June 04, 1979 12:00 PM

I’m the best-dressed prisoner here,” joked Stan Dragoti, sitting in his Fiorucci jacket in a West German jail cell last week. But brave jokes could not ease the shock felt throughout Hollywood in the wake of his sensational arrest for possession of cocaine. The estranged husband of model Cheryl Tiegs, Dragoti, 46, and three friends were en route to Cannes to promote his new film, Love at First Bite. During a layover in Frankfurt, they stepped outside the transit area for a drink. As they headed back to the plane, Dragoti was stopped at a metal detector when it sounded an alarm. Security officers searched him and found a plastic vial of cocaine wrapped in foil taped to the inside of each thigh. Under West German law it was enough to send Dragoti to jail for up to 10 years.

“It’s unbelievable to me,” says friend and Bite co-producer Bob Kaufman. “The only coke I’ve ever seen him with is the kind you drink. Either he was doing somebody a favor or it wasn’t clicking in his mind.” Others echo Kaufman’s dismay—and point to Dragoti’s breakup with Tiegs as a possible reason for his carelessness. “It has been emotionally shattering for him,” says Kaufman. “The nights were lonely, but even after the picture was shot he would always go home alone. I know he still loves Cheryl very much. They had the most hand-touching, fingertip-touching relationship I’ve ever seen. I don’t think Stan has been playing with a full deck since the breakup. Maybe he should have been more Jewish and cried.”

Bite co-star Susan Saint James calls the arrest “a nightmare. I don’t know how to explain it,” she adds, “except perhaps we all get lulled into thinking Hollywood’s make-believe is real and the rest of the world is not there. It takes something like this to jolt us back to reality.”

Ironically, Dragoti’s second career, as a Hollywood director, was taking off at the time of his arrest. The son of Albanian immigrants, he first made his mark on Madison Avenue (creating, among others, the Alka-Seltzer “Try it, you’ll like it” campaign) before meeting Tiegs and masterminding her rise to the top. Their life-style included homes in Bel Air and Manhattan, his and hers Mercedeses and separate but equally flourishing careers. Then last winter Cheryl walked out—and into the arms of African adventurer Peter Beard, 41. Dragoti poured all his energy into Love at First Bite—but not, friends insist, into drugs. “Cheryl was a total health freak,” explains Kaufman. “You can’t be married to that kind of girl for nearly 10 years and be a heavy addict or doper or space cadet without her going crazy. Stan doesn’t even smoke cigarettes.”

Because of Bonn’s tough antidrug laws, Dragoti’s initial request for bail was denied. “In the eyes of the law,” warned Frankfurt Judge Wolfgang Jakubski, “there is no difference between an ordinary American soldier and a famous film director.” Dragoti’s German lawyer has asked for an immediate trial, and his Hollywood friends hope he’ll get off with a suspended sentence because this is a first offense. Meanwhile Dragoti is confined to the dingy red-brick Preungesheim jail where he shares a cell with a black American. Stan has asked his lawyers to buy him some English-language books and a television set. Though she decided not to stir up the situation by flying to Frankfurt, Cheryl has also hired a lawyer to help her husband. “I love him very much,” she tearfully confided to a friend. “How could this happen to Stan? It’s so dumb, so terribly dumb.”

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