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Sawed-Off Susan Gallagher Proves That Short Models Measure Up Too

updated 11/15/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/15/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

Models tend to be short in the tooth and long in the leg, but 5'3" model Susan Gallagher has never looked on her height as a drawback. "It's the look and the type that count," says Gallagher knowingly, "not whether you're tall or short. Besides, I don't think that tall models represent the average woman."

Gallagher isn't the only one who feels that females of less-than-average height (under 5'4" in the U.S.) are being given short shrift. Consider the emergence of Piaffe, the fast-growing chain store for petite fashions, whose catalog is populated mainly by Gallagher. "Her looks range from elegant to casual," enthuses the chain's founder, Ellis Oppenheim. Piaffe boasts a clientele that includes such celebrated small fry as Charlene Tilton (5') and Bonnie Franklin (5'3").

Nevertheless, it remains a tall order for a Lilliputian lady to make it as a model. Gallagher is the only one at New York's Ford agency under 5'6". "Susan is a total anomaly," says Lacey Ford, director of special projects. "She does all the work there is for short models." Gallagher, 25, is reaping the benefits of her unique stature. She will earn more than $80,000 this year. Her face is everywhere—on TV (in Lipton tea and Tampax commercials), in print ads (Salem Slim Lights) and in catalogs (Saks and J.C. Penney). Miniskirt designer Betsey Johnson says Gallagher is "bone-structurally beautiful. Her look is sweet and naive with a young surprised aspect."

Actually, had it not been for a bit of serendipity, and her Svengali-cum-boyfriend, Doug Hopkins, Susan might not have pursued modeling at all. The second oldest child in a family of 11, she was reared in Lexington, Mass. Her general contractor father, Frank, is 5'10" and her mother, who died when Susan was 12, was 5'6". In 1976 she was a liberal arts major at Middlesex Community College when she was plucked out of a fashion-show audience for a Mademoiselle "Before and After" feature. She was so smitten with the way she looked "After" that she plunged into the Boston modeling scene. Alas, she recalls, "I got bored with it pretty quickly."

Enter Hopkins, now 36, an upwardly mobile fashion photographer and the new love of her life, who promptly pointed Gallagher to New York, "where everybody is in the business," she says. The upshot? Well, in 1979 Susan started with Zoli, known for its leggy, exotic-looking models. A year later, again through Hopkins' intercession, she made the switch to Eileen Ford.

These days Gallagher is intent upon—what else?—an acting career, so she's taking classes at Manhattan's Herbert Berghof Studios. Her height, Susan insists, will be no liability in the movies. After all, she figures, "Modeling is a short-lived career." No pun intended.

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