It was approaching midnight inside a throbbing Studio 54, New York City’s nightclub extraordinaire and nocturnal epicenter of excess in the 1980s. As bartenders naked to the waist filled goblets of champagne, club cofounder Steve Rubell, famous for plucking favored guests from the surging crowd outside, was showing off his latest “pick.”
His name was Scott Brown. But Rubell, who recognized the 22-year-old Massachusetts man, who had recently won Cosmopolitan magazine’s 1982 “America’s Sexiest Man” contest and posed nude for its centerfold, promptly dubbed him “the Cosmo boy.” When Rubell spotted R. Couri Hay, The National Enquirer celebrity columnist and stringer for People magazine, he led Brown toward him, hoping his guest’s sudden renown might garner the club a mention.
“Rubell introduced me to Brown,” recalled Hay. “He said, ‘Here’s the Cosmo boy . . . How cute is he!’ At the time Brown had a little pizazz because of the Cosmo thing, but not enough pizazz to make the column. He was just another tall, good looking guy in a place where there were endless numbers of tall, good-looking guys.”
The Cosmo thing did, however, give a valuable career boost to the man now better known as US Senator Scott Brown. The magazine spread, which described Brown as a “not-so-shy show-off,” launched him into a several year stint of modeling in New York and Boston that not only paid for his law school education, but for a brief time hoisted him to a certain kind of celebrity.
Brown was awarded a $20,000 contract by Jordache jeans, and his muscled body was splayed on a billboard overlooking Times Square in New York. For one of many sweater shoots, he stared moodily at the breaking surf on a Fire Island beach curled up in the lap of model Julianne Phillips, later the wife of Bruce Springsteen.
‘You could put him in a working-class outfit and then in something nicer, and it worked. He did not always look the same in every picture, which is valuable from a photographer’s point of view.’
And when Boston columnist Norma Nathan dubbed him one of “Boston’s Most Eligible Bachelors” in 1982, Brown did not hold back. “ ‘I’ve always felt that I’ve done well with older women,” says Scott, who scores sex as ‘very important,’ ” according to the accompanying write-up. “ ‘I have the appetites of a 22-year-old man. It’s very important to me to satisfy a woman I am with.’ ”
The women voters Brown is wooing in this bitterly fought Congressional race might find that statement off-putting or perhaps intriguing. Or they might make nothing of it at all. It is, after all, the self-satisfied voice of a young man from a long time ago.
But in a contest in which personal biography has figured large, Brown’s roughly seven years of work as a model, a rare resume item for a politician, have received scant attention from the Democratic women he has squared off with, Elizabeth Warren and Attorney General Martha Coakley, whom he defeated in 2010.
It was a substantial chapter in his early life, one that garnered some attention during and after his first Senate campaign, but one that Brown himself now rarely speaks of. The senator, who has said he never considered modeling to be a potential career, declined to comment for this article.
Just how Brown’s successful, if abbreviated, run as a model plays among voters, if it affects them at all, probably depends on how they regard the candidate overall, analysts say. Paul Watanabe, chairman of the political science department at the University of Massachusetts Boston, says Brown’s detractors will point to this phase of his life as “evidence of his vanity and superficiality.”
His supporters, Watanabe added, will say, “It shows he’s a regular guy, a struggling guy who took advantage of one of his assets to pay for school.”
Watanabe said that he has been surprised that this aspect of Brown’s professional rise has not been more scrutinized. At this year’s St. Patrick’s Day breakfast in Boston, Warren made one of few allusions to Brown’s years on the runway when she displayed a mock centerfold of her fully clothed self lying next to a calculator in Consumer Reports magazine, saying it was “the only magazine that would have me.”
When his modeling career flowered, Brown was a first-year student at Boston College Law School. It was his sister, Leeann, as he describes it in his memoir, who decided to send his photos to Cosmopolitan magazine. When the phone rang several months later and a woman named Helen Gurley Brown invited him to New York, he thought it was a joke and hung up. The next day, a ticket to New York arrived at his door. The winner of the contest would get $1,000.
Chosen from among 7,000 entries, Brown ultimately struck a horizontal pose for the centerfold, his hand discreetly lying across his thighs. In an interview that ran with his photos, Brown told Cosmo he appreciates women who are “tall, athletic, and have longish hair and beautiful legs . . . Hmmm, I’m getting excited.” As the Cosmo guy, he was launched on a 32-state tour and was featured on a host of prime-time talk shows, according to his memoir.
Armed with his Cosmo portfolio of photographs, Brown decided to plunge into the New York fashion scene where male models could bring in up to $1,500 a day. Taking a leave of absence from BC Law School, he enrolled at Cardozo Law School in Greenwich Village and made the rounds of casting directors. Within months, Brown signed on with the Wilhelmina agency, whose catalog trumpeted his impressive vitals: “Height: 6’1”. Suit size: 40R/L. Shirt 15½, 34-35. Waist 32. Inseam 34. Shoes 10. Hair: brown. Eyes: brown. Excellent hands.”
