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Dori Wilson

Publicist and model Dori Wilson was born in Winona, Mississippi. At the age of seven, Wilson moved to Chicago, Illinois. She attended Farren School, Shakespeare Elementary School, and Hyde Park High School. She continued her education at Roosevelt University, where she graduated with her B.A. degree.

Upon her graduation from Hyde Park High School, Wilson began working for Goldblatt’s in the Accounts Payable Adjusting Department in 1961. Wilson then moved to Compton Advertising, Inc., where she worked as a secretary and assistant producer. She also started her part-time modeling career and became the first African American runway model in Chicago, Illinois in 1964. Wilson began her modeling career by working for Marshall Field & CO. and Carson Pirie Scott. In 1968, Wilson joined Foote, Cone & Belding and on their advertising project with Sears, Roebuck & Co. During the project, she also worked as a model and instructor at Sears, Roebuck, and Co. Charm School. She was promoted in 1970 to director of fashion and casting at Foote, Cone & Belding, where she cast models and helped producers during shoots. During this time, she continued to model and starred in numerous fashion shows, advertisements, and events, including Gucci’s Fall 1970 campaign and the Dress Horsemen and Trophy Board Annual Benefit Fashion Spectacular in 1975. In 1980, Wilson began her successful entrepreneurial career with the opening of Dori Wilson Public Relations, a firm whose clients have included the City of Chicago, Tiffany & Co., and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. The following year, Wilson helped form The Chicago Academy for the Arts.

Wilson has been a member of the Girl Scouts of Chicago’s Association Board for over thirty years. She has also been listed in Who’s Who Among Black Americans and in Donna Ballard’s book, Doing It For Ourselves: Success Stories of African American Women in Business, which was published in 1997. In 2008, she was honored in an evening of recognition at the Stanley Paul/Raelene Mittelman Scholarship Benefit.

Wilson lives in Chicago, Illinois.

Dori Wilson was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on May 25, 2010 and July 16, 2017.

Accession Number

A2010.029

Sex

Female

Interview Date

5/25/2010 |and| 07/16/2017

Last Name

Wilson

Maker Category
Marital Status

Single

Schools

Lincoln Elementary School

John Farren Elementary School

Ariel Community Academy

Hyde Park Academy High School

Roosevelt University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Dori

Birth City, State, Country

Winona

HM ID

WIL53

Favorite Season

Spring

Sponsor

Herb and Sheran Wilkins Media Makers

State

Mississippi

Favorite Vacation Destination

Anywhere

Favorite Quote

I'm Just Saying... And It Is What It Is And Whatever

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

10/15/1943

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Hamburgers, French Fries

Short Description

Public relations executive and model Dori Wilson (1943 - ) was the founder of Dori Wilson Public Relations and the first African American runway model in Chicago, Illinois.

Employment

Woolworth's Department Store

Goldblatt's

Compton Advertising

Foote, Cone and Belding

Dori Wilson Public Relations

WMAQ-TV

Main Sponsor
Favorite Color

Blue, Bright Colors, Orange

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Dori Wilson's interview, session 1

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Dori Wilson lists her favorites, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Dori Wilson describes her mother's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Dori Wilson describes her father's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Dori Wilson describes how her parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Dori Wilson describes her parents' personalities and who she takes after, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Dori Wilson talks about her parents' professions

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Dori Wilson describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Dori Wilson talks about her elementary school experiences

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Dori Wilson remembers her childhood homes in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Dori Wilson describes her early interest in fashion and beauty

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Dori Wilson describes her early career in advertising

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Dori Wilson describes how she became a professional fashion model

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Dori Wilson recalls her appearance on 'The Dating Game'

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Dori Wilson talks about the black is beautiful movement

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Dori Wilson describes her community involvement in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Dori Wilson talks about her positions at the Foote, Cone and Belding advertising agency

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Dori Wilson remembers her talk show, 'Memorandum,' pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Dori Wilson remembers her talk show, 'Memorandum,' pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Dori Wilson recalls founding Dori Wilson Public Relations

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Dori Wilson describes the clientele of Dori Wilson Public Relations

