Although they have been married only five months and he has two children by two previous wives, Danny Sims is already talking about babies with his bride, famed model Beverly Johnson. She demurs, sweetly. “Darling,” Beverly says, “you know I want a Libra child, so we have to plan it. And I want to be well into my recording career.”
If Beverly Johnson wishes to postpone motherhood, she has every reason. She is, at 25, the top black model in America—a $250,000-a-year Seventh Avenue superstar who was the first of her race to make the cover of Vogue. Now, after some 25 covers, including 14 for Glamour, she is about to launch herself as a singer.
Her husband’s experience in music publishing and theatrical management makes him perhaps uniquely qualified to engineer the kind of transition into show business already achieved by black model Grace Jones. But that was something Beverly did not fully appreciate until after their wedding last May. “And he didn’t know I could sing,” she adds.
They met 18 months ago, when friends suggested Sims as business manager for a cosmetics line Beverly was then introducing. The company never materialized; their relationship prospered. “I thought he was very cute,” she says of the 40-year-old Sims. “It was love at first sight. I figured, ‘Well, it’s happening—just go with it.’ ”
Says twice-divorced Danny (whose sons are 11 and 19): “My other wives were just ‘ordinary girls.’ Beverly’s the first model. One reason is that there weren’t many black models before.” Born in Mississippi and educated at the University of Illinois, Sims came to New York in the late 1950s and opened the first midtown Manhattan soul food restaurant, Sapphire’s. A friendship with then-struggling singer Johnny Nash (later famous for the reggae hit/ Can See Clearly Now) led Danny into show business. The result was Hemisphere, a company that packaged acts for hotels in South America. He handled a few male newcomers—Paul Anka among them—but most of his clients were women, like Gladys Knight. “I used to think of them,” Danny concedes, “as my harem.”
Shortly thereafter Hemisphere absorbed the black booking agency Queens, and Danny took on pal Nash as his first artist. Their friendship ended last year over business disagreements. For the time being they continue to jointly own Cayman Music, which specializes in reggae.
Beverly, who was born to a middle-class family in Buffalo, N.Y., splashed onto the Manhattan fashion scene in 1971 when she was 19. A onetime Olympic swimming hopeful in the breaststroke, she was studying at Northeastern University in Boston when friends suggested she go to New York and try modeling. She clicked big with Glamour, whose editors liked her “student council” look. She married real estate agent Billy Potter at 19 and divorced him three years later in 1974.
Since meeting Sims Johnson has taken steps to overhaul her entire career. “A lot of black, Oriental and Spanish women identify with Beverly,” he says. “She could be more valuable than any other model.” With this in mind, she recently ended five years with the Ford modeling agency and signed with a new rival, the Elite agency (PEOPLE, June 13)—a controversial move since the Fords had already sued Elite amid charges of “body-snatching.” Explains Danny: “Beverly should be doing more TV, and we feel now she’ll get it.” Bev is equally pragmatic. “It’s a big-money game,” she shrugs, “and I just don’t want to look back years from now and say I could have done this or that.” She has in mind the long-term endorsement contracts that have made Margaux Hemingway and Lauren Hutton household names and faces.
While continuing to model high fashion, Beverly devotes more of her energies to her singing career. Danny has already teamed her with rock singer Phil Anastasia for two singles not yet released, and she is also working on an album under Danny’s guidance. (Sims has other clients—singer-poet Gil Scott-Heron, for example.)
“It’s not just a case of a husband trying to make his model wife into a singer,” insists Danny. “She’s really good, sort of a Tina Turner.” Her first record is called Take It Like a Man—a disco tune on which her voice is perhaps too tremulous for the heavy rock beat. Nonetheless, Beverly has not doubted her musical talent since she sang the “Fly Me” jingle for National Airlines in the early 1970s.
“Objectively,” she grins, “I thought I was pretty damn good.” She hopes someday to spin off into films, and for three years has studied with Lee Strasberg. “I’ve been up for so many movies,” Johnson sighs, “but I haven’t landed a real part yet.” She is now under consideration for a leading role that she won’t discuss, for fear of “blowing it.”
Headquarters for the couple’s twin careers is an $800-a-month, mirrored three-bedroom apartment on Fifth Avenue, which has a sauna and a vitamin-filled refrigerator. Once a junk food junkie, Beverly was converted to health food by Sims. In the kitchen are blenders, extractors and a specially trained housekeeper who whips up celery, carrot and spinach concoctions. Like most models, Beverly is abstemious: she seldom drinks but will take an occasional joint—while worrying not about police but pounds. (She weighs 115.) “Grass is a problem,” she explains. “It makes you too hungry.” Both she and her husband are advocates of frequent colonics. “The colon is the garbage can of the body where diseases start,” says Bev. “Most people are so blocked up.”
Another less-than-ordinary aspect of their lives is a determination to maintain separate bedrooms. “I’ve always had my own,” says Beverly, explaining that “Danny will spend the night in mine, or I’ll sleep in his.” Danny’s is more risky, since some Peeping Toms in the neighborhood have a telescope trained on the window. “Being a bachelor in the entertainment world was a lustful kind of existence,” says Danny. “Life doesn’t revolve around the crotch, but I’m very physical. At this age I can enjoy one woman totally.” What Beverly respects most about her spouse is his “wisdom and knowledge.” Still, their bliss is less than half a year old. “We keep our negative traits hidden,” Sims admits. “But if this is anything at all like it’s gonna be, it’s gonna be great!”