"Happier Than Most"
He created the Alka-Seltzer “Try It You’ll Like It” ad campaign and as a board member of the go-go Wells, Rich, Greene agency became a millionaire at an unseemly age. But if the name Stan Dragoti lives—in infamy, envy or at all—it’s probably because he was the hulk who, incredibly, resisted Cheryl Tiegs’ marriage proposals for three years. Or worse, finally did marry her in 1970, and the damn thing worked, to the fury of a nation of male fantasists. What does the $2,000-a-Day Woman—the world’s hottest model, ABC-TV’s rookie of the year and FF-M’s major opponent in the pinup poster sweepstakes—see in her dark but not so tall (6’1″ to her 5’10”) or handsome geezer 15 years her senior (45 to 30)?
“I never get tired of looking at him,” beams Tiegs. So that’s it, Cheryl’s lost in some kind of Trilby trip? No way. A Dragoti could package Tic Tac “Mouth-whack,” but only Cheryl and God could make a Tiegs—or this one anyway. “There are plenty of girls more beautiful than I am,” she says as if she believes it, “but people will never know their names, and five years from now they’ll be waitresses in a coffee shop.” As for herself: “I had to have brains to go as far and as high as I did in modeling. Stan’s helped,” she concedes, “but instinctively I have a better business sense, and I consider myself the equal of any man.” Yet the marvel of Tiegs is that she has got not only more body (34-24-35) than the Golden Girls of decades past but also more soul. “People can look at me and know I’m married, successful and not neurotic—I’m a nice person and it shows.”
That self-assurance she does credit to Dragoti. “I would go out to dinner and just sit there,” she recalls. “It never occurred to me that I was supposed to contribute to the conversation. Stan got me believing in myself.” What makes their marriage “happier than most I know,” she adds, is that he has no ego hang-ups. “I don’t think I could ever find anybody better for me than Stan,” she says, noting that Stan’s the “most liberated man in the world.” He wouldn’t be threatened if she became the family’s main breadwinner.
It hasn’t happened—yet. That $2,000 a day is top price for models, and counting residuals for ads ranging from Cover Girl cosmetics to Virginia Slims to Lincoln-Mercury Cougar, she’s bumping the $300,000 bracket. And that was before the $50,000-plus advance for her health-and-beauty book due out next spring and—most important—her estimated five-year, $2.5 million contract with ABC. So far she has offered fashion tips Thursdays on Good Morning America and done sports commentary on a Kentucky Derby special with Frank Gifford (by next month she may even be ready to work with Howard Cosell at Forest Hills).
Why TV and not movies? “When I turned 30, Stan and I sat down and figured out how to make the best out of what I’ve accomplished so far,” Tiegs explains. “How would it look to go from being a top model to being a flop in a movie? I’d be right back at the bottom again.” With characteristic shrewdness, she’s going to take lessons to correct her little girl’s voice and is steering clear of variety-show gigs until she can handle them. Similarly, though she negotiated the right to merchandise products under her name, she’s being superprotective of her credibility. “There’s a Farrah doll,” she points out, “but there’s no Phyllis George doll.”
Cheryl developed that sense of dignity as the daughter of a Quaker undertaker in Alhambra, Calif. “I was a cheerleader in high school,” she recalls, “but not the popular kind. I was the shy one.” Yet by 16 she was on the covers of Teen and True Romance en-route to Seventeen and Glamour. Three years later she dropped out of California State College at Los Angeles and headed for New York to model full-time.
Within a year Tiegs was introduced by a photographer to Dragoti, then art director for Wells, Rich. “I can tell you everything about the moment I met him—what the room looked like, what I was wearing, everything,” rhapsodizes Tiegs. “I called my mother and asked her how to know when you’re in love.” She insists it had never happened before. The otherwise outgoing Dragoti, whose first marriage had broken up after 18 stormy months, was still altar-shy. But, he admits, “It really did happen just like that—boing! After you’re through admiring the physical characteristics, you can see she has splendid character. There are little imperfections that make her real, like that silly little laugh. I was determined to get involved immediately.”
Dragoti had come a long way from his Depression Era beginnings as the son of Albanian immigrants who settled in New York and ran a garage. He showed artistic talent early—at 7 he went, portfolio in hand, looking for a job as a cartoonist. He dropped out of school at 19 to join the Navy during the Korean war, serving in Manhattan. Then came the School of Visual Arts, and a launch into advertising at Compton’s.
Over three years—and three breakups—Dragoti and Tiegs lived together while he resisted marriage. By then he was determined to move up from commercials (he’s now won more than 20 Clios, Madison Avenue’s Oscars) to feature films. The Dragotis zipped off to California. While he directed a stinkeroo Western called Dirty Little Billy, Cheryl quit her career and settled into the role of hausfrau.
The sleek vision in the swimsuit ads ballooned to 155 pounds and developed a skin problem—not, she insists, out of unhappiness. “I was always eating nonstop as a kid and never gained any weight,” she explains. “But my metabolism changed in my early 20s and I had to change my eating habits.” Off came 35 pounds. “It’s no mystery,” she shrugs. “I just stopped eating.” Plunging back into the modeling game in 1972, she virtually never said no to an assignment. “I traveled way too much,” she concedes. “Our marriage wasn’t in serious trouble—I’ve never thought of leaving Stan—but it wasn’t healthy to do what I was doing. Now we’re together 90 percent of the time—my marriage is my top priority.”
Dividing their lives between a $450,-000 Spanish villa in Bel Air and a corporate suite at the Sherry-Nether-land Hotel on Fifth Avenue, the Dragotis pursue separate but equally flourishing careers. In addition to his consultancy creating tough-case commercials like the current “I Love New York” campaign, Stan has written the screenplay for Irving Wallace’s best-seller The Fan Club and is negotiating the movie deal with Sophia Loren. Both Cheryl and Stan put their sizable earnings into a corporation called Sunday (after their favorite day of the week), which pays them salaries. It is Cheryl who handles day-to-day finances. “Stan wouldn’t even know where the checkbook is,” she laughs. (He keeps losing the key to their digs and to his if not her Mercedes.)
They average five nights a week at home alone, she usually deep into a book like Graham Greene’s The Human Factor that she picks from the New York Times Sunday review section. The two other nights they may party till dawn with friends like the Tony Curtises and the David Janssens, but Cheryl never goes out on the eve of a model assignment. Arising as early as 5 a.m., she washes her hair, letting a conditioner settle in while she shaves her legs. She reads the morning paper and breakfasts on hot water with lemon, a bran muffin and orange juice. Then, sans makeup, she goes to her gym, the Anatomy Asylum. She tries to play tennis daily, including all day Saturday and Sunday. While working, Tiegs often forgets lunch, and for dinner has a glass of wine, salad, meat or chicken and a vegetable.
Amazingly, she seems indifferent about clothes, hates shopping and usually buys in bulk. Recently she indulged in a $750 silk nightie, but she generally sleeps in the buff. Her ABC segment on “How to Buy a Wardrobe for $150” notwithstanding, she dropped $2,000 within minutes one day at Beverly Hills’ chic Charles Gallay boutique. But that is not necessarily the most serious revelation about Tiegs the network faces. Children are definitely on the Dragotis’ drawing board. “I’ve been carrying around a baby picture of Cheryl for years,” says Stan. “It’s in my wallet to remind myself that I want one of those before it’s too late.” Cheryl agrees. “We’ve been saying next year, next year about a baby. Now it’s really going to be next year.”