• Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

— Jean Lucas's Rancho Bernardo townhouse is full of boxes. Paintings of elephants and lions lean in a stack against the wall. She is clearing her place of old junk and painting the walls to get rid of the nicotine smell. She seems to be preparing for a move; in fact, she is, although she won't be around to see it happen. Lucas is dying of lung cancer.

A former fashion model and attorney, Lucas takes responsibility for her predicament. While it's not unusual for a 72-year-old woman to have cancer, Lucas's case is more poignant because of the position she held in 1956: She was the model for that year's Parliament cigarettes advertising campaign.

In the 1950s she was Jean Ball. "That's from my first marriage that was annulled. I had that name when I first started modeling, so I kept it. I was a nurse and...well, I think colleges tend to overlook reality sometimes. I got out in the real world and saw what was going on in hospitals, and it was depressing. The conditions in the hospitals were simply something that I couldn't be a part of. It was frightening -- the lack of care for the patients and total inadequacy. I don't know if it's any better today, but it can't be much worse. When some friends in the modeling business approached me, I thought it was some kind of a joke!"

Lucas's East Coast accent, dry delivery, and sharp wit are reminiscent of Dorothy Parker. "I was quite thin. I lost 30 pounds in that first marriage -- the hard way!" she laughs. "Modeling was a lot better. I was making $200 a month as a nurse, where in modeling I could make $50 an hour. That's not much now, but in those days it was an awful lot of money. That first marriage was really my own fault. He threatened to kill me, and I was so naïve and had little family backup. My father had just died, and I thought it was better to be wed than dead! So I married him. I threw the diamond ring in the fireplace, but that didn't seem to impress him at all!"

A modeling career was sheer necessity for Lucas. "I wanted to be on my own and get out of this unhappy marriage. I just couldn't support myself on $200 a month, 48 hours per week. Most models have very small bones. I was lucky, because I looked thinner than I really was; I had broad shoulders and wide hips and a small waist. I could get away with more weight than most girls could." Lucas's last modeling stint was in 1959, as she was entering New York University Law School. Her scrapbook is loaded with "comp" photos and elegant advertisements for New York department stores and cosmetics. She was admitted to the New York Bar in 1962.

"I modeled for the Frances Gill agency in New York. I don't even know if it's still in existence. She was a real nice lady. After I took my law degree, I married again and went to Puerto Rico. I wasn't able to practice there, though I'd hoped to do so. You have to take the exam there in Spanish, and I couldn't speak Spanish. I tried to get a position with the federal court system there, but at that time it was more difficult for women, even though I had no trouble getting into law school."

Born Jean Conley in Upstate New York, she studied nursing at Skidmore College. Married in 1951, Lucas divorced her first husband in 1953. She married her second husband at the height of her modeling career in 1956. "We were married a number of years, though we were eventually separated. He wanted to travel and wanted to live all over the world. That just didn't fit my plans. That separation was perfectly friendly. It's hard to imagine what turned out to be a divorce being friendly, but it was. He died of breast cancer 10 or 15 years ago."

Lucas continued to work in New York as general counsel for an oil company, then quit. "The outside counsel was always sneaking things in behind my back and doing things that were illegal. In my opinion, it was unethical, and I just couldn't handle having responsibility without any authority, so I moved to the Natomas Company in San Francisco -- another oil company. That was 1977. I didn't last long there, because the president was cheating on his stock-appreciation rights. My immediate supervisor was helping him! I put a stop to that, so they immediately fired me.

"I didn't work again. I was so disappointed. I guess I was naïve, but seeing the way lawyers behaved! I moved to San Diego, not knowing what I was going to do. I tried to work here, but I never did. No one was breaking down my door, and I didn't go out looking for work, and I had no reason to believe that anything was different here than in San Francisco. I got sick of the dishonesty then, and I still can't get used to it. Some of the things I see going on around me frighten me. I guess this is a good time to die!"

Modeling for Parliament cigarettes put Lucas's image on billboards, the back covers of magazines, and all over the New York subway system. "It was wonderful for me. I had about one ad a month for a year and a half. They were on Time, Vogue, all the big magazines. I was on television also, but it wasn't a speaking role. It was on what became The Tonight Show. Mr. John, a popular designer, designed a hat made of cigarettes for that. It was funny because I had just relieved myself of my first husband, and he was dating another woman. The woman complained that everywhere she went she would see me!" she laughs. "I was on every shelf and wall!"

  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

More from SDReader


Sign in to comment

Get $5 off any Reader event

Sign up for our email list to get your promo code