The glossy photos for a 1950s magazine lined the pages of the portfolio. The dark haired model featured in the images was impossibly chic, emitting an effortless elegance that poured off the page.
“That was in Rome,” she said, pointing to the image.
More than 60 years later, Millie Wilcox still radiates the same sense of grace. Always accessorized and pristinely put together, Willcox is a local legend with stories and experiences that are almost too fabulous to believe.
Wilcox grew up in Albany, the daughter of a powerhouse of a woman, Mildred Huie Wilcox. The family often visited St. Simons Island, where Mildred Huie eventually set up shop as an artist, philanthropist and owner of Left Bank Art Gallery. The younger Millie, too, would come to call the Golden Isles home — but not before she first conquered the world.
After attending college at the University of Georgia, Wilcox decided to give her big dreams a chance.
“I moved to New York in 51 after my mother started charging me room rent,” she said with a laugh.
There, Wilcox roomed with friends from home while she decided to try her hand at acting and singing.
“I wanted to be in show business. My apartment was right next to the Echo Theatre. I could reach out and touch the sign ... it was as close as you could get to Broadway,” she recalled.
While trying to pursue her passion, Wilcox started to rub elbows with others in the industry. One of those was an actor named Jim Nabors, who would go on to play Gomer Pyle on “The Andy Griffith Show.”
“He went with me to an audition at Carnegie Hall one time. It was for Samson and Delilah. Jimmy was peeking behind the curtain like he was scared to death of what I was going to do,” she said.
“Of course, he was on my team and he told me that I did really well. But if you tell a fib you tend to forget it and years later, he told my husband, ‘Wow you should have seen her in that.’ He didn’t really think I did so good.”
The casting team didn’t seem to agree. In fact, they called her home in Albany to talk more about the role. But, unbeknownst to the Hollywood folks, it was the elder Wilcox who answered.
“We have the same name so my mother would take a lot of my calls and if she didn’t like them ... I’d never hear from them again. She asked what the costumes were like and they said that they were short and she said, ‘well no I don’t think I’d be interested in that,’” Wilcox said with a laugh.
While stardom was not to be her lot, she did embark on a glamorous path. It started when she signed on as the assistant for couturier Eleanora Garnett, an Estonian designer with her own fashion label. That connection took her to the great cities of Europe — Rome, Paris and everywhere between.
“Eleanora was incredible. She was a very interesting woman with a fascinating story. She actually thought I was from Georgia (in the former USSR). She was very strict. But she could work without patterns,” she said.
This was how Wilcox first got into the world of fashion, learning all she could about fabrics and material. She also enjoyed linking it back to the art world, a love of which she inherited from her mother.
“In those photos, they were done at these homes with exquisite art collections so the fashion and the art were styled together,” Wilcox said.
She met a great many interesting people while flitting around Europe. One of those was Pablo Picasso, who she lunched with in Paris.
“I was dating an artist and he was friends with Picasso and Cocteau. We’d have lunch together sometimes. I remember that (Picasso and Cocteau) would keep their paintings in the back of a Chevrolet because they didn’t’ want to pay for insurance,” she said.
Eventually, Wilcox settled with her late husband Robert and they took ownership of Left Bank Art Gallery.
“My husband was fluent in French and we brought in a lot of French artists,” she said.
In addition to curating art and contributing herself, Wilcox has also been a pillar of the community for decades. She’s served on countless boards and overseen a variety of programs. One of those that’s always been close to her heart — Golden Isles Arts and Humanities.
It turns out the organization is also quite fond of her as she discovered at a recent board meeting.
“I don’t go to all of the board meetings but I went to this one, and the agenda said they were going to rename the art gallery at the Ritz for me,” she said with a laugh. “So that’s how I found out.”
That is indeed the case. The Ritz Theatre lobby and gallery will soon be the Mildred Huie Wilcox gallery. It will be formally settled at a reception at 6 p.m. July 5, during the First Friday festivities. There will also be a screening of a short film, “The Two Mildreds,” about Wilcox and her mother, made in 2011 by College of Coastal Georgia.
She will also bring along some of her favorite art work and fashion photos from her private collection.
“Heather has asked me to bring some of my favorite things to share. I’m going to bring some paintings and some of the fashion things too,” she said.
Among the impressive works, Wilcox will share two portraits that are very special to her. One is a portrait of her by Russian painter Constain Chatov. The other is an abstract expressionist portrait of her goddaughter, Carolyn Main, painted by her mother Catherine McCrary Main.
For her part, Wilcox is thrilled to share these pieces from her past with the community and is looking forward to what the future holds.
“It makes me feel really good. It makes me think that I might get back into painting or do some different things,” she said with a smile.