Fabio officially retired from modeling for romance covers–except for the books he “wrote”–in 1993. Afterward, there was a void that needed to be filled, and many hunky men lined up to fill it.
(Should I rewrite that? Nah, it sounds fine.)
In the 1990s and the 2000s, Rob Ashton was one of those cover models.
Life and Career
Ashton was a stunning figure of a man at 6′ tall and 200 lbs with long black hair and hazel-green eyes. He was of Cherokee Indian, English, and Irish descent, a beautiful combination.
Rob Ashton attended 2 years of college and KSU Computer School. He worked many jobs before hitting it big as a model. He was a waiter, and bartender, and worked in retail sales.
Ashton was discovered on the Florida beaches at 19, his stunning physique and face standing out of the beaches of Florida.
He would have a foray as a dancer with Chippendales before settling in as a model. As a dancer, he traveled worldwide in his early 20s. The many places Ashton lived included Orlando, Atlanta, New York City, Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles, London, Amsterdam, and Japan.
His first romance cover was still a year away when he modelled for Typewriter In the Sky by L. Ron Hubbard.
This brought him attention from other parts of the publishing industry–namely the romance genre.
Rob Ashton the New King of Romance Covers
In 1995 Rob Ashton gained massive popularity after being voted Romantic Times Magazine‘s “Mr. Romance.”
The title got him a job to pose on the cover of Janice Reams Hudson’s 1996 Zebra romance Apache Flame alongside Linda Ryan, which the artist Pino painted.
The novel is about Pace Colton, a handsome half-white half-Apache, who goes by the name Fire Seeker, and his romance with the red-haired Johanna,
Sharon Spiak, an artist who worked closely under Pino, was responsible for dressing Ashton for the photo shoot. Michel LeGirou was the photographer and a seasoned romance veteran.
Pino, in typical style, used the photos from the session to paint the cover art in his studio in New Jersey.
“Pino really captured us perfectly! I love it!” Rob said of his first cover.
Many more were to follow. Artists adored using Rob as their muse. Ashton was so prolific that he got the title of “New King of Romance Novels.”
Pino Daeni on Rob Ashton
“It’s not easy to find good male models. When certain famous models started, I was almost laughing. The way they moved their bodies at the start did not coordinate with passion.
“The models have to be believable. I can only give so much direction. You can’t be just pretty.
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“I believe that destiny and free will actually coexist at the same time and that everything we do is part of our destiny. We are all here for a reason, and we repeat behaviors to learn from them and grow.
I believe there’s a lot more to this life than just what’s seen, and as I grow, I find that my priorities have changed and that there are some truths that are as real as gravity, although unseen; there are laws of the universe that apply to us all.
For example, what you put out comes back to you even more, so. On my site we’re giving to several worthwhile causes-not because it’s the thing to do, but because it’s about real people caring, sharing, giving, and helping those who need it, and it returns in much greater amounts…that’s what life is really about!”
Before they were well-known, their faces were on book covers. While these celebrities appeared in various genres, we’re limiting our focus to romance. It’s always fun to track the career of the rich and famous to their humble beginnings, especially if they posed for clinches!
Zoomers and Millenials may know Mark Consuelos from the tv show Riverdale or as the husband of morning television host Kelly Ripa. I recall first seeing Consuelos and Ripa together in the early 1990s on the ABC daytime drama All My Children as the super couple Matteo and Haley.
In 1996 Consuelos was chosen as one of three new “Topaz men” when Steve Sandalis branched out to other publishers and fields. One of the others selected was model/bodybuilder/actor Mike O’Hearn.
Consuelos posed for several romance covers before calling it quits. Below is the stepback for Catherine Coulter‘s The Heir.
Teen romances were massive in the 1980s. They weren’t just limited to Scholastic Books, as mainstream romance publishers sought out younger readers. One of Silhouette’s lines in the 1980s was First Love From Silhouette. From 1981 to 1987, they published 236 romances aimed at the age 12 to 21 demographic.
