By People Staff
August 11, 1986 12:00 PM

He can comb his greasy curls behind his ears, wear a black leather jacket with tattered jeans and look sublimely lost somewhere between James Dean and John Travolta, which is why he got a phone call one day. “I was out in the garage working on my Harley,” says Alex McArthur, 29. “I answered the phone and a voice said, ‘Hi, this is Madonna. I would like you to be in my next video.’ ” The onetime wearer of Boy Toy buckles had spotted McArthur in a small role as a naive youth in last spring’s film Desert Hearts, and she thought he was a natural to play the mechanic-lover who would make her pregnant in her next video Papa Don’t Preach. The girl obviously knows something. In 30 seconds or so onscreen, McArthur matched his leading lady’s mix of innocence and sensuality, helped speed Papa to MTV’s No. 2 spot in just a month and made a face—if not quite a name—for himself. “It’s received an unbelievable response,” says an MTV spokeswoman, and Mc-Arthur’s manager Susan Bymel adds, “I’ve been fielding calls from all over the world about who he is.” The calls include two offers for major film roles.

Actually, McArthur has had a lot more than 30 seconds of exposure, but none of it has done him nearly as much good as Papa. “I’ve played everything from a pampered yuppie on Hill Street Blues to a hoodlum on Knots Landing,” he says, and in 1984 he had the lead in a TV movie, With Intent to Kill, as an insane teenager. By comparison the Madonna video “was like a tease,” he says. “The scenes were so short I’d just start to have fun and the director would yell “Cut!’ ” But he enjoyed his “bright and ambitious” boss, who calls her unbilled co-star “a tremendously gifted yet unaffected actor.”

McArthur comes by his sturdy style naturally. His father, a contractor, and his mother, a housewife, raised him and his two sisters in a converted log cabin at the foot of the Appalachians in Telford, Pa. He spent his early years fishing and hunting, then got wild. “When someone told me what to do,” says McArthur, “if I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t do it.” He spent much of his time drag racing in his souped-up Olds 442 until he sped off a 60-foot cliff at 70 mph. Escaping with just bruises and scratches, he took up a safer life as a carpenter in San Jose, studied acting at De Anza College, then moved to New York City to sharpen his acting skills. There he met Elizabeth Taylor’s press agent, Chen Sam, who took him to L.A. and “introduced me around.”

On his own, two years ago, he found 21-year-old Tammi Krevi, a cashier at a pizza parlor; they are still together. But though thousands of hearts may beat faster during his stint in Papa, he still has a special fondness for an old love. In his garage, after another day of tinkering with his Harley, he swings his six-foot frame onto the seat. “I love this big hog,” McArthur yells, over the engine’s roar. “I bet I’ve been on every desert road in California.” Then he revs her up louder, just for the pleasure.