Brooke Shields, now a ripe old 16, may not have to hang up her jeans right away, but the next pretty baby is already in sight. At 13, Manhattan-born Cusi Cram is the youngest model ever signed by the famed Wilhelmina agency, and she has already made the pages of Seventeen, Bride’s, Young Miss and Andy Warhol’s interview magazine. The willowy 5’8″ brunette has also won a role on one of TV’s highest-rated soaps, ABC’s One Life to Live. Later this summer she’ll be appearing as “an innocent, slightly self-indulgent, Nancy Drew-type character,” according to a network exec.
Not bad for a girl who had her first fashion photo session only last November. But then Cusi “isn’t like other 13-year-olds,” as Warhol says. “She’s really beautiful.” And also pleasingly blasé about her sudden emergence as a model commanding up to $1,000 per day. What launched her was a May Seventeen cover that showed her with her tabby cat, Joey; she got the cover, she giggles, only because “my pet made the pictures interesting.”
Cusi turned down a chance to star in Paradise, an upcoming movie about pubescent love in Arabia that is a desert version of Shields’ The Blue Lagoon. Cram thought the role was too suggestive. But she had no qualms about appearing in One Life, where ABC says she’ll be involved in no more than “teen love, totally innocuous.” Mari Lyn Henry, the network’s director of casting for daytime television, recalls that when she first saw Cusi, “I just flipped out. She was a baby Merle Oberon.”
Cusi has a wonderfully exotic background. For starters, her name is Incan for “happy.” Her father, John Cram III, who resides mostly on a South Carolina plantation, is a descendant of railroad speculator Jay Gould. Her mother, who lives mainly in Manhattan, is Lady Jeanne Campbell, the daughter of Scotland’s 11th Duke of Argyll and granddaughter of the late Lord Beaverbrook, the British press magnate. Oddly enough, Cusi’s initial link to the beauty business was author Norman Mailer, whom Lady Jeanne wed briefly in the early 1960s and still counts as “an absolutely bosom friend.” It was Mailer’s current wife, Norris Church, a former Wilhelmina model and actress herself (her credits include two One Life appearances), who first urged Cusi to try modeling.
Cusi’s One Life job is forcing her to transfer from Manhattan’s tony Chapin School to the Professional Children’s School, where she can get the time she needs (one and a half days a week) to shoot the soap. Success has not changed her life much yet, but apparently even budding celebrity can be a drag. Says she: “The other day when I came back from a three-day camping trip with greasy hair, covered with dirt, there was a photographer waiting for me. I wanted to say, ‘Oh, please, just go away.’ ”
Still, being precociously pretty has its points. “People don’t take it for granted that I’m 13 years old,” she says. “A lot of the time they don’t believe it.” But Cusi herself is careful never to forget that she remains very much a kid. “I don’t like to do fashion pictures that make me look older,” she claims. “There’s time for that later on. Now I just want to look like me.”