The red raw-silk dinner jacket had been selected, the red tablecloths inspected, the red Ferrari stowed away to protect it from the predicted snow. Steve Varsano, executive jet salesman, model and former Cosmo Bachelor of the Month, was getting ready for his party.
"I take it real personal the way the party comes off," said Varsano 24 hours before his Valentine's Day ball to benefit the American Heart Association would begin. From the shimmering white teeth to the pinkie ring flashing diamonds to the slender shoes of delicate leather, the 29-year-old Varsano looked everything a Cosmo reader could want, but he apologized in a voice dripping regret for the cheeks not shaven as recently as Steve Varsano would like. It had been a rough day.
Last night's "St. Valentine's Reveillon!," as it was billed, an event the invitation promised would be filled with "supper, syncopation and sin," was only Varsano's second venture into the world of charity bashes, and as the event approached even he, the man whose unrelenting smile is as smooth as his starched white shirt, was nervous. He had his reasons.
There was the $40,000 in expenses he said he had to underwrite personally. There were the long days when it seemed as hard to sell a $75 ball ticket as a million-dollar jet. There were the committee members who didn't pull their weight; and the crush of parties on New Year's Eve that forced Varsano to reschedule the event for last night; and the days spent flying from Washington (where he has a condominium in McLean) to Teterboro, N.J. (where the jet company is based) and to Cleveland (where the jet company is opening an office); and the Cosmo endorsement, which people bring up no matter what you do.
But he had his friends to help. People like Shari Theismann, who says, "We've dated for about a year -- he doesn't live here, so it's definitely off and on." People like party organizer Susan Cartwright, who thought of calling the party at the Old Post Office Pavilion a "reveillon" (which she defined as a "festive, late-night supper"), commissioned the ice sculpture of the D.C. skyline ("It's so passe' but I had to resurrect it") and said of Varsano's birthday party/Children's Hospital fundraiser last summer, "Everyone was so pretty, everyone just stood around and postured. See and be seen was the name of the game."
And people like Tricia Erickson, owner of a modeling agency, who said of Varsano, "He's like my brother," gets him modeling jobs and provided several hundred of her models with tickets she paid half of so they could attend last night's party. "All of our male and female friends are going to be there," she said. "It's going to be a beautiful crowd."
"This is going to be more exciting than your typical ball where you sit down at the table and kind of yawn half the night," said Varsano of his Reveillon. He promised it would be "a high-energy type of party." In addition to dancing and eating and studying the ice sculpture, the expected 700 or more guests would be able to put the party's theme -- "Paint the town red!" -- into action, donning smocks and applying red paint to a huge mural of Washington.
"This is trying to get some new blood injected into the Heart Association," said Varsano. "We're aiming for a younger, professional crowd."
WRC's Arch Campbell, who is listed as a member of last night's ball committee but missed the party because he was hosting another Heart Association fundraiser, said of Varsano, "He's what every guy wishes he was: Rich, good-looking, single." And of Varsano's party, Campbell laughed and said, "I think it'll be very interesting -- sort of the charity singles bar."
Which is just what Varsano's first fundraiser sounded like.
"Everyone was gorgeous, gorgeous," said Cartwright. "There were more blonds than I'd ever seen in one place. It was the best people-watching event, certainly, of the summer." Varsano said, "The Heart Association heard about it and approached me about doing a New Year's Eve party." William Wells, executive director of the Heart Association's National Capital Affiliate, said that unlike the annual Heart Ball, which the association pays for and runs, the Reveillon cost the association nothing. "The event was one Steve wanted to do and wanted to do for us," he said, and while Varsano said an association employe attended his first party and suggested he do one for them, Wells said Varsano actually contacted the association first.
"He's putting up the money. From our point of view, it's a very positive thing to happen in the community because we don't have to expend our money that would otherwise go to other purposes," Wells said.
The Heart Association gets whatever is left after Varsano pays the bills and reimburses himself. After his party for 400 last summer, Varsano donated about $4,500 to Children's Hospital, a hospital spokesman said. According to Varsano, that money didn't come from the $50 tickets, which he said fell far short of paying for the party. The donation was Varsano money. "I'm sure he spent $10,000 out of his own pocket," said Cartwright.
