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Memories of tearoom modeling

August 7, 2011
By KATHRYN SPIRA , The Leader Herald

Dear readers, as you know I have been writing about Mable, the wonderful woman that took care of me when I was a child.

A few days ago, when Herman returned from the post office, I asked him my usual question: "Did we get anything interesting in the mail?"

He broke into a grin and said "Oh, yeah, you did." At which point he pulled out a big manila envelope. He wordlessly pulled out a photograph and had I been standing it would have brought me to my knees. It was a beautiful 8x10 portrait of my dear, most wonderful Mable with her beautiful "Everything is going to be all right" smile.

Article Photos

In memory of Mable Moore of?Cleveland, Ohio.
Photo submitted

Now here is what I didn't tell you. My mom was a model and she worked doing "tearoom modeling," while at the same time my natural father was working as an attorney. This is why Mabel came to work for us.

Tearoom modeling is modeling clothing in restaurants for people while they are dining. It was in vogue in Cleveland when I was a child and, I assume, in other cities as well, although I only know about my hometown.

According to "Fashion tearoom modeling once was very popular (in the '80s) in smaller markets.

Usually it would be at ladies luncheons where models would wander between tables wearing designer clothes from local fashion boutiques. The models would describe the outfit they wore and where to buy it. Not big bucks, but a place to start and gain confidence in a small market."

This kind of modeling may seem odd by today's standards where we see glamorous runway models and even TV news shows where fashions are shown off by models in front of the camera. But back then, and as the quote shows, in smaller markets, it was quite popular.

While both my father and mother were off at work, Mable would get us up, washed and dressed, feed us breakfast and walk my sister and I to Northwood Elementary School in University Heights, a suburb east of Cleveland. University Heights was a college town built around Case Western Reserve University. Mable then went back to the house, did cleaning and housekeeping and returned to school to bring us home.

That's when I first learned about Mable's great fudge brownies which she always topped with powdered sugar, a tradition I insist on Herman doing when he makes them for me today.

Tearoom modeling was still going on when I got to high school and it was one of my first jobs for a store on Cedar Road in University Heights. We would model at Corky and Lenny's, a kosher restaurant and deli within walking distance of the clothing store I modeled for.

Corky and Lenny's still exists, they even have mail order menus and for a surprise one year for my birthday, Herman phoned in an order for Mishmash Matzoh Ball soup with kreplachs (a beef-filled kosher pasta similar to a ravioli or meat-filled dumpling.) He also got me corned beef, half-sour pickles and Russian tea biscuits (commonly known as RTBs) similar to an English scone. He also got me a T-shirt and mug from the landmark deli.

So "The Help" really brought back memories of my early life in Cleveland, and my wonderful memories of Mable.

I include a photo of Mable her daughter, Rosie, sent me.

The movie version of "The Help" opens Wednesday. I look forward to seeing it.

Kathryn Spira, a native of Cleveland who pursued an acting career in New York City and Los Angeles, now pursues freelance writing from Caroga Lake in Fulton County. Previous columns and contact information may be accessed at her website at



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