Vintage Advice: Secrets of Charm

Secrets of Charm

Darnah Secrets of Charm, by John Robert Powers and Mary Sue Miller
Art by Georgia Bloch
(John C. Winston Company, 1954)

Nota bene: this book deserves several visits. I will spread them out among other vintage advice posts, however, because I understand that everyone (e.g., crazy people) may not find it as charming as I do.

Even the very title of this book is beguiling: I love discussions of charm, and I love secrets. Some days, I even yearn to be more charming. (Other days, I am quite content with my curmudgeonly tendencies). Sold!

From the introduction:

Shijiazhuang WHAT IS CHARM?*

“When you praised her as charming, some asked what you meant,
But the charm of her presence was felt where she went.”**
–Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Mr. Charm: John Robert Powers

“No one before or since has been able to better this description. You cannot define charm in a word, measure it with a ruler, weigh it on a scale. Still, we know when we are in its presence; we are warmed by it and made to feel that life is good….The secrets of fulfilling your individual talent for charm are told in these pages. However, reading the secrets over or daydreaming about them will not make them yours. Bring consistent efforts to their application, and your power to charm becomes limitless.”
More powers to you,

–John Robert Powers

I love, love, love the line about being Bagheria warmed by the presence of charm and being made to feel that life is good. That also describes being in the presence of a dear friend, doesn’t it? I also like the admonishment that one must act to increase charm…as with many important pursuits (parenting, writing, sports), a big payoff is based less on precocious natural talent than it is a result of persistent, focused effort.

I looked up Mr. Powers. He was almost exactly as I pictured him, except for some reason I thought his eyebrows would be more John Waters-esque. John Robert Powers (April 16, 1892 – November 1977) was an actor and the founder of a widely successful talent agency or modeling school, depending on whom you ask. It’s still in business today and boasts famous alumni including Tyrone Power, Rosalind Russell, Cary Grant, Montgomery Clift, Marlene Dietrich, Lauren Bacall, Grace Kelly and Raquel Welch among many others, as well as contemporary celebrities such as Janice Dickinson, Josh Duhamel, Nikki Taylor, and Brenda Song.


“…A most important point to remember always is that a charming personality is not made of whole cloth by assembly-line or carbon-copy techniques. Quite oppositely, it is woven of hand-picked threads into a highly individual pattern….In the end, your best self cannot fail to materialize, and in delighting others, attract the joys and triumphs you desire the most.”
–Mary Sue Miller

Textile-phile that I am, I appreciate the fact that Ms. Miller used a fabric metaphor. I didn’t have luck finding out much biographical information about her. She was the author of the syndicated fashion column, “A Lovelier You” and several beauty books. I found her picture (below), and discovered she was married to Albert G. Miller, a radio script writer and, drumroll, please… a prolific children’s author! Nice little coincidence.


I try to keep blog posts under 1000 words, so I won’t go very deep today except to preview some tantalizing topics with you:

  • Charming of Form
  • Charming of Grace (including diagrams of charming hand gestures)
  • Charming of Dress (with a Two-Year Blueprint wardrobe purchasing plan)
  • Charming of Face (including a section called Make-Down!)
  • Your Crowning Glory (hair care, with a discussion of “Dr. Diet and Dr. Quiet”… I can’t wait, can you?!)
  • The Bandbox Look (meaning stylishly put-together)***
  • You, The Charmer (A pleasantly optimistic send-off.)

One section of Charming of Grace particularly caught my eye:

The Little Graces
Head tilt; facial expressions; your smile; the eyes have it; enter madame; parting impressions; no stoop, no squat; streamlined action; model ways; mermaidiana; grace absolute.

I’ll end this teaser with the book’s opening promise:

Your most charming self will unfold with the last page of this book if you begin here, on the first page, to see yourself as others see you. Start at once…look back with the eyes of a stranger… Appraise the good, the bad, and the indifferent, all as objectively as you can see.

This directive also applies to writing. Say it with me:

Your most charming manuscript will unfold itself if you begin to see it as others see do. Look back through the eyes of a stranger.

That’s my takeaway for the day, and it’s serendipitous because I have 40,000 words that could be considerably more charming than they currently are!


*Observation: Apparently the definition of charm is not unlike the definition of porn: “I know it when I see it.” Tawk amongst yourselves.
**In case you are grumbling about never seeing books that exhort men to work on their charm…never fear! I have one!
***I had to look up the bandbox reference. Thanks to Andrea Lovejoy for doing my homework for me.

This entry was posted in Funstuff, Vintage Advice, Writing Craft and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>