Yasmine Bleeth played LeeAnn Demerest on ABC daytime soap opera, One Life to Life. She shot to B-celebrity stardom as Caroline Holden on the syndicated television show Baywatch. Before acting, in the early 1980s, she was a model. A Touch of Love by Winifred Madison is one of her first covers.
Yasmine Bleeth wasn’t the only celebrity to model for the First Love From Silhouette series in the 1980s. You may know her as Full House‘s Aunt Becky. Or you may know her for other reasons. Wherever you know her from, Lori Loughlin has been in the media most of her life. Here she is on the cover of Carrie Enfield’s Picture Perfect.
Yet another brunette actress who modeled for First Love From Silhouette is Oscar-winner Jennifer Connelly. As a teenager, Connelly was a model, posing for many magazines and book covers. Of course, she was also an actress, gaining acclaim in films such as Labyrinth. Connelly posed for several teen romance books, but as far as we know, only one Silhouette cover.
The Most Famous Cover Models
These two listed below were considered the King and Queen of romance from the mid-1980 to the late 1990s. They gained such fame through posing for covers that they became celebrities in their own rights.
Cindy Guyer started her modeling career at the age of 14. She was the face of Nancy Drew mysteries before moving on to the more sensual romance genre. Called the “female Fabio,” she would appear on over 2,000 book and magazine covers.
Besides appearing in print media, Guyer is a restauranteur, a reality-tv star, and has appeared in film and scripted tv shows. She also posed for Playboy magazine.
While Guyer no longer models for romance covers, she maintains a strong presence on social media such as Instagram, Facebook, and her website.
Your Opinion on Celebrities on Romance Covers
Did you know these celebrities posed on romance covers? What other celebrities do you know posed on book covers, be they romance or other genres?
As always, please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.
Like bodice rippers of yesteryear, model Fabio Lanzoni has been unfairly maligned and mocked by many modern romance readers. There’s a sentiment of contempt displayed at the old clinch covers, with some even declaring that they, along with Fabio, represented a low point in the genre.
As a fan of Fabio and old-school romance, I cannot emphasize how wrong I think these detractors are.
The painted covers of vintage romances were created by talented artists who used beautiful men and women as models. The covers were works of art, despite–or perhaps because of–their gratuitous sexual nature.
Fabio, More Than Meets the Eye
Lovers of romance should embrace that period in history. They fail to understand that model Fabio Lanzoni was supposed to be over-the-top and outlandish. He was advertising an exaggerated fantasy that we all knew was a bit ridiculous.
In trying to defend their beloved books, some fans take them too seriously. The romance novel industry has always been outrageous and irreverent by its nature, which is part of the fun.
We romance readers in the 1990s were far savvier than our contemporaries give us credit for. We were in on the joke. It was about all of us enjoying the show. Fabio always laughed along with us, embracing his beefcake status.
Fabio Lanzoni was born in Milan, Italy, on March 15, 1961. His father was Sauro Lanzoni, a mechanical engineer and owner of a conveyor-belt company. Flora Carnicelli Lanzoni, his mother, was a former beauty queen. He was raised in a loving family with siblings. As a child, Fabio was even an altar boy.
Fabio grew into a handsome young man. His large, muscular figure made him natural for the camera.
His career began at age 14 when he was discovered by a photographer who asked him to model for Italian Vogue magazine.
Following a stint in the army, Lanzoni came to the United States to further develop his career. He moved to New York City to become a fashion and catalog model and signed with the Ford Agency.
During the early part of his modeling career, Fabio obtained many jobs in print ads, magazines, and books. He also posed on video game covers.
Fabio made his first appearance on the cover of a romance novel in 1987. He posed on the back of the Bertrice Small bodice ripper, Enchantress Mine, as the ironically and unfortunately misnamed villain, Eric Longsword.
Legendary artist Elaine Duillo discovered Fabio through photos. She thought there was something unique about him that would make him a natural fit for her colorful work.
When Duillo designed her first cover for Johanna Lindsey, she used Fabio as the hero. This was the 1987 Viking romanceHearts Aflame. It was a smash hit, reaching number 3 on the N.Y. Times bestseller list.