He is hoping not to have to do that again.
"I'm actually enjoying the challenge," said Varsano. "Putting something like this together is massive. If I don't put my feet to the fire -- I need that to motivate myself to get something done. I can see I could lose everything I've worked for for years. But hey, nine years ago I was on the streets: no job, no cars, no suits and stuff. This is giving something back."
Varsano spent his childhood in Hackensack, N.J. "I grew up with no father," he said. "There were four kids. I started working when I was 7 years old sweeping floors in a beauty parlor. In my junior and senior years of high school I worked 70 hours a week as a cook. My mother worked two jobs. No one else in the family went to college."
But Varsano, who fell in love with flying at 14, did go to college, graduating from Florida's Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. In 1978, he came to Washington, where he worked first as a lobbyist for the General Aviation Manufacturers Association and then in various positions for a series of jet sales companies. In order to be able to afford the kind of life that would one day endear him to the readers of Cosmo, he also worked nights as a doorman at a disco and began modeling. Now he's with EAF Aircraft Sales of Teterboro; he says he has sold close to 100 jets in the six years he's been in the business and that between salary and commission his goal for a year's income is well over $100,000.
Because he loves Washington, he flies back every weekend from his work in New Jersey and Ohio, just as he did with his last job in Detroit. "I'd have a place there and a car there and a wardrobe there and then I'd come here and have a car here and a place here and a wardrobe here," he said. Hectic, yes, but just like the little pilot flying a plane labeled "Steve" on an announcement of the planned New Year's Eve party, the real Steve is smiling.
"Professionally, it's gratifying to sell multimillion-dollar aviation equipment. Personally, I enjoy doing business with high-level decision makers," read a two-page advertising spread featuring Varsano in the December 1984 issue of Flying magazine. "Flying's the only magazine I take home to read," the ad said below pictures of Varsano leaning on the sleek wing of a jet and of him ensconced inside a jet, note pad and a copy of Flying magazine close by. It was that interior shot that a colleague sent to Cosmo and that ran last March when he was named Bachelor of the Month.
The Cosmo seal of approval, he said, is not completely without its uses: "It does help in a way. When people you do business with kid around with you and toy with you, it shows they do trust you. It's more comfortable."
But an article in The Washingtonian quoting a steamy string of lascivious letters he received after winning the monthly title upset him, and mention of it is enough to dim that high-voltage smile, if only momentarily.
"It's nothing I did," he said of the correspondence. "It's something someone else sent. But the way people perceive it is it's me.
"I didn't think the Cosmo thing was such a big deal." But in the year since his picture and address appeared in the magazine, there have been thousands of letters from smitten Cosmo readers. "I didn't know what I was getting into. I wouldn't recomend it to any of my friends. I've taken a lot of abuse -- I mean verbal abuse. I'd like not to live that image. I try to work for a living and I try to keep a professional attitude."
But that can be difficult for a Bachelor of the Month. After he was in Cosmo, friend and fellow-model Phyllis Pritcher told him she'd get him some publicity. "It was like a dare," she said. He did get mentioned in the Personalities column of The Washington Post but failed to crack "Good Morning America" and "Late Night With David Letterman." "Hour Magazine," however, did cover his party last summer. In November he was back in print when he lost his "little black book," which he said held business numbers as well as those of 200 women. He placed ads in papers in Washington and Philadelphia, offered a $1,000 reward and once again made it into the Personalities column.
"He has done some of this himself," said Tricia Erickson. "I've been pushing him a lot. He's enjoying it. I don't know who wouldn't. He's also gone through some hard times as far as knowing what women want to go out with him for -- he's going through that right now."
"I think he wants to get his name out there in a positive way," said Theismann. "Frankly, I think Steve would like to downplay the Cosmo image. He's planned this event very seriously."
Down to the red jacket.
"When everyone's looking for me when something goes wrong, they'll be able to find me -- no one else will be in one," he said, then added, "It's not something I'd normally do." That's to prevent anyone from thinking such an object could be a regular part of his wardrobe. It just wouldn't fit the image.