Modeling has long been considered to be a rather lightweight profession - pretty girls getting by on their looks. Time was when even Seventeen magazine could say, "A successful model has a long neck, torso and legs, small waist, breasts and hips, full lips, eyes set wide apart, good bones and a lovely face." (Add to that a height requirement of 5 feet 7 to 5 feet 9, weight from 106 to 120 pounds, ideal hip measurement of 33 inches, ability to smile without crinkling the eyes and a New York residency.)
While credentials meeting this curious standard of perfection may still be good enough for the fashion pages, they won't do for TV, where the added dimensions of sound and motion call for a modicum of performing talent. And nowadays the real money and opportunity in modeling lie in TV commercials.
A model with a handful of national TV ads on her resume is not only wealthy, but a TV star. And from there the transition to full-time acting is not all that implausible: Three of last year's top TV models - Farrah Fawcett-Majors, Jaclyn Smith and Susan Blakely - made the leap without mussing their hairdos.
Even if she never makes it into the movies, a model who can perform stands in better stead. Traditionally, a fashion model's career has averaged five years and has almost always ended by age of 33. A TV model, on the other hand, can make the changeover from ingenue to housewife, from Clairol to Clorox, and work until she's as old as Mrs. Olsen.
Four of L.A.'s top TV models - Cheryl Tiegs, Chris De Lisle, Phyllis Somer and Kathy Davis - work in both print and TV advertising, but earn the bulk of their incomes from TV residuals. Their incomes are all more than $100,000 (in twocases, much more). Here, each woman offers a particular view from the top. Cheryl Tiegs
Among the too many offers Cheryl Tiegs has had to turn down lately was an expense-paid trip to College Park to be crowned 1977 Homecoming Queen at the University of Maryland.
"I would have loved to do it because I never made homecoming queen when I was in college, just homecoming princess," she said, proving once again that even for the blessed, life has its little setbacks.
Cheryl Tiegs immense smile has beamed from more Glamour and Harpers Bazaar magazines covers than she can recall or the publishers think fair (to the other girls) to tally. Her 5-foot-10, very unmodel-like figure (curves and orbs instead of planes and angles) seen cavorting by the sea in yearly Sports Illustrated bathing suit pictorials is a guaranteed newstand sellout and barbershop conversation piece.
By means of lucrative contracts she is both Cover Girl's main girl and the lady who's brouught Virginia Slims a long, long way. Turning down approximately 90 per cent of all offers, she works an average of 12 days a month for the unprecedented rate of $1,000 a day. For her noncontract TV commercial (Prell shampoo, Hush Puppies, Lincoln Mercury) she gets that plus front money plus a guarantee against residuals. At 29, she is the model's model, perhaps the most famous and successful in the world, and still rising after 12 years in the business.
Tiegs live with her husband, film director-writer Stan Dragoti, in gracious style and guarded security high in the hills of Bel-Air, light-years away from her Alhambra childhood haunts. The opulent, Spanish-style house features polished tile floors, heavy wooden arched doorways, crossvaulted ceilings and furnishings from around the world.
From a skylit solarium a walkaway led out of the house, past te pool and gardens to a canopied veranda where Tiegs sat, sans makup and fashions trappings, sipping a glass of iced Perrier from a long-stemmed goblet. All in all, it was a picture pretty enough to make any girl, even one without "long neck, torso and legs," want to go against the odds.
"Modeling is an incredible career for a girl," she said. "The money is getting better and better, and you can work where you want, be independent, turn down jobs, take a month off if you want. You grow up fast, live on your own and learn how to handle yourself. But to get into the position I'm in now, you have to start at the bottom and work very hard."
For Tiegs, starting at the bottom meant posing for fashion sketches at $5 a session and participating in such a unheralded beauty contests as Miss Army, Miss Air Force and Miss Kodak (she won all three). Then success came quickly. She was spotted by a talent agent and did some work for Glamour during a semester break from Cal State L.A. By the time she moved to New York at 19 she was already known face with several covers to her credit. She was booked solidly for the next four years, working every day, often from 8 a.m. to midnight.
After getting married, she took a two-year break but grew bored with house-wifery and went back to modeling to find she was even more in demand than before. Her success has been growing ever since.
"There are dangers, of course," she cautioned. "All of a sudden at a very young age you are making a great deal of money and people are tellingyou you're beautiful all day long. It can be hard to handle emotionally and, if you're not careful, it can go to your head."
Thus far, it appears not to have gone to Tiegs' head. When forced by questions to describe herself as beautiful, she winced.
"Well, it's hard to say "I'm beautiful without sounding terribly egotistical. But I have to admit there is some evidence that I'm a bit attractive. Models don't look like they do on the fashion pages, though. That's illusion, not the reality. I photograph well and they put me together well, but when I look in the mirror I see the flaws. Sometimes my face is too fat and I'm not really all that stunning when I'm running around on the tennis court. And six years ago, during my housewife days, I had bad skin and weighed 135 pounds." (An image difficult to conjure.)