Duillo would continue to paint Lindsey’s covers for the next decade until she retired in the early 2000s. She used Fabio as her primary male model for Lindsey’s books.
The Covers: Part I
Some Fabio covers:
A Romance Sensation
Fabio was not Duillo’s official muse as a model. Even so, no other artist captured Fabio’s look better than she did. However, Elain and Fabio only worked together on fewer than twenty books. Duillo painted other models— female and male– much more than that, including Chad Deal. (40+ vs. 19).
Fabio posed solo for a couple of Laura Kinsale’s books. The first and most notable was The Prince of Midnight. This romance was a roaring success. This was not just because of the fine quality of Kinsale’s writing.
Editors found that Fabio’s image boosted book sales. All the major publishers were eager to use him. Avon, Bantam, Dell, Dorchester, Harlequin, Warner Books, Kensington (Zebra), and others had him pose as their leading men.
Model Lianna Loggins was undoubtedly one of the female models who appeared on most romance novel covers with Fabio: at least a hundred.
Pop Culture Status
By the early 1990s, Fabio was fully entrenched as a romance genre staple. The now-defunct Romantic Times had him as their centerfold in 1992. Fabio appeared at numerous conventions, to the delight of his many fans.
Fabio’s fame grew more prominent in the cultural zeitgeist after being made the official face of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! He starred in a series of campy commercials that were enormously successful.
Later, he was a spokesman for the American Cancer Society. This was personal to him, as he lost a sister to the deadly disease.
Eventually, Fabio made his way to screen and television, such as in the daytime soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful and in movies like Dude, Where’s My Car?
Fabio, the Romance Author & Modelling Legacy
As time went on, Fabio even wrote a few novels himself. He published several books that–naturally–featured him on the cover. Fabio came up with an overall plot and gave dictation for dialogue.
Journey-woman Eugenia Riley ghostwrote most of his books for Avon. He also wrote three more books in collaboration with Wendy Corsi Staub that Pinnacle Books published.
As a model, Fabio was featured on many romance covers, posing for 466 novels (or more).
Fabio officially retired in the late 1990s, except to pose for the books “he” wrote.
Nevertheless, some of his photos from previous assignments were recycled into new covers. Elaine Duillo used the sketches from the shoot for Rebecca Brandewyne’s Swan Road stepback to transform them into a new stepback cover for Johanna Lindsey’s Joining.
Joining, Johanna Lindsey, Avon, 1999, Elaine Duillo cover art
Fabio became a U.S. citizen in 2016.
He still maintains a grueling workout regimen to keep his body in tip-top shape. Fabio also purportedly sleeps in a hyperbaric chamber, which he says “Helps reverse the aging process.”
Now in 2021, Fabio is still as handsome as ever at the age of 61.
To this day, he remains a bachelor. However, the word is out he’s finally looking for a lady to settle down with. So there is still hope for that special someone!
Final Thoughts on Fabio
Fabio was not the first, and likely, he won’t be the last superstar cover model. During Fabio’s reign as “King of the Romance Covers,” other sunning men like John DeSalvo and Steve Sandalis achieved acclaim.
After his retirement, Rob Ashton, Cherif Fortin, and Joe Anselmo rose to stardom. All of them had long hair like Fabio–although they were brunets. (So is Fabio, naturally. He dyed his hair blond.)
Michael O’Hearn has a body that’s impossible to forget.
Since the 1980s, male cover models have caught the admiring gazes of millions of romance readers. These hunks have gained legions of enthusiastic fans. Fabio was the most famous, but even his muscular physique seems slight when compared to the massive proportions of O’Hearn.
Fitness aficionados no doubt are familiar with the athletic phenom.
Romance novel enthusiasts may recognize Mike O’Hearn’s form–or face–as one of the cover models for Topaz books back in the mid to late 1990s.
Mike O’Hearn’s Early Life
Patrick Michael O’Hearn was born on January 26, 1969, in Seattle, Washington, USA.
He started life from humble beginnings, growing up on a farm in Kirkland, WA. O’Hearn hails from a large family of 9 siblings with four sisters and four brothers. He was the second youngest overall.
