LONG BLOND MANES, TWINKLING BLUE EYES, THE SCULPTED BODIES of Greek statues—the Bartling brothers certainly look like Harlequin heartthrobs. But when Jim, 28, Kurt, 24, and Kris, 22, walk into a room, there’s more than romance in the air. After a day on the family’s Unadilla, Neb., pig farm, there’s also the not-so-delicate smell of hog. “It doesn’t make my eyes water anymore,” says their mom, Marcia. “You get used to it.”
In any case, their eau-de-oink aroma hasn’t stopped the trio from becoming three of the hottest hunks in the romance-novel industry. In the past year one or another of them has graced the covers of such bodice-rippers as Only for Love and Moonlight Surrender, plus a series of popular greeting cards for Hallmark. They’re also featured in a new comic strip, All-American Heroes, about hog farmers who become superheroes (a line of Hero-shaped pasta and children’s vitamins is in the works). And this fall they’ll be releasing their own calendar. “They’re not as intimidating as Fabio,” says Steve Raimondi, editor of the new Fabio’s Healthy Bodies magazine, for which the Bartlings write a fitness column. “They’re not from another country. They’re not flawless. They’re themselves.”
Jim, the father of two sons (Dylan, 3, and Nile, 18 months), was discovered when his wife, Angela, sent a photo into The Maury Povich Show’s Mr. Hunk 1992 contest. His win there led him to modeling, and his siblings, both single, soon followed. All three had been longtime bodybuilders (“I was 7 years old, doing pushups and jumping jacks until I was blue in the face,” recalls Jim), but since none of them had taken modeling lessons, they had to devise their own methods for mastering the standard prurient poses. “We watched models on Entertainment Tonight,” says Jim.
Although the Bartlings earn $150-plus an hour for their romance-novel work, maintaining their cover-boy looks isn’t easy. They each spend 2½ hours a day working out at the gym (35 miles away) and apply Pro Tan regularly to keep their color even. “And we burn up a lot of blow-dryers,” jokes Jim.
While fame hasn’t helped Kris or Kurt keep a girlfriend (“Every one of them has fun on the farm—for about three months,” says Kurt, laughing), the brothers get a kick out of the adoring hordes who now swarm around them. Quips Jim: “It’s better than swooning pigs.”