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Dori Wilson talks about her relationship with Oprah Winfrey

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Dori Wilson reflects upon her decision not to pursue a television career

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Dori Wilson talks about the public relations industry

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Dori Wilson describes her involvement in political campaigns

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Dori Wilson recalls her public relations work with The HistoryMakers

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Dori Wilson describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Dori Wilson reflects upon the future of her career

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Dori Wilson reflects upon her legacy, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Dori Wilson talks about her parents' opinion of her career

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Dori Wilson describes how she would like to be remembered, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Dori Wilson narrates her photographs

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Slating of Dori Wilson's interview, session 2

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Dori Wilson lists her favorites, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Dori Wilson describes her mother's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Dori Wilson remembers her early experiences in Winona, Mississippi

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Dori Wilson describes her father's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Dori Wilson describes her parents' personalities and who she takes after, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Dori Wilson recalls her early experiences in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Dori Wilson talks about her siblings

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Dori Wilson describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Dori Wilson remembers the holidays

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Dori Wilson describes her early aspirations

Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Dori Wilson remembers moving to Highland Park, Illinois

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Dori Wilson remembers living with her mother's white employers

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Dori Wilson recalls her experiences of discrimination in the Chicago Public Schools

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Dori Wilson remembers the Shakespeare School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Dori Wilson talks about her early work in the retail industry

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Dori Wilson describes how she came to work for Compton Advertising, Inc.

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Dori Wilson recalls her first professional modeling job

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Dori Wilson describes her modeling career in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Dori Wilson talks about 'The Dating Game'

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Dori Wilson talks about the advertising industry in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Dori Wilson describes her experiences as an African American model

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Dori Wilson talks about the elite society of Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Dori Wilson remembers her transition to the public relations industry

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Dori Wilson remembers the nightlife of the 1970s in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Dori Wilson remembers meeting Potter Palmer IV

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Dori Wilson talks about her social circle

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Dori Wilson remembers notable figures from the entertainment industries of Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Dori Wilson remembers Barbara Gardner Proctor

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Dori Wilson talks about the advertising agencies in Chicago's River North

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Dori Wilson describes how she came to work at Foote, Cone and Belding

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Dori Wilson recalls the initial investments in the Dori Wilson Public Relations firm

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Dori Wilson recalls the early years of Dori Wilson Public Relations

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Dori Wilson remembers the events organized by Dori Wilson Public Relations

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Dori Wilson talks about her friendship with Oprah Winfrey

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Dori Wilson remembers her role in Oprah Winfrey's early career

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Dori Wilson talks about Oprah Winfrey's career

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Dori Wilson talks about the importance of networking in public relations

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Dori Wilson talks about the challenges of small business ownership

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Dori Wilson reflects upon her career in public relations

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Dori Wilson talks about segregation in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - Dori Wilson describes her involvement on the boards of civic organizations

Tape: 10 Story: 1 - Dori Wilson describes her role at the Chicago Academy for the Arts in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 10 Story: 2 - Dori Wilson talks about her public relations projects

Tape: 10 Story: 3 - Dori Wilson describes how she became her nephew's guardian

Tape: 10 Story: 4 - Dori Wilson talks about the challenges of parenthood

Tape: 10 Story: 5 - Dori Wilson describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 10 Story: 6 - Dori Wilson talks about the future of Dori Wilson Public Relations

Tape: 10 Story: 7 - Dori Wilson reflects upon her legacy, pt. 2

Tape: 10 Story: 8 - Dori Wilson talks about her service on women's boards

Tape: 10 Story: 9 - Dori Wilson describes the fashion industry in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 10 Story: 10 - Dori Wilson remembers Nena Ivon and Marilyn Miglin

Tape: 10 Story: 11 - Dori Wilson talks about the Lawson House YMCA in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 11 Story: 1 - Dori Wilson talks about her relationship with Ann Dibble Jordan

Tape: 11 Story: 2 - Dori Wilson talks about her work with Columbia College President Mirron Alexandroff

Tape: 11 Story: 3 - Dori Wilson reflects upon her experiences in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 11 Story: 4 - Dori Wilson describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 11 Story: 5 - Dori Wilson reflects upon her life

Tape: 11 Story: 6 - Dori Wilson describes how she would like to be remembered, pt. 2

Tape: 11 Story: 7 - Dori Wilson reflects upon her legacy, pt. 3

DASession

1$2

DATape

2$8

DAStory

2$4

DATitle
Dori Wilson describes how she became a professional fashion model
Dori Wilson describes how she came to work at Foote, Cone and Belding
Transcript
But on this job I was working for Shepp Chartok [ph.], who was the executive TV producer. And Shepp was, again, a very wonderful liberal Jewish fellow and liked me and saw something in me and I said to him, "I want to learn what you do," because I knew that he was always going on photo shoots and on filming shoots and so it was--it was Shepp Chartok who took me on, on some of his filming for commercials. And I remember that we were at Reyeye Studio, R-E-Y-E-Y-E studio in Evanston, Illinois, and we were--because one of the accounts that I worked on, that my boss worked on at Compton Advertising [Compton Advertising, Inc.; Saatchi and Saatchi] was Alberto Culver [Alberto Culver Company; Unilever]. And during those years Alberto Culver did lots and lots of TV commercials and they were for what was called (unclear) testing, so we did hundreds of commercials and the ones that would hit the air would be the ones that tested properly. But we were always in casting sessions for models with great hair. So it was on one of these pre-shooting, pre-filming casting sessions, Shirley Hamilton was there, who was a large agent in town, and Shirley Hamilton saw that I was tall and thin and said to my boss, "I'd like to send her on an audition," and I remember my boss saying at the time, "Well, let's just hope she gets it." So, I did and that's how I started in that.$$Okay. Were you excited about that?$$I think it was a job and it was a chance of getting more money and I'm--I'm sure that I was somewhat excited about that, and I'm not sure whether at this time Shepp Chartok was my boss because Shepp subsequently left or whether it was Jack Davis who was at this boss--my boss at that point. But I remember that I would get off from work at four o'clock, run outside and catch the bus in order to be on the--the first audition that I had was for the auto show [Chicago Auto Show]--the first job that I had was for the auto show. And so I would work to be on the floor and I'd work the five to eleven [o'clock] shift at the auto show. And because I could speak, you know, our backgrounds came in handy, I was talking about Chevrolet cars, I remember that. And during the intermissions, when we were having our breaks, I met lots of other models who said you should be doing runway work, and I did not really know what runway work meant, but I subsequently learned. And I went and auditioned, I was at 111 East Jackson [Boulevard], as I said, which was very close to State Street and Marshall Field's [Marshall Field and Company Building, Chicago, Illinois] was holding auditions every month for the models to do there, at that time weekly, they were called tea room shows that were in the Narcissus Room on the seventh floor of Marshall Field's. And I went on those auditions for a year before I finally got a chance to do the work, but I became involved in other things in the city that gave me the visibility to do other work.$$Now, let me ask you, in these early days, were you the only black model out there doing these things at the auto show, for instance, were you the only black model there?$$No, I wouldn't say I was the only black model, there were a few, because remember some of them--some of the models traveled. And certainly I wasn't--so there were other models, there weren't very many, and there weren't very many who were aggressive to want to take it to the next step, because I didn't want to do just the auto show, I wanted to do the other things that I heard about. And I remembered that there was a model, and I don't know whether or not you know her, whose name is Ann Jones, who is just extraordinary; very short, but with wonderful hair and very chiseled features. I think maybe half Indian [Native American]. And so Ann Jones was the photo model at that time because that was the look that was in for models that you couldn't really tell quite what they were. In the runway business, however, I was accepted for being different and for being tall and for being skinny and for being dark because fashion guys create--love that, you know it makes--a dark skin is better for showcasing their clothes. So what had been considered a liability for me when I was growing up became an asset. Though I will say that when I started modeling, I sent my picture to one of the major traveling shows, and they sent my picture back to me because I did not look like the look that they were--were looking for. On the other hand when the designers came in from Paris [France], I was what they were looking for.$So you're at Foote, Cone and Belding and are you--I have you as director of fashion and casting and so what are you doing in that regard then?