Fabio Lanzoni: A Controversial Romance Icon
When one thinks of old-school romance books, the first name associated with them is Fabio. He posed for hundreds of novels, often painted by Elaine Duillo, and got famous for appearing on Johanna Lindsey‘s covers.
Like bodice rippers of yesteryear, model Fabio Lanzoni has been unfairly maligned and even mocked by many modern-day romance readers. There’s a sentiment of contempt displayed at the old clinch covers, with some declaring that 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 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 a historical 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 romance, Hearts Aflame. It was a smash hit, reaching number 3 on the NY 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. Still, there was no other artist who captured Fabio’s look better than she did. However, they only worked together on fewer than twenty books. Duillo worked with other models 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 wasThe 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 model as their leading men.
Model Lianna Loggins was his most frequent partner on the covers, posing on hundreds alongside Fabio.
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 larger in the cultural zeitgeist after he was 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 were published by Pinnacle Books.
As a model, Fabio was incredibly prolific, posing for 466 romance novels. He officially retired in the late 1990s, except to model on his own books. Nevertheless, some of his photos for previous works were recycled into later covers. Elaine Duillo used the sketches from the shoot for Rebecca Brandewyne’s Swan Road and transformed them into the 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 he won’t be the last big-name romance model. During Fabio’s reign as King of the Cover hunks, other men like John DeSalvo and Steve Sandalis achieved acclaim.
A few others who came after gained success, like Jason Baca, who appeared on almost 500 covers. You can read about him here: The Male Model Who Has Appeared on More Romance Novel Covers Than Fabio.
But though he may have his imitators, there was one and only one Fabio.
I always considered Fabio as easy on the eyes. He certainly was pleasing to look upon. Even so, I never pictured him as my ideal hero.
Regardless, I treasured his charm, his ultra-macho yet sensitive aura, and his ability for self-deprecation. Fabio embraced who he was: a romance icon.
Plus, above all, he loved his fans. In turn, Fabio’s fans adored him for who he was!
Fabio haters, please go and enjoy your favorite hunky models in peace. We Fabio lovers will be here to have a good time smiling over his hundreds of beautiful covers.