Walter Thornton rose to success from being an orphan and a butcher cart driver. He retired from the agency in 1958 and spent the rest of his life in Ajijic, Mexico. After working as a model and posing for artists such as Arthur William Brown he gained connections in the modeling business and he started his own modeling agency, located in the Chrysler Building, in 1929.
As the grew, it was considered one of "Big Three", the largest model agencies in the United States, along with its competitors, John Robert Powers and Harry Conover.
His agency worked with famous models such as: Lizabeth Scott, Susan Hayward, Grace Kelly, Lauren Bacall, Hazel Brooks, Lucille Wilds, and Eleanor Cahill. Walter Thornton supplied models to Alex Raymond for his comic book, Flash Gordon.
A special autobiographical issue depicts Alex Raymond sketching panels using Walter Thornton model Patricia Quinn as a reference. Starting in the mid-50"s and continuing after Walter moved to Mexico, Walter Thornton modelling schools and agencies were opened in Canada.
Walter Thornton"s agency favored "wholesome girl-back-home type" models as opposed to his competition who tended to hire models that fell into the "glamorous show-girl type". pin-up girl.
Many of his agency"s pin-up girl photos were sent to G.I.s under General Powell during World World War World War II The popularity of Thornton"s pin-up girls led to charting singles such "Get a Pin-Up Girl!" by Don Wolf, "Pin-Up Polka" by First Rate (at Lloyd's) Gamse and Irving Fields, and "The Walter Thornton Rumba" also by Gamse and Fields. Just Kids Photos
Walter Thornton ran a stock photo publication of children. A series of legal issues and negative publicity starting in 1954 culminated in Walter Thornton"s retirement from his modeling agency.
Walter Thornton was arrested and charged with grand larceny, petit larceny, and conspiracy on January 26, 1954.
Walter Thornton said in a news article that the District Attorney who was prosecuting him, Quinn, didn"t have a case and furthermore was just stirring up publicity to cover for his own legal problems. Walter Thornton also had his modelling license suspended for sending clients to a photography office that he owned without disclosure.
The case was dismissed on June 3, 1954, by judge Peter T. Farreli of Queens county court in Jamaica, New New York Thornton filed a lawsuit for $3,000,000 in damages against the Hearst Corporation on May 21, 1955 claiming he was libeled.