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The Story of Walter Thornton
A Trailblazer in Modeling, Advertising, WWII Pin-Up Girls, and Shaping Future Stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age
Imagine stumbling upon a photograph of your late father in a popular movie. It happened to us, and it sparked a journey that unearthed a hidden treasure trove of history waiting to be shared with the world. We invite you to join us on an extraordinary adventure, one that bridges the gap between the past and the present and helps us unveil the remarkable life and legacy of our father.
The Discovery
In 2004, we discovered our father’s image in the iconic movie Seabiscuit. The questions that followed were a catalyst for an incredible exploration: Who was he, really?

What was his story before we came into this world?

These questions led us to embark on a journey of discovery, uncovering our father’s historical impact on beauty, modeling, and advertising.

Walter Thornton sells his car
A Tale Spanning Two Nations: Mexico and the USA

Although our father had a big presence in Canada with his modeling schools, we have left that chapter of his life unresearched for now.

Though our father was born in Beaver, Ohio, his life was intricately woven between two countries—the United States and Mexico. For over three-and-a-half decades, he called New York City home before destiny led him to Mexico, where he met our mother and embarked on a journey that would forever change our lives. It was in Mexico that six of his seven children were born.

Our childhood unfolded in the enchanting village of Ajijic, nestled near the serene shores of Lake Chapala. It was there that our father’s vision and love for his family manifested in the construction of what locals affectionately dubbed “the Tile House” or “the Arabian Castle.”

In the year 1990, our father’s journey on this earth came to an end, leaving behind a legacy that would shape our lives in ways we could have scarcely imagined. It was then that we (his children) made the move to the United States, seeking new horizons and opportunities. Yet, amidst the change and transition, our mother chose to remain in the castle, where she continues to reside to this day.

Little did we realize that the narrative of our father’s life held within it the key to unlocking a treasure chest of history.

Arabian Castle
A Journey Through Time:
Our research has spanned decades, evolving with the digital age. Every year, we delved into archives, libraries, and online databases, finding more pieces of the puzzle. What started as a family project has grown into something much larger—a testament to the rich history that deserves to be told.
The Hidden Relics:
The boxes were tucked away in one of the bungalows near the main living quarters, with a view overlooking a magnificent fountain. These relics, untouched for years, held the secrets of an era that needed to be shared. A historian helped us recognize the historical significance, and we knew we had something extraordinary on our hands.
Our Mission
Our book delves into uncharted territory, shedding light on:
The Early Male Models:
There’s a lack of information about male models from that era. Our father’s story bridges this gap, giving recognition to a forgotten chapter in modeling history. He was an early model himself and graced countless advertisements and inspired legendary artists like Norman Rockwell and J.C. Leyendecker during the Jazz Age.
The Birth of the Modeling Agency:
How did modeling agencies come to be? Our extensive research takes you on a captivating journey into the origins and progression of the very first agency dedicated to representing photographic models. Walter Thornton, as a pioneering figure and, at one point, the largest agency in the field, played a pivotal role in shaping the world of modeling.
Walter Thornton and his models (from Walter Thornton archives)
Within Walter Thornton’s archives lies a treasure trove of historical photographs that provide a fascinating window
into the agency’s past. Among these archives are remarkable catalogs brimming with photographs of children, adult males, and female models from the 1940s and 1950s era.

Do you happen to know anyone who once graced the ranks as a Walter Thornton model?
It’s entirely possible that we possess an early photograph of them in our archives. Our mission is to not only
uncover the agency’s history but also to reconnect these photographs with the families of the individuals who
contributed to its legacy. Join us in this exciting journey of exploration as we unravel the extraordinary story of
Walter Thornton and the models who played a significant role in his pioneering agency.

Debunking Inaccuracies
We correct historical inaccuracies about our father’s agency, providing insight into his journey, including his downfall.
The Rise of Golden Era Stars
Discover how some of the biggest stars of the golden era got their start.
Lauren Bacall
Grace Kelly
Susan Hayward
The Pin-Up Movement
Everyone loves Pin-Up Girls, but few know how this iconic movement began and became so popular.
Our story unveils its origins and significance.
Join Us on This Journey
We need your support to publish this unconventional, page-turning historical biography, featuring black-and-white and color photographs. Together, we will step back in time, retracing our father’s life from his humble beginnings in the early 1900s to his passing in 1990. Help us bring this untold story to life and share it with the world.

The Merchant of Venus:

 In a tale as captivating as any Hollywood script, Walter Thornton’s remarkable story unfolds. From a meteoric ascent as a Jazz Age male model, where he graced the works of legendary illustrators such as J.C. Leyendecker and Norman Rockwell, to founding the first photographic models’ agency in 1930, his journey is nothing short of extraordinary. 

His agency represented models who became iconic movie stars like Lauren Bacall, Susan Hayward, and Grace Kelly. Originating the WWII Pinup Girl patriotic movement in 1940, Thornton symbolized hope for soldiers. Unjustly accused during the McCarthy Era, he retreated to Mexico in 1958. 

Later, his daughters discovered his pioneering role in the fields of beauty, modeling, and advertising after they encountered an image appearing in the 2003 film “Seabiscuit,” which has become the avatar for the Stock Market Crash of 1929. 

Today, his blueprints persist in shaping the modeling and advertising industry, and the 1940 patriotic Pinup girl endures as a cherished American tradition. Thornton’s 1929 photo graces textbooks and products, yet beneath its surface lies untold depth.


In 1955, newspapers announced that Walter Thornton had recently finished writing his autobiography, titled “The Merchant of Venus.” If a manuscript was written, it has never been found and it’s lost to history. On April 3rd, 2024, marking what would have been Walter’s 121st birthday, his daughters are set to unveil his remarkable life story.

Join them on Amazon to secure your copy of this captivating tale and pay tribute to Walter Thornton’s enduring legacy.

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