Look familiar? He was the image of Highlander menswear

Strike a worried pose

He was Highlander. He was their Image Man.
  • He was Highlander. He was their Image Man.
  • Image by Richard Armas

Jim Crawford is drinking white wine as it happens again — recognition. It has gotten to the point where he is now used to it. and it no longer bothers him. At bars and restaurants, on the street and in the Hillcrest Safeway or Washington Street, it is always the same. First they sneak an almost embarrassed glance, squinting after him and wondering. Then, after deciding that, yes, it must be him, they make their approach. Finally, they sheepishly put their question to him: “Say, aren’t you the Highlander guy?”

Manufacturers like Hang Ten want young beach boys to do their modeling. The Latin lover look doesn’t exactly sell clothes to the fraternity crowd at San Diego State.

Manufacturers like Hang Ten want young beach boys to do their modeling. The Latin lover look doesn’t exactly sell clothes to the fraternity crowd at San Diego State.

This time it is a barmaid at Soledad Franco in Old Columbia Square downtown. She has been seeking excuses to pass by the table where Crawford is drinking with a friend She lingers a moment or two longer than is necessary to set a clean ashtray on the next table. Back at the elegant saloon bar. she stares quite frankly at Crawford and whispers something to the bartender, who nods his head while wiping a beer glass. “That’s him.” she tells herself. “That’s the guy in those ads.” What, then, to do?

Crawford has been unemployed for the past two months — he's 33; the prime age for male models is 22.

Crawford has been unemployed for the past two months — he's 33; the prime age for male models is 22.

Should she assume the humble, self-effacing approach, as a lowly apprentice might greet the village guild master? Or should she take the self-assured. I'm-not-really-a-barmaid-I'm-just-in-between-modeling-assignments stance? She deliberates another minute, then eases up to the small, circular cafe table where Crawford is discussing a facet of the modeling profession. “You talking mannequin?” she asks offhandedly, impulsively.

Crawford is indeed “talking mannequin,” as the barmaid so quaintly phrased it. Mannequin is a form of modeling in which the models establish a pose and maintain it, without moving, for as long as fifteen or twenty minutes. Such models are used in display windows of department stores to attract curious shoppers, or at fashion parties for the amusement of the guests. Mannequin is not the most glorious type of modeling, perhaps, but at sixty-five dollars an hour it can be lucrative.

“Listen.” continues the barmaid, “stick around for a while and don’t leave before I have a chance to talk to you.” She looks toward the bar and the scolding eyes of the bartender. “I gotta run. Now remember — stick around.”

Crawford just smiles. Another one who wants to be a model, he thinks silently. Sure, he’ll stay for a minute after his drink is gone. He’ll give the kid a few pointers, a little encouragement. Maybe he’ll explain how to handle rejection, a hazard of the profession. He may very well give her a short history of his career as an example, or a warning.

But Jim Crawford has his own uncertain future to think about. He is quite likely one of the best recognized models in San Diego because of his extensive work with the Highlander clothes stores and their multimedia advertising campaign. For more than six years, he had been the “image man” for Highlander, a man whose face was synonymous with the company. Crawford, though, no longer works for Highlander and has been unemployed for the past two months — a possibly terminal condition for a thirty-three-year-old male model in San Diego. In a profession where the prime age for models is twenty-two, and in such a small market where Crawford has become typecast, his problem is of utmost consequence — to begin a new career, or to wither and, eventually, fail.

Crawford has built his reputation around his work with Highlander, a chain of seven men’s stores throughout San Diego County. The notoriety has been boon and bane, though. “Every day someone comes up and recognizes me,” he says. “It’s great for the ego. It means I must be doing something right. But I have to get through this stereotype thing.”

And so, to get through “this stereotype thing,” Crawford has developed a plan. Several weeks ago he talked to a high-fashion photographer, Richard Armas, who lives in Hollywood and whose work appears in such periodicals as Gentleman's Quarterly and Women's Wear Daily. He had called Armas months ago, but the photographer never returned that call. Then last month, out of the blue, Craw ford picked up the phone and Armas was on the line. “I want to see you.” Armas said.

