It’s not easy to become a “has-been” by age twelve; it means you need to start very young (like at age three), work in a particularly unforgiving business (like acting and modeling), and you have to achieve instant success (like appearing in 40 commercials and countless print advertisements). It’s quite an accomplishment. Yet perhaps the greater feat is turning a ’tween-age rejection into even more success. That is precisely what Annie Holvey-Garomon did. A master of reinvention, Holvey-Garomon turned her disappointment in front of the camera into triumph behind the scenes as a talent agent. She then turned herself from a 255-pound young woman into a tight, toned figure. Now, she is poised for another transformation: becoming the director of John Casablancas Modeling and Career Center in Langhorne, Pa. “I started a week and two days ago, and I love it,” enthused Holvey-Garomon, with her classic go-get-‘em gumption, as she sat at her desk on a sunny morning in early August. “I like being a pro at everything, so it’s a little daunting. But I’m excited. I think I’ll excel.”
Hanging on the wall behind Holvey-Garomon’s very neat desk were some emblems of her early success – like a cover of Parents magazine with a young Holvey-Garomon smiling sweetly and tilting her head just so. It all started when her mother took her to a beauty pageant at the Oxford Valley Mall in Langhorne. “Mom got me the lace dress from Kmart and just told me to wave and smile,” she remembered. The strategy worked. Encouraged by the experience, Holvey-Garomon’s mother took her to New York City, where she was promptly signed by an agent at the prestigious J. Michael Bloom Agency. Soon, she was a busy model and actress, traveling from her Yardley home to do modeling shoots and commercials. “I was in New York almost every single day,” recalls Holvey-Garomon. “I did several national commercials – Duncan Hines, McDonalds, Care Bears, Libby’s Creamed Corn, which, to this day, I still can’t eat. I did well. I really loved it.” Holvey-Garomon was leading a starlet’s life – leaving school early to go to New York, perfecting her dazzling smile for commercials, and slipping her slender figure into fashionable outfits for modeling gigs.
Then she grew up. “Puberty hit me like a punch in the face,” said Holvey-Garomon with her classic, unabashed candor. “The agent pulled my mother aside and said ‘You know, the camera adds ten pounds.’ Looking back, I was a normal-sized kid. But J. Michael Bloom dropped me. At age twelve, I was a has-been.” Suddenly, the dashing life she had been leading was over. There were no more trips to New York City, no more photo shoots, no more cameras. That’s when she started to eat. “It was rough,” she said. “I would not say that I was depressed, but out of boredom, I ate. By the time I graduated high school, I was 210 or 215 pounds. I graduated as ‘the fat girl.’ I had been the starlet, to some degree. Then I was made fun of.”
Yet somehow, Holvey-Garomon was still intrigued by the modeling and acting industry. This interest, combined with an indomitable spirit, kept her going. And if she wasn’t going to be in front of the camera, she would simply find another way. So at eighteen, she made a career choice: she became a talent agent. She began working at MMA, Model Management Agency, based in Langhorne. After starting at the bottom, she was promoted to Assistant Director within six years. She booked all the adult talent at the agency, worked relentless twelve-hour days, and loved every minute of it. “I love to negotiate a contract,” she said slyly. Coworkers jokingly called her “Ari,” as in Ari Gold, the fast-talking, brutally honest, foul-mouthed agent from HBO’s Entourage. “They called me Ari for the deal-making, adrenaline rush part,” she smiled. “Not the dirty part. I’m honest like Ari, but my delivery is a little softer. There’s no sense in me telling you [that] you’re perfect. But I deliver it in a way that is guiding.”
It may seem strange that Holvey-Garomon chose to join the profession that essentially ended her young acting career. Yet she said that her early experiences simply made her a better agent. “I understood the business on both sides,” she said. “I understood what it felt like to be judged, because I know what it’s like to be dismissed over the size of your rump when you’re the best actress there.”
Holvey-Garomon’s mother agreed that her success as an agent grew directly out of personal experience. “Since she started out in this industry at such a young age with such great success— then puberty hit, which was unkind to her—she lost it all… which was all she’d ever known,” wrote Gail Holvey in an email. “Thus, she experienced both sides, and she truly understands both sides, which makes her very kind.”
At age twenty-five, Holvey-Garomon was a very successful agent. She was driven. She was respected. She was also 255 pounds. Something was missing; Holvey-Garomon was working until 8:30 p.m. every night and eating a fast-food dinner alone. “I had no social life,” she said. “I never had a boyfriend.” So Holvey-Garomon made a commitment to join Weight Watchers. After the first week, she lost six pounds. She was hooked; her competitive nature kept her going, and every week, she kept her eyes fixated on the scale as the number slowly dropped. It took her two full years. She lost 120 pounds. “I did it naturally and all on my own,” she said. She recalled shopping with her mom for the first time after she lost weight. Usually, Holvey-Garomon would head to the back of the store in search of the plus sizes, while her “rail-thin” mother stayed in the front of the store. “We were finally shopping side by side,” said Holvey-Garomon, getting choked up. “It was amazing.” She finally looked like the girl she felt like on the inside. “I’m not even the same person,” she said. “When you’re not happy internally, it affects who you are outwardly.”