With his classic looks, Brown was used for catalog work by retailers like Macy’s and JC Penney. Stylists put him in trim men’s suits, conservative sweaters, and predictable ties and leaned him against computer consoles and executive desks. Many liked his hands, which were strong and unblemished.
Dan Deely, director of the men’s division at Wilhelmina at the time, remembers him as “a good-looking, normal guy. He was not European-looking or exotic.’’
Deely, who now lives in North Carolina, says he also remembers Brown because of his professionalism. At the time, a certain quarter of New York nightlife was dominated by hard-partying and heavy drug users who frequented such celebrated locales as Studio 54, The Underground, and Plato’s Retreat, once regarded as the world’s most infamous sex club. Brown writes in his book that although he visited those places, he turned his back on drugs and drank only orange juice or at most a beer or two. Deely says he believes that is true.
“Scott was very professional, very businesslike,” said Deely. “People who focus on modeling to make money cannot live crazy lives. We see and talk to them several times a day, and you cannot be hung over or strung out. Scott was a decent guy, and he did not cause any problems of that sort.”
But Brown was no homebody, either. When he joined the surging crowds waiting outside Studio 54 or another hot spot, door keepers routinely ushered him inside. As Brown describes it in his memoir, “ ‘Hey,’ the bouncers would say, ‘It’s the Cosmo guy.’ ’’ And the first time the Cosmo guy walked into Studio 54, “Steve Rubell and Calvin Klein tried to rip my shirt off as kind of a prank to, ‘see what you got’ as I went in the door. I was pissed; I didn’t know who they were or why they were doing it.”
On another night Brown attended a birthday party for Christie Brinkley at the nightclub and wound up going home with a New York socialite with a low-cut dress. When he woke up the next morning, he wrote, he could not recall where he was and his memory of the evening had been erased, “as if someone had slipped something into my drink, which is probably what happened.”
After nearly two years, Brown returned to Boston and resumed his studies at BC Law School. But he continued to work, then represented by the Boston agent Maggie Trichon, into the late 1980s. Around the same time, he met his wife, Gail Huff, a well-known local model, and the two of them occasionally worked together.
Brown modeled for several companies, including WearGuard, maker of uniforms and men’s clothing, and KingSize, a retailer of clothing for large men. His hands clasped executive pens for American Express and Fidelity. He also appeared in a host of newspaper store ads displaying men’s clothing and underwear, according to several photographers who worked with him. In 1984, he was the chief model for the Bernat Yarn & Craft Corp.’s catalog, which featured him in 14 poses clad in their bulky cardigans while contemplatively fingering hay and saddlery.
Several photographers and stylists say they liked working with Brown partly because he was reserved and got the job done without much talk, but also because of his appearance.
“Scott had a very versatile look, very handsome,” said Carolyn Ross, a Boston photographer who worked with Brown a number of times. “You could put him in a working-class outfit and then in something nicer, and it worked. He did not always look the same in every picture, which is valuable from a photographer’s point of view.”
Brown, however, has not always recalled the sessions quite so vividly. Nearly two decades later, Ross coincidentally won a charity drawing in which the prize was a lunch date with then state Representative Scott Brown. But Ross says that when her husband called Brown’s office to arrange the lunch and mentioned Brown’s work with Ross, Brown’s secretary said he had never heard of her.
“She said that Brown had never modeled for anyone and had never heard of me and didn’t know what my husband was talking about,” Ross recalled. “I thought it was so odd because when you are in public office it is hard to keep a modeling career hidden.”
So, too, at least one of the models with whom Brown worked found the experience jarring. Jake Tedaldi, a former model and now a Boston-based veterinarian, remembers working on several shoots with Brown early in Brown’s modeling career. The first time they met, Tedaldi says, he demonstrated for Brown how to use makeup and loaned him some of his own. A few minutes later Tedaldi heard Brown “chatting up the photographers.”
“One of them said, ‘How long have you been doing this?’ ” recalled Tedaldi, author of “What’s Wrong With My Dog?” “And Scott said, ‘I am sort of a newcomer, but I had to help those guys backstage with their makeup.’ He just seemed to be a guy who had an agenda.”
After Brown graduated from law school, his modeling work began to ebb, and by the end of the 1980s he was done. But remnants of his years on location remain. At least one supporter cherishes every one of them he can find.
John Bengel, a retired pharmacist in suburban Pennsylvania, is the proud owner of three Cosmopolitan magazines featuring Brown and three of the Bernat yarn catalogs in which he appears. A Republican and avid Brown supporter, Bengel began scouring the Internet for Brown paraphernalia shortly after his 2010 victory and amassed a small collection. Four months ago he put most of it up for sale on eBay but it is moving slowly. The remaining Cosmopolitans are listed for $295 and under, depending on condition.
The catalogs can be had for $25, but Bengel’s prices are dropping. “I’m not worried,” declared Bengel. “Things are getting hot up where you are. I bet they sell this weekend.”
Sally Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.