I grew up thin and healthy with clear skin," she says, "and always assumed I'd stay that way. I never thought I'd have to work at [WORD ILLEGIBLE] so I kep eating and not taking care of myself and suddenly . . .".
Tiegs plays tennis four times a week and exercises at a gym three times a week (two uninterrupted hours of pushups and situps). She diets continually but in her own fashion.
"I balance things out," she said. "If I let myself go and have eggs benedit and champagne one day, I pass up breakfast the next. Sometimes I fast - on Mondays, after eating all weekends, it's good to clean out the system. But I have a thing for potato chips and I do love champagne. Not fattening? If you drink a whole bottle it is."
With a career already stretching more than twice the average length, Tiegs acknowledges the end is drawing near. At the moment she is working on a health and beauty book and preparing to promote a Farrah-type poster of herself, a wet T-shirt pose that goes on sale soon. Her plans for the future don't include acting, though she's had many offers (including the lead female role in "The Last Tycoon").
"I don't think it's fair to producers to say I turned them down," she said. "I just didn't return their phone calls because I don't aspire to being an actress."
"I'll work at modeling for a few more years," she said, "then I'll do something else. I don't know exactly what yet, but my life has always been like that. It changes. Who can say for sure what they'll be doing in five years. If someone had told me 10 years ago what my life would be like today, I wouldn't have believed them. Even though it's my career, I don't rely on modeling all that much. I'm happily married and have a whole other life. Right now I'm completely satisfied. I don't think I could ask for more." Chris De Lisle
"One thing is very important to remember if you want to keep your head straight in this business," said Chris De Lisle, "You can't be someone or something you're not. I can't be Cheryl Tiegs. That was a little disappointing to me at 22 when I realized I was 5 feet 5 and not likely togrow any more. But I've learned to live with it."
De Lisle's lack of pyhsical stature kept her from becoming a successful fashion model but hasn't been detrimental to her career in TV. In 1971, as a graduate of the University of Detroit with a degree in radio and TV communications and ambitions to become a news reporters, she went into modeling after the job market failed to respond to her college credentials.
During a two-year apprenticeship doing local TV spots in Detroit, she dreamed of scoring just one big-time national ad in New York. A week after moving to that city, the dream came true when she landed a national commercial for Cover Girl mascara, beating out Tiegs in the bargain.
"I really don't think of it in terms of competitions," she said. "If I go to an audition where there are a hundred beautiful girls, I just show what I have and what I can do. If they hire someone else, that's OK. I know it's nothing personal against me, just a matter of the type they want.
"What a 'better face'?" "You can't think, 'Oh, she's prettier than me, or she wears her hair better or has nicer bone structure.' That's crazy. How can you compare faces?
Jeans-clad, she looks different from her promotional photographs, but no less attractive in three dimensions. A recently frosted blonde with translucent baby blues and the kind of teeth that make the toothpaste people reach for their checkbooks, she earns $500 a day for TV commercials and currently collects residuals from Noxema skin cream, Johnson's baby powder, Yago sangria, Plymouth Arrow, Goodyear tires and, of course, Ultra Brite.
De Lisle is casual about keeping fit. She says that other than play-playing tennis regularly, she doesn't do much along that line.
"I know it sounds awful," she said. "I see Farrah Fawcett-Majors jogging on the beach and so-and-so eating yogurt and bean sprouts, but I'm just an easygoing person who likes to have fun and enjoy life. It seems like a real bummer to have to concentrate on that aspect of it." She tried to sheild her Marlboros from the camera ("Ultra Brite" - her biggest account - "will freak") but drank her Pepsi openly. In retrospect, De Lisle thinks, the inablility to break into the New York fashion pages was a blessing and largely responsible for her level-headed outlook.
"In commercial field you don't get the constant attention of a Vogue cover girl," she said. "You're 'Star for a Day,' then back to the same old slob.
"My husband, Tom (a writer), has been a big help, too" she said. "He's always tried to help me keep the right perspective, telling me to be cool and both get bogged down in either the rejections or the successes. Then again, I've always been a pretty lucky person; things always seem to be going my way."
De Lisle now is moving toward an acting career. She just completed a role in Police Story and is under consideration for a TV series and a feature film.
Have there been any negative aspects to her success?
"Yeah, one," she said. "Whenever my husband and I watch TV now, we stay during the commercials and go to the refrigerator during the programs. Pretty sick, huh?" Phyllis Somer
When Phyllis Somer made her first national TV commercial at age 21, she had no prior modeling experience and was two months pregnant to boot. No matter. She continued working steadily up until her seventh month, delivered by natural childbirth and was back in front of the cameras within six weeks. Soon after, she was bringing her daughter Eve to photo sessions, employing an empty camera case as a pacifer. (Mother and daughter did a Gerber's baby food commercial together.)
"I got into modeling because I was married to a very successful lawyer at the time and I didn't find the Beverley Hills-for-lunch bunch entertaining," she said. "For the girst three years I didn't know how much money I was making because it all went into the joint kitty."
