Editor's Note: The Coca-Cola archives includes a sizable file on models who were featured in early- and mid-century advertising for the company. The photographers Coke worked with did not always obtain written talent releases from the models, however, and the little documentation that was kept was not always passed along to the company. Recently, 98-year-old Alice Jean Anderson shared with us the inspiring story of her life as a dancer, artist... and Coca-Cola model. We hope you enjoy it.

One day in the late-1930s, 21-year-old Alice Jean Anderson stepped off of a train in New York City an saw a familiar face staring down at her.

“There was a great big giant billboard,” Anderson, now 98, recalled during a recent phone interview. “It had me in a blue swimsuit... and it was flashing! I stood there and couldn’t believe what was going on!"

The sensation soon became familiar to Anderson, whose dazzling countenance graced Coca-Cola billboards, posters, buses and merchandise around the world from the 1930s to the 1950s. The former model's journey to stardom began nearly a century ago, when her mother enrolled her in dancing school at age three. She was an instant standout and earned a scholarship to train for dancing. 

Alice Anderson Coke Ad 1940

She moved to New York as a teenager to pursue her dancing career, performing more than 20 shows a week at the Fox Theater in Brooklyn. It was in this same theater that she met her future husband, a concert pianist and orchestra leader. 

When Anderson was 18, she joined the legendary Rockettes for their New York debut. At the time, the group was known as the Roxyettes and performed in the Roxy Theater.

A consummate artist, Anderson soon transitioned to Broadway for her debut in “Oh Say Can You Sing.” All the while, she modeled for a variety of brands, from airlines to shampoos and toothpastes.

Soon, Anderson joined the ranks of Coca-Cola models and rose quickly to the top.

Haddon Sundblom, who famously created the modern-day image of Santa Claus for a series of Coca-Cola advertisements, began to work extensively with Anderson. She spent hours posing for photos, which Sundblom turned into distinctive paintings. These illustrations soon spread around the globe as Anderson adorned a variety of Coca-Cola billboards and trays. Memorabilia collectors still seek her out for autographs on her iconic images.

Working with Sundblom sparked another artistic ambition in Anderson, one that continues to this day – painting. The mother of two embraced the challenge and took pastel and oil painting classes at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Academy of Fine Art. 

Anderson now lives in Apalachicola, Florida. Jokingly, she says she went "from Coca-Cola to Apalachi-cola." Her paintings have been featured in prominent galleries all over Florida, and she has her own local gallery, On The Waterfront.

Every Thursday, Anderson paints with a group of close friends, continuing a life full of beauty and art. The lifelong entertainer continues to flash a smile worthy of commercials and is quick to break into song. Her daughter, Lynn Wilson, describes her as “98 years young.

"She's still vibrant and active and drinks Coca-Cola,” Wilson says.

In this two-part interview, Anderson and Wilson share their Coca-Cola story: