Not many people have a successful career they can retire from before they turn 20.
But that was the case with Leslie Hornby, a worker in a London beauty parlor who, at age 16 had the the figure of a 10-year-old, suddenly was transformed into a fashion idol.
Along with that transformation came a new name _ Twiggy, which was quite appropriate for a pencil-thin model who weighed 92 pounds. She was the envy of teenagers around the world.
That was in the '60s. But as the new decade came along, Twiggy was ready to retire from modeling, and new vistas opened for her. She began acting, singing and dancing, and her five-year career as a model became history.
Before it ended, however, she had made a big splash with her slight figure in the United States, where she already had been the subject of countless magazine and newspapers articles. She arrived in New York in 1967 for her first U.S. visit and made a series of television specials as she launched a line of Twiggy dresses in American shops.
She had begun singing while doing a weekly television variety show in Britain. The dancing began when she was cast in the film The Boy Friend in 1971, in which she worked with Tommy Tune. That role won her a Golden Globe award.
It also was during the '70s that she married Michael Witney, wrote her autobiography and gave birth to a little "twiglet," whom they named Carly.
She is still bemused today about having written her autobiography at the age of 25. "I was so young; it was astonishing," she said. But the publishers convinced her that the amazing 10 years she had already experienced made it worthwhile, and the book sold well in England. Twiggy is quick to point out that she didn't write it _ a ghost writer did.
Later, her association with Tune was to lead her into still another field in the entertainment business: Broadway.
The show was My One and Only. "When Tommy Tune called me, I said, "I can't do that,'
" she said. "I'd never really been on stage doing a legitimate kind of play. I'd only done a pantomime on the West End for about 10 weeks. But he said there's no such word as can't."
She found out he was right. My One and Only, which opened in the spring of 1983, won praise from New York's critics and audiences, as did Twiggy for her performance. The show ran for 18 months.
The Broadway experience has whetted her appetite for more. "I'd love to go back and do another show on Broadway," she said. "I've been reading things." And although she said she would not be opposed to doing another musical, she said she would like to do a straight play.
"Or anything, really," she said. "In our business there are so many things one can do; it's nice to experience them all."
But Twiggy tends to give herself little credit for her success. "Most of what has happened to me has been by chance," she said. "Acting, singing and dancing came along; everything has been just a happy surprise."
Last year she got a chance at a television sitcom in the United States, so she returned to this country to do the pilot, and it was picked up by CBS. The show, Princesses, was "great fun," she said, but it lasted only half a year.
She and her present husband, Leigh Lawson, an actor to whom she has been married for almost four years, will be returning to England soon. They have a production company, called Mask, and have signed to do a show for BBC in London this summer, with both of them acting in the play and producing it. The television play will be based on an H.
E. Bates book, The Sleepless Moon.
"He writes wonderfully about England in the '20s," she said, "and we'll be doing three one-hour segments. It's exciting because it will be our first production with our company." She is hopeful that it will be picked up later in this country, perhaps by PBS.
And Twiggy and her husband will be back. They have a home in California as well as in England.
"America has always been really good to me," she said. "I wouldn't have had a chance to do My One and Only if it had not been for America. You're much more open over here to doing different things. They're very nice to me in England, but it's so hard when you're famous for one thing to get them to accept you doing something else."
Twiggy, now 42, says she not quite the "twig" today that she once was. "I'm heavier than I was in my modeling days," she said. Nevertheless, she will continue to use the name with which she has long been associated. She now is billed as Twiggy Lawson.
"My real name is Leslie," she said, "but if I used that nobody would know who the hell I was. It's a lovely name, but if I used it they'd probably add, "Otherwise known as Twiggy.'