O’Hearn started bodybuilding at age 7, taking after his father and three older brothers. By age 15, he began professionally competing in bodybuilding. He quickly garnered awards and trophies on a statewide level.
Despite battling dyslexia, O’Hearn achieved good grades in school and attended college, where he played football.
After college, he left home and headed to Los Angeles, California to pursue his dreams of a Hollywood career. Soon, the 6′ 1 1/2″ blond Adonis caught the eye of talent scouts and agents. For four years O’Hearn worked from gig to gig, garnering slight success.
A New Topaz Man
In 1994, O’ Hearn appeared on Joan River’s “Mr. Romance Cover Model Pageant.” Although he didn’t win first prize, his second-place finish brought him more attention from those within the industry.
Soon, his face and physique would be seen on shelves and racks in all kinds of stores.
In 1996, superstar Steve Sandalis was working overtime posing for Topaz’s many romance releases. In the 1990s, Topaz was a remarkably successful division of New American Library (NAL).
From a select group of models, the publishers chose three recruits. These men would have their images painted into steamy clinches for stepbacks and covers of romances.
Michael O’Hearn was among the chosen. He made his debut on Justine Dare’s Heart of the Hawk, a book I highly recommend.
Mary Anne Patalla, a publicist with Topaz noted, “We searched through many photographs of celebrity models and actors and loved Michael’s looks. When he came for an interview, I knew that he was special.”
“I am flattered and honored that I was chosen to portray the heroes for Topaz,” Mike O’Hearn said of his appointment to Topaz Man status in August 1996.
Michael O’Hearn, One Sexy Cover Model
While O’Hearn wasn’t as prolific a cover model as his Topaz predecessor, he certainly left a memorable mark in the industry!
For one racy snap, photographer Michel Legrou shot O’Hearn with two female models who posed separately with Mike as he sported nothing but black-colored briefs.
This made it appear as if he was fully naked in the Pino-illustrated cover for Denise Domning‘s A Love for All Seasons, released in December 1996.
Mike O’Hearn, Actor, BodyBuilder, Reality Star, Influencer
Television, Film & All-Around Media Sensation
Besides modeling, O’Hearn has made many impressions in other media. He famously was Team Captain “Titan” on the television series American Gladiators for many years.
An advocate of the natural approach to health and exercise, O’Hearn authored “Proven Techniques for Drug-Free Bodybuilders” to inspire and teach others to achieve success without the use of illegal performance enhancers.
In addition to American Gladiators, he has performed in Battle Dome and World Championship Wrestling. O’Hearn has starred in the films Keeper Of Time and Barbarian. On television, he has been seen on programs such as It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Days of Our Lives.
Plus, he has written and produced his own projects such as Alter Ego.
An Athlete at the Top of His Field
Michael O’Hearn is a well-rounded athlete with an amazing set of accomplishments perhaps only excelled by megastar bodybuilders such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno. A martial artist with black belts in Judo, Tae Kwon Do, and Karate, O’Heaen is a former California Judo Champion.
He has earned the title of Iron Warrior in the Decathlon of Strength Strongman Champion. A four-time Mr. Universe, Mike O’Hearn is also a four-time California Power Lifting Champion and was Mr. Natural Universe, Mr. America, Mr. International, and Mr. World.
Not to mention, he was Model of The Year seven times!
In 2011 Mike was inducted into the Bodybuilding Hall of Fame and then into the Hall of Fame for Martial Arts in 2014.
Mike O’Hearn Today
At 53 years old, Mike O’Hearn defies time by appearing more fit and vigorous than most men half his age.
O’Hearn now trains clients from Hollywood executives to heavy hitters nationwide. When not training, the athlete/model/artist is busy writing, producing, acting, and directing his many projects.
He has appeared as a cover model on over 500 issues of various fitness, martial arts, and bodybuilding magazines. He has also posed for more than 100 romance novel covers.
Michael O’Hearn is married to female wrestler Midajah of World Championship Wrestling fame. He is also a devoted father and an admirer of Husky dogs.