Now 27 and divorced, Somer considers herself to be a sharp businesswoman and know exactly how much she's making. At last check with her accountant, residuals were flowing in from no less the 20 national commercials, including Revlon, Milk Plus Six, Honda, Catalina sportswear, Chrysler, Schlitz, Ban deodorant and United Technology. Not to mention her $600 daily rate. She drives a black VW convertible equipped with a telephone and has most of her clothes made by a private seamstress.
At present, Somer avoids overexposure by limiting product clients to only 18 weeks of airing her commercials. She doesn't go on interviews because she doesn't have to. And she refuses to endorse products she doesn't believe in: "No feminine hygiene products because I don't think they're good for you."
For the last three years she and her daughter have lived with record producer Lou Adler in a series of three homes he maintains in the L.A. are (two in Malibu, one in Bel-Air).
"Even though I have an independent career and am not married," she said "basically I'm a housewife. I do all the things a housewife does - I cook meals, I take care of children and I take care of my man. Before my career, my family comes first. I would never let my worm interfere with my life."
"Women do the modeling, but men actually control the fashion business," she said. "Surely they do. Most of the fashion magazines are run by men. When you do a commercial, eight of 10 people you see are men - the account executive, the art director, the photographer, the writer. And men set up the whole selective process." Absolutely.
"This doesn't bother me, however, because I prefer men. Men compete with themselves, while women compete with each other. And women don't trust one another.
"But I get angry when I hear people say models don't have to work for their money. Models work just as hard as the 'guy selling insurance. There are times when we work from 4 in the morning to 10 at night.
"TV commercials are harder than print ads. But I prefer TV. Pretty girls are a dime a dozen and in TV you can't just be beautiful. Sometimes you have to be cutsey or bubbly, sometimes chic and sophisticated, sometimes even ghoulish. The more change the better.
"Besides, I like seeing myself on TV." she said. "And I love the recognition. I love walking out of a hotel in New York and having people recognize me. When you first start you want those people to notice you. Why stop after you've made it?" Kathy Davis
"So many people, women especially, seem to resent models because we are young healthy, beautiful and making a lot of money," said Kathy Davis, one of the busiest fashion and commercial models on either coast. "Well, I can't help the way I look - it just happened. But I worked hard for what I have. I've always been self-sufficient, I have a great life and I don't let people like that bother me. I say, 'Honey, you'd die to be in my shoes."
Davies, newly 24, talked nonstop as she bounded about her small Beverley Hills apartment dressed in her favorite fashion: red jogging shorts ($8) matching T-shirts (five years old) and tennies. An athletic, 5-foot-8 blonde with riveting ice-blue eyes and elegant cheekbones, she earns $200 an hour posing for lingerie print ads and commands a basic rate of $600 per day plus bonuses plus residuals for TV commercials. (She has 10 airing nationally at present, plugging such products as Listerine, Clairol, Breck creme rinse and Chevrolet).
After one recent week's work she drove her new Mercedes 450 SLC to the bank to deposit $7,000 - after taxes - in her savings account. No doubt there are many who would like to be in any one of her 30 pairs of shoes.
Los Angeles-born Davis was raised in upper-middle-class style, educated in Catholic girl's schools and began occasional modeling at age 12, about the time she suddenly started to look "womanly," draw glances from the boys and encounter resentment from female schoolmates. At 19, she took off on her own for New York and by 21 was wealthy and, at least within her profession, famous.
She admits it was an unusual way to pass through young adulthood and, while regretting not a bit of it, acknowledges the drawbacks. Her extraordinary looks and early physical maturity opened the door to a profession that provided money, independence and world travel but placed her in a social milieu and lifestyle that left her out of synch with her peers.
"In high school the boys my age seemed so frivolous and irresponsible." she recalled, "because they weren't out making their way in the world, while I was. For that reason I dated little and when I did it was always older men. As a result, at 20 I wanted more than anything to be 30, to be accepted.
"That's changing now," she added. "For the first time I have a special friend my own age and it's really nice. Looking back, I wonder what a 40-year-old man saw in me at 19 or 20."
"Beauty can work to your disadvantage as much as to your advantage." she said. "Men are often scared to death. They feel so threatened they like to say you are aloof. If you don't respond to their flirtatiousness, they take it as a personal insult and say you are hung up on yourself. And if they do get past the looks, they're so surprised to find that you're nice, that you're intelligent, that you're responsible, because models are supposed to be so flaky."
I know what I have and I know how to use it. And I'm not without flaws. I have great legs and lovely feet, but my hands are awful, my face is too wide, my nose is too round on the edge and my upper lip line is not definite enough - I have to draw it in.
"And how about these," she said, pulling back her hair to reveal two tiny blemishes on her right cheek. "They were real boulders a few days ago. God forbid a model should get zits!"
Like her professional sisters, Davis holds a vested interest in remaining attractive. So she plays tennis often, jogs 2.5 miles a day and negotiates yoga exercises to counter the pumping up effect on her muscles. She is careful about food - lots of fruit, green vegetables and fish, no chemicals or fast food - but doesn't diet. Neither does she smoke, use hard liquor or drugs.