Holvey-Garomon is a different person. The fast-food frequenter trained herself to eat vegetables, packing Brussels sprouts for lunch despite the confused looks from coworkers. She now works out at the gym for two hours a day, six days a week, and has gotten into body building. “I was the girl who walked a sixteen-minute mile,” she said. “Now I’m the gym star. It’s definitely fun at the high school reunion.” She said she gained confidence and enthusiasm for her life. She also recently gained a husband—of course, they met at the gym. “He was Mr. Fitness, a power lifter,” she said. “One Sunday, he was bench pressing, and I was dead lifting. He asked me a corny question about the weather. And that was it.” They were married less than a year ago and live in Doylestown. Her marriage also made Holvey-Garomon a new stepmother to three children, ages six, nine, and twelve. “I love being a stepmom,” she said. “It brings a lot to my life.”
Now, Holvey-Garomon is taking on a new challenge: becoming the director of the John Casablancas acting and modeling studio in Langhorne, Pa. It is a career change that she says she owes to her husband. “I had mastered my job as an agent; I had grown bored, but I don’t like change,” she said. “My husband gave me the confidence. He said, ‘I got your back.’” The studio, which has locations worldwide, offers training in acting, modeling, hair, and makeup. Holvey-Garomon said her students learn to practice public speaking, build confidence, and simply improve how they present themselves. “I believe in this business,” she said. “It’s all how you look at it. Am I selling a dream? No. I’m helping people empower themselves. You’re saying to them, ‘You’re investing in yourself.’ I really do believe in it – for interviews, for college, for anything. It’s a skill set.”
Holvey-Garomon is also not afraid to use her own weight-loss story as an example. “I show my story to them, to tell them ‘You will get there,’” she said. “In this job, I get to help mold these girls… I’m not just a director, I’m a motivator. I want to empower people. I mean, I never thought I’d be a size six.” Holvey-Garomon is the best kind of supporter—one who is genuinely optimistic and decidedly upbeat.
Her husband, an obvious fan, said these qualities make her so good at what she does. “She’s a sincerely positive person,” said Bill Garomon. “She’s glass half full, incredibly positive, very sweet and kind, and always thinking of other people. And she’s a super hard worker.”
Sitting at her desk with her dark hair pulled back in a sleek ponytail and her large eyes framed by perfectly applied makeup, Holvey-Garomon looks very ready to tackle her new position. Dressed in the office’s signature black and white, she looks all business. But her easy laugh and instant-BFF-conversational style reveal a warm, approachable personality. She’s just very real. She’s a gushy newlywed who gets home too late from work to dine with her husband, but cooks dinners for him in the morning so he’ll have a home-cooked meal when he gets home. “I love to cook, but it’s a little gross to be cooking meat at 7 a.m.,” she said. She’s addicted to her workouts, running, and lifting to some unusual musical inspiration: “My husband will take my iPod and he’s like, ‘How can you work out to Roy Orbision?’” she laughed. And, she’s a “girl’s girl” at heart who loves escaping with one of the twenty-five fashion magazines she subscribes to and who loves taking time to shop. “I’m a frugal fashionista,” she said with goofy pride, describing her favorite style as ripped jeans and cowboy boots. “I’m a cowboy rocker,” she said. “I like the tough girl, the strong woman.”
As she gives the tour of her new office, with her high, black sandals clicking along the floor and accentuating her enviable calf muscles, she certainly looks the part of the strong woman. You can just picture her barking into a cell phone, demanding a contract for a model, as she did for fifteen years in her former life as an agent. Yet now, she’s undertaking the more sensitive task of creating, molding, and advising the talent. Now, she can draw on her early experiences as a child actor, tapping into how it felt to be analyzed, evaluated, and sometimes rejected. In some ways, she is coming full circle, from being the young talent to guiding the young talent. “I think that since I’ve been on both sides, my perspective of the business is extremely helpful to young models and talent,” she said. “I’ve had success, joy, and some pain in my career.” She knows how unkind it can be. She also knows how to stay motivated (perhaps that’s why she still keeps a picture of herself at 255 pounds in her wallet, and still mentally counts Weight Watchers points every day). At just thirty-three, it’s hard to believe she has had such a lifetime of experience. But when you start your career at age three, you experience a lot, fast. “I’ve been in the business for thirty years,” she said. “I still love it.”