, which he reads. In flashbacks we see the lifelong passion of Lisa Berndle for him. Carol plays Lisa’s sister Marie in the movie, and you can consider her character a teenager.
What can I say, I love this movie. It’s like a finely crafted painting, made with impressionist sensibilities. Simple but extremely powerful. Acting is great, and this is one of the better roles for our favorite cad, Louis Jourdan (talented, but always played the same stereotype). Joan Fontaine (one of my favorites) shows us just how gentle and subtle an actress she was (a rarity in Hollywood, where they often value dramatics over something more elegant.) Overall, it’s an incredible work of art, one of the most emotional and earnest movies I have ever seen. So sublime it’s almost misty and unreal. Forget the story and just feel it all!
Not a hit when it was made, it’s considered a classic today, but sadly, did no favors to Carol nor her career. I have no idea why she didn’t make at least one more movie, but there it is, this was her first and last effort. It wa back to the East coast afterwards.
Carol dated Artur Ramos Jr in mid 1948. Then she was seen romancing with Murray Sulzberg (who had oodles of millions) in late 1948. Early 1949 saw her with cheese heir Ed Brown.
Carol returned to New York after her unsuccessful Hollywood sojourn, and found work modeling and doing PR for famed designer Valentina. Valentina was a progressive, avant-garde woman and Carol met many a intellectuals and prominent people while in her employ. Her new-found social connections landed her a job at Saks Fifth Avenue as a buyer for a new salon called the Evening Room, specializing in evening wear.
Hungry for more of everything – fashion, love, hapiness – Carol departed for Europe and settled for a time in Paris. With a sharp eye for fashion, Carol was one of he first fashion people who took notice of the young, up-and-coming designer Yves Saint Laurent . In 1958, Carol contacted the young designer and secured his a phleora of rich American grand dames who wanted to become his clients. It was a lucrative deal for both Carol and Yves, and they remained lifelong friends. Another designer Carol discovered before everybody else was Halston – originally an innovative milliner, it was Carol and her fashion world connections that helped him catapult into full pledged sartorial stardom.
In October 1962 she was in Monte Carlo and wrote a letter to John Fairchild the editor of the influential fashion magazine, Women’s Wear Daily. He gave her a chance to write her very own column – she result was a column titled ”Carol Says”, which dealt with fashion, society and spot news and was syndicated in several papers. Carol knew everybody, was witty and light on her feet and easy on her worlds – endlessly charming, she gathered a wide fan base and became one of the most popular female columnists of the time.
During her tenure as a columnist, Carol interviewed celebrities, both notables from the fashion world and notables outside the fashion world, including politics, movies and so on. Carol always wished to be an actress, and there was a deeply intrinsic part of her that went unfulfilled and frustrated – she vented out her firstration by attracting attention wherever she went – most notably fashion shows. Often the reporters would completely forget the models and focus solely on her. She would enter in grand style, with her poodle Sheba under her arm, always highly dramatic, she would fling her coat so that everybody could see that is was a genuine Balenciaga.
As for her love life, little is known. She never married, but it seems she had a special friend in the millionaire garment manufacture Seymour Fox and would regularly arrive at the office with her poodle Sheba in one of his collection of stretched limousines.
On 28 November 1966, Truman Capote threw his legendary masked Black & White Ball at the New York Plaza Hotel. It was the social event of the year. Carol was among the 500 prominent guests (some of the other guests were Mia Farrow, Frank Sinatra, Andy Warhol, Lee Razdiwill, Marella Agnelli, Joan Fontaine, Katherine Graham, Babe Paley and so on).
Unfortunately, time was running out for Carol. She contracted leukemia – in early 1967, she took a limousine to the Memorial Hospital for Cancer and Allied Diseases. She had a bar installed in her private room and entertained until the end.
Carol Yorke died on July 5, 1967, in the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research in New York.