In 1923, Powers founded a modeling school. The John Robert Powers Agency represented models who aspired to success in the Hollywood film industry. While Powers' clientele was overwhelmingly female, the school also represented several men. The agency was the subject of a 1943 musical comedy, The Powers Girl, in which Alan Mowbray portrays Powers and features Anne Shirley and Carole Landis as aspiring models.
John Robert Powers was born to John J. Powers and Margaret Shindan in Easton, Pennsylvania, as reported in the New York City marriage record of his marriage in Manhattan on September 28, 1922, to Alice Virginia Burton (1902–1972). According to this record she was the daughter of William Burton and Helen Vleit. John Robert Powers and his wife Alice are buried together in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California. Discrepancies occur regarding his date of birth (1892 appears on his gravestone as well as the US Federal Census record of 1900), but in his World War I draft registration card dated 6/5/17 in New York City he self-reports his birthday as September 14, 1895. His address on that date was 250 West 43rd, New York City, and his occupation is Actor. He is employed at Fort Lee Ferry. He has brown eyes, brown hair, is 5' 11" tall and of slender build.
John Robert Powers franchises have been criticized for 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 celebrities 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, 84; founder of modeling agency". The Morning Call. Allentown, Pennsylvania. 22 July 1977. p. 26.
- Traci Hukill (December 9, 1999). "Powers That Be". MetroActive. Retrieved 2007-05-22.
- "A Model Of Acting Talent: John Robert Powers". Los Angeles Better Business Bureau. Retrieved 2007-05-22.
- Star Stuck. (May 26, 2004). NBC Team 4 Reports. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on June 6, 2004. Retrieved 2007-05-23.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link) or from 2nd-tier.com. Retrieved on 2007-05-22.
- Betty Ford. FirstLadies Library. Accessed 2011-08-02.
- "John Robert Powers Look And Dress For Success Formula As Relevant Today As It Was Fifty Years Ago". Yahoo! News. Apr 15, 2010. Archived from the original on 5 November 2012. Retrieved 28 May 2016.