In a life garlanded with cinematic moments — all but one of which happened on screen, though more on that later — the
prototypical Scandinavian teenage bombshell arrived in Manhattan on the Queen Mary in the midst of a late-season
snowstorm that blanketed the coast from North Carolina to Maine.
The skin was milky, the chin would make Henry Moore weep with envy at its sculpting, and with a mere tilt of the head
Nena could convey everything from hauteur to heat. Drop-dead to begin with as a teenaged model, she seemed to grow
into her grace and beauty. It was hardly surprising that Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar came calling.
They wanted her face on their pages, her body in their clothes, and her umlaut in their captions.
It was in Manhattan that she also become a one-time muse to Salvador Dalí. When the model Dalí had booked for a
photoshoot pulled out due to illness, a mutual friend scored Nena the gig. She recalled: “I said, ‘O.K., I’ll do
it’, and half an hour later a limousine pulled up outside my door and I stepped in next to Salvador Dalí. I took my
dark glasses off and looked at him and said, ‘I’m very nearsighted’, whereupon he smiled and said, ‘Oh, so you are
one of the blind people’, and so began a wonderful friendship.”
She became a crucial part of his salons, and added, rather cryptically, “We had some interesting adventures as
well... different people would come and visit him these afternoons at the St. Regis.”
There was a dabble in film but it was bikini-brief. In 1967 she was cast in the Edie Sedgwick film Ciao!
Manhattan. Burdened by unnecessary punctuation and four years of filming and editing that cut her part
entirely, Nena seemingly came to the conclusion that moviemaking was not for her.
That’s not to say she hadn’t appeared in a more private type of film before. In 1964 she married Timothy Leary, the
famed Harvard psychologist who was a dedicated advocate of psychedelics and coined the phrase, ‘Turn on, tune in,
drop out’. Leary and his bride were, for a short time, the central sun around which an entire solar system of 1960s
counterculture revolved. D.A. Pennebaker — who would go on to chronicle the likes of Bowie, Dylan and Hendrix at
their respective peaks — filmed the wedding for a project entitled You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You.
Charles fucking Mingus was their reception pianist.
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