Cover Model Fabio A household name for nearly a decade, Fabio is also the undisputed god of romance. Countless romance novel covers sport his likeness as the embodiment of the ideal hero. But even apart from his extraordinary success within that industry, Fabio is a media phenomenon.
Born Fabio Lanzoni in Milan, Italy on March 15, 1961, the blue-eyed hero was a charmer from the start–a plump, precious cherub who inherited his good looks from his mother, Flora, a former beauty queen. His father, Sauro, a businessman, and his two siblings, an older brother, Walter, and a younger sister, Christina, had no inkling of the fame he would ultimately achieve. At the tender age of 14, the striking Fabio was discovered and asked to model for Italian Vogue. It was the start of a career that would eventually take him all over the world.
He worked steadily into his 20s, and after a mandatory two-year stint in the Italian army, he decided to come to the United States. His start in the States is near legendary–Fabio walked into the Ford Agency and received a lucrative modeling contract on the spot. His stunning looks soon made him one of Ford’s more sought-after male models, despite the fact that designers often had to have jackets and other garments specially made to fit his broad frame.
Fabio soon began making regular appearances on the TV show “Live With Regis and Kathie Lee.” But he had already made another decision that would have a remarkable impact on his career. To supplement his other modeling jobs, he began posing for the covers of romance novels.
It was wonderful cover artist Elaine Duillo who discovered his photo in a group of head shots at the studio where she shoots. His first appearance on a historical cover was the spine of Bertrice Small’s 1987 novel Enchantress Mine. Elaine was impressed enough to ask him to pose for the front cover of Johanna Lindsey’s Hearts Aflame. That cover was such a success that he subsequently posed for many of Lindsey’s covers, all painted by Duillo, who says that he was “such a good model that no one could compare with him.”
Cover Model Fabio By 1991, Fabio had attracted the attention of readers, who initially assumed that the cover star was an imaginary character, an artist’s creation. Fabio’s recognition as a real-life model coincided with a revolution in the industry, as the “bodice ripper” tags made way for a new level of respect. As a result, Fabio became associated with and helped pioneer a new image not only for men in the romance industry, but for the industry itself.
Romantic Times was one of the first publications to alert readers to the fact that he was a flesh-and-blood man, not a fantasy. More interest accumulated when Fabio was used as a sole cover model on two Laura Kinsale covers, The Shadow and The Star and The Prince of Midnight, after Avon executives learned that Fabio raised book sales by up to 40 percent. The Shadow and The Star featured a dripping wet Fabio emerging from the water. Avon books sent out postcards featuring the cover and also created a bookstore display that included a Fabio cutout. Both books were bestsellers and received plenty of publicity that called attention to the cover model.
Fabio began to branch into a number of different projects: bit parts in movies, a private 900 line, a Fabio poster and calendars followed.
Almost overnight, Fabio became one of the hottest names in the romance industry. It wasn’t unusual to see him featured in all the tabloids simultaneously. Fabio fever was hot enough for Romantic Times to invite him and his then manager, Peter Paul, to appear at the RT convention in Savannah, Georgia in April ’92. RT had delighted its readers with the first-ever Fabio centerfold just months earlier. During the convention, RT published its 100th issue, which, of course, featured a shirtless and golden Fabio as cover star.
The months that followed saw the launching of The Fabio International Fan Club, with Ellen Wulf as its president. It was launched to much fanfare and press coverage as his fans flocked to San Antonio in October of 1992, standing in line for hours just to get a glimpse of their idol.
Another first for Fabio came when he was signed to an exclusive, six-figure contract with Avon Books to write his own romance novels. He had the distinction of being the only male author to be published under his own name. Some romance authors were less than pleased to hear of Fabio’s contract. Several were very vocal in their anger, arguing that they could not comprehend why he was being given such consideration when he had never written before. But the answer lay simply in his phenomenal popularity. Women who had had no idea of his existence a year ago now stood in line for hours to get their calendar signed or their picture taken with him.
