Born of two honest and hard working Polish immigrants in 1924, Jessie was one of six children, who all had to work from a very young age to help support the family household. The family she grew up in was very poor and struggled mightily during the Great Depression years, living without electricity in the woods of southern New Jersey back country.
Along with her four brothers and sister, Jessica did what she had to as a contributor and survivor, from her youngest developing years through adulthood. She was a dynamic individual, always trying to do things with her life, putting in the extra effort to get something done. Whether it be as a little girl selling berries door to door to help pay for family groceries, or, as an adult parlaying a model career, and marketing businesses. Jessica was a mover and shaker in the classic sense of the word.
Jessica was discovered in the town of Bridgeport, New Jersey. A poor, working class town that was so small and non-descript, it had no sidewalks, no post office, and was not plotted on maps. Whoever it was who first noticed her, knew enough to get her in front of a camera, and start clicking.
Barely in high school, Jessica already had a glow about her. Hers was a face that possessed a unique combination of natural beauty, allure, and a warm open smile that was magnetic to photographers. Directed in front of the camera, Jessie learned even more how to shape her features, expressions and moods to present sophistication and polish, or mystery and sensuality. When you view her images, you will see that she was much more than a model taking direction. She was an acting model. A woman with personality. An ability to call up as much, or as little, for every photo, every situation, every stage set. It is this quality, as much as her natural beauty that set Jessie Paz apart from so many others in her profession.
In the 1940s, the modeling industry was not nearly as studded with “beautiful” women as it is now. Hair styles were traditional. Fashion was reserved, and fashion models were perceived more as tools of promotion, than symbols of beauty. Even blondes were more of a rarity than they are today. It was, in fact, Jessie’s silken blonde hair that first attracted photographers to her.
Jessica found her way to Philadelphia, and, after meeting John Robert Powers, officially began her career in modeling, which grew into decades of a seemingly non-stop tour-de force of print campaigns, image licensing, publicity tours, cosmetic sales, launching a modeling and charm school, and a myriad other projects. Jessica shook out as much as she could from the opportunities set before her.
At Jessica’s peak of profession, in the early 1950s, her image was so sought after by agencies and publicity agents, that booking her services, required months and sometimes, up to a year in advance. Rising in popularity from both her looks and dynamic personality, Jessica’s career seemed destined to greater heights as she explored the world of acting and television.
That path changed when she met the man she would marry one day on a train from New York to Philadelphia. His name was Robert H. Bailey, a dynamic man in his own right, at the peak of his profession as a financier and investment banker. They married in 1955. Jessica gave birth to my twin sister Cindy and I, and started on a new chapter of her life as a mother, wife, and of necessity, a much scaled back career woman.
In 1977, after my sister and I had officially departed our teen years, Jessica had a resurgence of her business urges. She traveled from New York, her home for twenty years, to Atlantic City, New Jersey, to be a part of the historical ground breaking of the casino industry along the Atlantic coast. Her idea was to start a consulting business to train the legions of newly minted casino and hotel employees on how to be consummate professionals, conduct themselves on the job, and to offer the best in customer service. Armed with a portfolio of her past achievements, she was welcomed en masse by the first seven hotels under development before they even opened their doors.
By the mid 1980s, Jessica made a new name for herself in hotel personnel training and development, public relations, and later, in journalism from writing a column for the the Atlantic City Press. Far beyond the modeling and acting career of her years before, she proved that the face she was born with, which proved so valuable to those who knew how to sell it, was always, just the surface of who she was, and would become.
It was often said by those who knew Jessie best, those who followed her, worked with her, and watched how she carried herself, that had she stayed in modeling, or pursued acting more vigorously, that she was destined to become to the “next big thing”. I used to say, Grace Kelley had nothing on her.
What I know now is that my mother became exactly who she was meant to become. A stunning woman of beauty, through all of her years, who used it as her passport to grow herself and those around her, and, to achieve a body of work that made her proud of where she came, where she went, and what she did with her life.
H. Michael Bailey