It was a virtuoso performance, quite unlike any before at New York’s Lincoln Center. The Library for the Performing Arts was filled with 1,000 expensively clad guests of Penthouse magazine, on hand for the naming of the Pet of the Year—a kind of Miss America au naturel. However, on being announced the winner, Isabel Ardigo, 28, did not exactly weep with joy. On the contrary, she declined the honor, saying she did not wish to be a human mascot for Bob Guccione’s glossy skin mag. The 5’11” brunette stunned the audience, which included Penthouse’s biggest advertisers: “I have gotten a taste of what it will be like. It is very difficult to have to deal with so many people when you feel and know exactly what their thoughts are behind their eyes.” Ardigo was hastily escorted from the podium.
Three days later she filed a $4 million lawsuit charging that Guccione tricked her into attending the dinner and reportedly has followed that with a $10 million suit for defamation. She claims she told Guccione in August that she wanted out of the competition. Furthermore, Isabel contends, his ballyhooed $300,000 first prize is really just a grab bag of merchandise, including a speedboat, a snowmobile, flying lessons and a year’s worth of legal advice from palimony lawyer Marvin Mitchelson. (Ardigo, a model for Italian Vogue, has no need for Marvin’s services: She lives alone in a one-bedroom flat in Rome and prefers “one boyfriend here and one there.”)
Guccione claims Isabel’s outburst was meant to pry more money from the magazine. Preparations had gone smoothly until the dinner. In fact, the magazine’s publicity department had written her acceptance speech. It read, in part: “Bob Guccione…made me feel like part of the Penthouse family.”
Ardigo had another surprise for reporters. She said she was actually Miami-bred Isabel Lanza, a college dropout. She adopted the pseudonym when she appeared as a Pet of the Month. That was “just a job,” for which she received $4,000, she explains.
“Is there a point when one can stop being a Pet?” the 125-pound beauty now wants to know. Perhaps. Since the flurry of publicity, she says she has gotten a feeler about a movie role from producer Dino Di Laurentiis. Ironically, if she lands a part, Ardigo/Lanza could become the most successful Penthouse Pet ever.