August 25, 1980 12:00 PM

Are those crow’s-feet for the birds? The laugh lines not funny at all? Start exercising your face, urges Beverly Hills beauty expert Romana de Vries. “Beauty isn’t skin-deep,” she contends. “It’s muscle-deep. By strengthening the 57 muscles in your face, you can change your appearance.” Her program is for men as well as women. “If you’re under 30, it is possible to prevent certain wrinkles from ever appearing,” de Vries claims. “If you are in your 50s, my exercises can help you smooth out lines that result from the collapse of facial muscles.”

The de Vries “natural facelift” requires 32 hours in her chic apartment salon and costs $2,000. Dina Merrill, Cindy Williams, Doris Day and Helen Gurley Brown are among the famous faces who have benefited from de Vries’ tone-ups. At present her youngest student is 25, the oldest 85. “My 85-year-old came to me 15 years ago,” says de Vries, “and still looks and acts like 70. She has more stamina now and enjoys life more.”

De Vries calls her technique “cosmetrics,” a word she coined from cosmetic and isometric. It is also the title of her 1979 book for E.P. Dutton ($12.50). The 25 exercises she teaches to strengthen the jaw, neck, forehead, around the eyes and nose are like “face yoga,” she says, because “you call on a specific muscle and really work on it while the rest stay relaxed.” Students stretch out on floor mats while Romana leads them in the “cheek lift,” “nose pump,” “upper lip roll” and “eye squeeze.”

Dina Merrill does the “victory lift” (to firm the jaw line) while driving the freeway. “It helps the face,” she explains, “and keeps me awake.” Helen Gurley Brown does “10 minutes in the morning, in taxis, at movies—wherever I can sneak them in. I believe in doing everything you can to stave off age.”

De Vries markets her own line of cosmetics, including a seaweed facial mask, and is adamantly opposed to plastic surgery except in cases of disfigurement. “Plastic surgeons make cuts in the scalp and pull everything up. It does not look pretty or natural,” she says. “A good facelift costs thousands of dollars and lasts from four to six years. My program is natural, and if used properly, lasts forever.”

Twice divorced, with two sons aged 40 and 36 from her first marriage, to a Polish baron (husband No. 2 was an airline representative), Romana is nearly 60 but will not give her exact age.

“When my students see how firm my facial muscles are,” she says, “I want them to think, ‘Whatever age she is, it doesn’t matter.’ ”

Born in Czechoslovakia, she became interested in muscle rejuvenation while spending her 14th year in a wheelchair with a serious foot infection. She later attended premedical school in Czechoslovakia, but dropped out to become a registered nurse. In 1959 she moved to America and worked for one year as a beauty consultant for Elizabeth Arden in Los Angeles, then taught her facial exercise program at the Beverly Hills Health Club. These days, in addition to cosmetrics, she watches her diet, runs a mile a day and thinks “only good thoughts. If you train your mind with good thoughts, and never ever feel sorry for yourself, that inner beauty is reflected in your face. Happiness radiates.”

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