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In 1923, John Robert Powers founded a modeling agency. The John Robert Powers Agency represented many models who went on to success in the Hollywood film industry, and even Betty Bloomer (Mrs. Jerry Ford) who became the First Lady of the United States. While Powers' clientele was overwhelmingly female, and to be a "Powers Girl" was a much sought-after position, the agency also represented several men.
At its height, the agency was so significant within the industry that Hollywood made a 1943 musical comedy film titled The Powers Girl in which Alan Mowbray portrays John Robert Powers and features Anne Shirley and Carole Landis as aspiring models.
The John Robert Powers system is a franchise system and its franchises in the USA have been involved in a controversy over their status as a school vs a talent agency. Critics in the USA describe John Robert Powers franchises in America as using high-pressure sales tactics and misleading advertising. John Robert Powers USA asserts that is not an agency and does not make any percentage of the talents' earnings.
The Los Angeles Better Business Bureau believes that Powers fits the definitions of a "talent agency" and an "advance-fee talent agent" as per California law. Nevertheless the BBB notes that Powers would "undoubtedly deny that they are either [type of agency]" and that Powers' contracts do not use such terms. The Los Angeles BBB further notes:
|“||All complaints cited in this article were filed against the Ontario John Robert Powers office. Although our complaints against a number of other Powers franchises are similar, some Powers locations in our files have no complaints. Nevertheless, we urge you to check our reliability report before signing a contract and to [be] aware that John Robert Powers, wherever located, is a school.||”|
JRP websites include photos of famous personalities and name other celebrities as graduates. Pictures of well-known stars such as Lucille Ball, Marilyn Monroe and John Wayne hang in the lobby of franchises. The Los Angeles Better Business Bureau attempted to contact some of these celebrities through their agents or close family members, and those who responded neither attended classes at JRP nor authorized use of their likeness. Celebrities, their representatives or immediate family members who claimed no involvement with JRP schools included Lucille Ball, Heather Locklear, Barbara Walters, Henry Fonda, Jane Fonda, John Wayne and Betty Ford. According to the National First Ladies Library biography, Betty Ford worked as a model for the JRP Agency. A Vanity Fair article says Grace Kelly was a model at the JRP agency.
John Robert Powers brochures in the USA continue to use the names of celebrities such as Lucille Ball, Henry Fonda and Betty Ford, describing them as "Powers models or graduates."