Fabio had already won the hearts of the public. The press called him “every woman’s fantasy,” and wherever he went, he spoke about love and romance and how he thought women should be treated. In real life, he was a gentle, caring soul who really cared what people thought and how they felt. It was important to him that each person he met be treated as special. If fans stopped Fabio on the street, he always did his best to make them happy, even if it meant being a little late. (Once, in a restaurant, I watched three separate cups of cappuccino get cold while he posed for photos and signed autographs.)
Cover Model Fabio For the last few years, the project closest to Fabio’s heart has been the development of the Marvel Comics character Thor. An animated pilot has been shot, with Fabio supplying the voice of Thor, and Charlton Heston as the voice of Thor’s father.
Fabio is so dedicated to the project that he paid for the pilot himself. Hopefully, sometime next year, Thor will be making his way to the big screen, and perhaps to our television sets, opening up a new audience of fans eager to learn about the Fabio legacy, and the man behind the magic.
The Fabio International Fan Club is still in operation via the Internet.
Check it out at http://www.fabioifc.com.
Some real reporting now. Since covers are such a big part of our genre, I decided to do a little snooping around. I discovered that, depending on the artist, a cover can cost anywhere between $2,000 and $10,000, with most falling in the $4,000 to $5,000 range. I discovered that, for artist Elaine Duillo, the first major woman cover artist who, when she started her career, had to work behind her agent because publishers wouldn’t hire a woman, she has, at least on one occasion, been paid more for her cover than the first-time author was for the book.
Even though I have never bought a book for its cover, even though I am not a fan of the clinch or heavily-peopled cover, I found my discussion with Elaine fascinating. Here is a woman, a professional illustrator, who started her career in the the late 1950s, and received $150 for her first job. She had trained at Pratt in commercial art, and when she got into the cover business, paperback books were thirty five cents. For a woman, she could get an entry- level job doing covers, often pretending she was a man.
Romance did not exist as a recognized genre then, so Elaine did a variety of covers, including mysteries and gothics. When the actual genre of romance developed, she was the first woman to paint their covers, working, at that time, for male art directors who wanted cleavage. Although she was doing half a dozen covers a month at the height of her career (she’s trying to retire now, at the age of 68, slowing down to a couple a month for he last ten years), she has never felt like a factory.
The Queen of the Covers now does lead authors only, and her most recognizeable covers are those of Johanna Lindsey and Bertrice Small (Bertrice, by the way, buys her covers as art and has filled her house with them). She is glad that computer-generated covers are being used for mid-list authors because it will allow her to retire.
Art directors are not just men any more, and with more women involved at higher levels in that end of the industry, the number of male character covers has grown. (Whether this is an improvement is up to debate!). Elaine herself is proud of her part in the final product, sharing with me which books (and her covers) have gone to number one on the bestseller’s list.
At a photo shoot, she directs the photographer in a scene she has created after reading the author’s manuscript (not all illustrators, she says, pay such attention to detail, resulting in the wrong hair color, eye color, etc.) After the shoot, she works from photographs in acrylic, shying away from body hair which she believes copies like dirt (what she’d have to say about the cover of Alice Duncan’s latest, of a man with a gloriously hair-covered chest, I don’t know).
She told me the titles of some of the covers she’s done, and we went through them together. She pointed out how she changed the chin and nose of Fabio on a particular Lindsey cover (an improvement, I might add!), and she added that the male models generally shave all their arm, under-arm, and chest hair (if they had any), and how odd it is to look at a man without hair on his arms.
While our discussion didn’t change my opinion of the value of covers, I came away with great admiration for Elaine, who is shown in galleries of important illustrators. I also went back and looked at some of the covers I generally overlook – those Avons and Leisures that are recognizeable to me from half a room away, and decided that, for what they are, some of them are beautiful. In other words, I found myself admiring them as an art form, if not as an appropriate means of selling a book.