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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Deborah R. Kilian, 83, Well-Known Model

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Deborah Reynolds Kilian, a longtime Westport resident and well-known model who graced the cover of Life magazine, died Oct. 12. She was 83. Image
Deborah R. Kilian: Life Magazine cover girl in 1949. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo

She is remembered for her beauty and her friendly, welcoming smile, which lasted until the end of her days, her family said.

Kilian grew up on what was then a farm on Cross Highway managed by Edward Gross, before moving to her longtime home on Whitney Street.

She attended Mrs. Bolton’s School for Girls, which was the predecessor of Green’s Farms Academy, and excelled at track and field events. Her career in fashion and modeling began when she was discovered by the celebrated illustrator Al Parker while she was working at the old Gristede’s grocery store on Main Street in Westport.

Parker was one of the founders of the Famous Artists School in Westport, and Kilian soon found herself modeling for Stevan Dohanos, Jon Whitcomb and Alex Ross.

Most famous of all, perhaps, was the Aug. 8, 1949 Life magazine cover that used her to illustrate a cover story about Fairfield County becoming the country home of “smart” New Yorkers.

The iconic image shows the naturally elegant Kilian casually dressed and wearing a straw hat, representing an idealized image of a city sophisticate making a new life in what was then a bucolic Fairfield County.

She worked with the very finest photographers, including Richard Avedon, Cecil Beaton, Anthony Armstrong-Jones and Milton Greene. \\

While on a photo shoot in Paris for Elle magazine in the early 1950s she met and later married Richard Kilian, who went on to become a journalist for the London Daily Express. That marriage ended in divorce.

In Paris, she was part of a social circle that included the film star Marlon Brando and the director Roger Vadim. Kilian traveled widely and lived in Paris, London, Rome, Brussels and Geneva before resettling in Westport.

In Westport, Kilian managed The Health Food Store on Colonial Green, an enterprise that was popular long before organic food and homeopathic remedies came into common use.

Morever, she was a Red Cross volunteer and a caregiver for the elderly. For many years she was also an art consultant and gallery manager for the well-known artist Peter Michael Gish, a lifetime friend.

Kilian was the daughter of Edwin Reynolds, a civil engineer and entrepreneur, and Mary Mosher, an interior designer whose clients included the actress Bette Davis. She had five siblings: Edwin, Warren, Ruth, Robert and Peter, who preceded her.

Her greatest pleasures in life came from her family and her garden.

She is survived by her daughter, the art historian and author Jennifer M. Kilian, and her two grandchildren, Sebastiaan and Alexandra Bogaards, who live in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Kilian is interred at the Assumption Cemetery in Westport.

Posted 10/21/12 at 11:36 PM


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