If Brooke Shields had an older brother, it might be Jack Scalia. Even when he plays a tough undercover street cop in his ABC-TV series Hollywood Beat, Scalia’s lush locks fall perfectly into place. His mouth is playfully pouty. His eyes are pools of Pacific blue.
But if his dreamy looks are distinctive, his history sounds secondhand. Like Don Johnson, he has skirmished with alcohol and drug addiction. Like Jim Palmer, he has scored as a billboard heartthrob in bikini briefs. And like any generic TV performer in a new series, he professes to be showing only a smidgen of his talents. “There’s a real light side to me and I’m trying to cultivate it,” says Scalia, 35. “I’m trying to develop other sides of me.” He’s had lots of practice. After all, this guy is on his fourth series in four years.
Like our Miss Brooke, Scalia hasn’t a plethora of ace performances to his credit. When somebody suggests he’s just another pretty face, “I tell him to get up here. If you can do a better job, then go ahead and do it.”
Thus far in his checkered career, Scalia’s best shot—in every sense—has been a provocative 1978 ad for Eminence Underwear. In it he wore nothing but baby blue briefs, which matched his baby blue eyes. According to urban folklore, women were breaking through glass display cases at bus stops to snatch Scalia’s ad poster. “I was embarrassed,” he says. “I blushed through the whole thing.” One lady even phoned and said she’d pay anything to own the briefs in the photo. Instead Scalia saved those for himself.
At that time, however, he was more familiar with drugs than fame. “I’d go through half a case of beer and I was using one to five grams of cocaine a day. Through my abuse, I alienated all of my friends. It was abnormal for me to get straight for one-fourth of the day.” After two years of the high life and a $100,000 annual salary from modeling, he checked into a rehabilitation center in Minnesota in 1979.
The television career that followed has been marked with lucky breaks and unlucky cancellations. His first series, The Devlin Connection, cast him opposite Rock Hudson. “You could say he was my mentor,” says Scalia, who visited Hudson in the hospital before the star’s death. “I could turn to him at any time.” His next two series, High Performance and Berrenger’s, didn’t heighten Scalia’s profile or improve his bank account. Hollywood Beat could keep the streak alive. “I have four more shows to shoot on this series,” he says. “Then I have to think about it.” Judging from the dismal ratings, Scalia may not have much to ponder.
His private life has suffered ignoble hallmarks too. Born in Brooklyn and raised on Long Island, Scalia was already sampling drugs while on an athletic scholarship at Ottawa University in Kansas. “The one thing that lies behind drugs is self-destruction. I didn’t feel I was good enough to have any of the success I was having.” Success with romance was subsequently elusive. His marriage to former model Joan Rankin was short-lived. “Sometimes people just aren’t meant to be together,” he says. But in at least one respect Scalia differs from his brawn brethren of prime time: He isn’t touting a blond bimbette as the love of his life. Scalia currently lives alone in a Sherman Oaks, Calif. home that features eagles from his collection of early Americana. “The eagle is not only a symbol of our country but of my spirit. That’s how I look at my life,” he says.