December 25, 1978 12:00 PM

A top photographic model occupies a silly eminence: an alp of flashbulbs that can collapse beneath her if she adds a gratuitous ounce. Age 30 is the threshold of obsolescence. The smart ones move on before somebody hands them a one-way ticket to Cellulite City. Lauren Bacall, Ali MacGraw and Lauren Hutton shifted to Hollywood and showed talent. Farrah Fawcett-Majors went on TV and displayed teeth. Many less fortunate—Veruschka and Penelope Tree and Suzy Parker—looked wonderful onscreen but played love scenes as if they were reading the instructions on the back of a shampoo bottle.

This year it was Cheryl Tiegs’ turn to hit 31 and make her move. Nothing if not shrewd, she took precise inventory of her attributes: body sleek as an airfoil, features fine as a Botticelli nymph’s, smile like sunlight on the waves off Malibu. But she also noted that her Minnie Mouse speaking voice and faint flair for self-expression diminished her chances for screen stardom. Nothing if not also resourceful, Cheryl took speech lessons that rapidly de-squeaked her speaking voice and was promptly awarded a five-year, $2.5 million contract to appear on a gamut of ABC programs.

In the beginning she was terrible. On Good Morning America, where she delivered a weekly chat about health and beauty, she struck camera attitudes and read in a schoolgirl singsong. But some wild and crazy assignments loosened her up. She took the wheel of Janet Guthrie’s racing car, horsed around on a couch with Bob Hope, and on safari in Africa almost had her pretty little afterpiece pranged by a charging rhino.

In Africa Cheryl was also assailed by a swarm of rumors, the inescapable gadflies of celebrity. Columnists buzzed that she was getting it on with cameraman Peter Beard and had pulled the chain on her marriage to adman Stan Dragoti. Cheryl angrily denied everything: “I don’t drink. I don’t take drugs. I’m not divorced.” In fact, she added, she hopes to have a baby next year—with Stan.

Cheryl also plans to do a book called How to Be a Natural Beauty—with a ghostwriter. She will simultaneously help Stan promote his movie, a Dracula spoof called Love at First Bite, due on Valentine’s Day. “I always loved modeling,” she says, “but this is much harder—and better.”

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