$$Well, Foote, Cone and Belding recruited me after reading a story about Dori [HistoryMaker Dori Wilson], and I think Dori's work with the film festival [Chicago International Film Festival], and, and as I mentioned, I had gained some notoriety while with Compton Advertising [Compton Advertising, Inc.; Saatchi and Saatchi], and CBS 2 [WBBM-TV, Chicago, Illinois] called up and, and asked me to, to take over--there was a very popular show called 'The Lee Phillip Show.' And I hosted 'The Lee Phillip Show' for two weeks while Lee [Lee Phillip Bell] took a holiday, which was just unheard of. And so there was an article written about that, of the various clothes that I wore, and here's what Dori's doing on this show and whatever. And so Al Weisman [Albert P. Weisman] from Foote, Cone and Belding called up and said, "You know, you're in the advertising business. You've got, at this point, four years under your belt, and we need you to--we'd like to talk to you about coming to work for us." Well, I had also been doing my modeling, and I'm wearing my top eyelashes and bottom eyelashes, and, and my wigs, and I'm running to do my fashion shows after work. And I said, "Nah, I'm not interested. I wanna become a big model, a big, black model." And those were the days of Naomi Sims in New York [New York] and Naomi was indeed my color, and had made wonderful strides, and that's what I wanted to do. And so John--I mean, excuse me, so Al Weisman said, "Well, I just want you to come and talk to somebody." So it ends up that I met with John O'Toole, who was president of, of Foote, Cone and Belding. And I didn't really realize the significance of that. And so I remember arriving for our breakfast with my wig case in my hand and lots of stuff on because I had a fashion show that day. And John, in essence, said to me, "Okay, you've got four years of experience under your belt. We need African Americans. We need women, so don't you wanna become more than just a pretty face?" And I said, "How dare you say that to me?" He said, "Well, I mean your pretty face, you know you're not making--it's not really doing anything important, but you can come and work for us and really make a difference, and I will still allow you to pursue your fashion shows." And so I did. I went (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) So what did you learn, what--$$And then I got in trouble for doing my modeling because when I went there, because I'd had experience with, with TV production, Foote, Cone had picked up millions and millions of dollars in billing in Sears [Sears, Roebuck and Co.], the Sears business. And Sears would make, what we called regional commercials, like they would make dresses and shoes and this--whatever they had on sale, they would make little short commercials, and those commercials ran in different markets. You know, Texas could be dresses. Ohio could be shoes. So they were really doing retail only in TV commercials. And there was a unit of us that traveled around doing commercials. You know, in the winter, we worked in Florida or in California. In, in the good months, we worked in Chicago [Illinois]. So our little retail unit did some six or seven hundred commercials. My job in that was fashion director, fashion and casting. So if, indeed, Sears says, we're gonna be selling these dresses, then I would arrange for casting sessions to bring the models in, and then make sure that they were fitted properly. That they looked good, that they were accessorized properly, of course, working with seamstresses and things. But, therefore, the title, casting and fashion because they felt--Foote, Cone felt that that would give me--that would be a way for me to use whatever knowledge I had learned in the fashion business. And so it was a title that they created for me.$$I see. So you were there--is it, you said--$$Fourteen years.$$Fourteen years, okay.$$And I left there only to open my own business [Dori Wilson Public Relations, Chicago, Illinois]. And during that time, it was a wonderful experience, again, because traveling with a unit, and the unit being a TV producer, associate producer, a writer, an art director, a copy--I mean a copywriter and an account executive. And so it was a wonderful learning experience too. And, again, you learn about the work that goes into making these little commercials that we may or may not remember. It's a huge, huge business.$$So what--well, it's a huge business, and that's when really things were staffed, you know--$$Oh, yeah.$$--because you had--$$Yes.$$--you know, I mean that's when jingle writers, you know, or singers (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Exactly.$$--even could make a lot of money--$$Oh, yeah, and we worked so much with those jingle writers and, and the singers and the voiceover people and I still hear voices on TV that I recognize. Joel Corey was a very big one, and I still hear Joel doing McDonald's [McDonald's Corporation] and things around town.