Crawford shot back immediately with a deal. “1 realize you charge $300 a session to shoot somebody for their portfolio,” he said, “but all I have is $200. Would you do it for me?”

Armas answered, “I’m giving a party Friday night. I think you should be here. If you want to get into the business in L.A., anybody who’s worth knowing will be here. We’ll talk business then.”

Now it is the day before the party. Crawford rises at eight-thirty in his small, modern, one-bedroom apartment on Robinson in Hillcrest. He enters the bathroom and splashes some tap water on his face to wake himself. As he dries off, he looks at himself in the cabinet mirror. He is not beautiful. He is good-looking, he thinks to himself, average good-looking. There are those models who project an aura that says, “Don’t touch me. I’m beautiful and I know it and I can get anyone I want. I’m hot.” Sometimes people even shy away from Crawford because they think he is like that. But as he looks at his reflection, he knows he is different. He is not vain. In fact, many of his friends in the business often berate his excessive modesty.

There is something about his features, though, that has caused him to be slotted into a certain “look.” He is either the conservative, three-piece-suit executive or the Latin lover. But in Southern California, the advertisers would rather have the sporty Aryan look, the blond-haired, blue-eyed post-adolescent who looks ready to drink a can of soda on the beach while tossing a Frisbee to his girlfriend.

His face clean and the sleep washed from his eyes, Crawford stands before his closet and frowns. Choosing a simple outfit for the day can be a staggering task, especially when selecting from a wardrobe the size of Crawford’s: twenty pairs of shoes, a few more than twenty pairs of pants, and more than 200 shirts. He selects a silk Hawaiian shirt (medium; neck size fifteen and a half inches), a pair of faded Levi jeans (thirty-one-inch waist, thirty-three-inch inseam), and a pair of tan oxfords with airholes, the heels of which increase his height by half an inch to six feet even.

He pulls a frying pan from the kitchen cupboard and fries up some bacon and eggs, over easy. He pours a small glass of orange juice, then, as the kettle whistles, mixes a cup of Sunrise instant coffee. A piece of toast pops up and breakfast is almost complete. He uses the orange juice to wash down tablets of vitamin E, C, and B-complex, as well as a multiple vitamin, because sometimes, on busy days, breakfast might be the only meal he eats.

But there are not many busy days anymore. Had he still been working, he would have lighted the first of five or six Merit cigarettes he would have smoked in the morning. (He would have abstained for the afternoon and smoked five or six more in the evening.) But now he refrains from lighting up. and instead spends fifteen minutes lifting dumbbells — up-down, up-down — and then decides to walk through Balboa Park.

Walking is one of the few exercises he undertakes. He leaves the apartment and hikes briskly down to Richmond, then to a small street called Myrtle. He cuts off on a dirt path along a canyonside, which intersects a popular jogging track around the perimeter of the park. The atmosphere is woodsy, much like the hills around Ojala, the mountain tourist resort his parents owned and operated near Ojai, east of Santa Barbara. But memories of Ojala are not sweet. His father became debt-ridden and moved away, leaving Jim’s mother to run the resort. He remembers those days as a strain, too great a strain.

It was different when he was a child growing up in Bel Air, that millionaires’ residential district in the monied hills above UCLA. Back then he had some good friends. In fact, Danny Morgan, son of Harry Morgan the actor, was his best friend. It was a heady atmosphere in which to grow up, even for a boy not yet in the eighth grade. Clearly there was something special about living down the street or around the comer from the families of June Allyson, Don Defore, Robert Taylor, and Robert Mitchum. Crawford admits he was | a “spoiled, selfish kid” back then. Then came this idea of buying a mountain resort, away from home and friends. “Once it seemed like I had everything,” he recalls, “and then I moved to the sticks where there was . . . nothing. It was a big adjustment.’’

At the comer of Laurel Street and Sixth Avenue, Crawford decides to walk downtown rather than to see the museums again. He cuts west on A Street to the Sumitomo Bank at the comer of Fourth Avenue, where he writes a check for twenty dollars. It seems as though most of his transactions are withdrawals these days. A month earlier he deposited $175, but now that money is nearly gone. That was for three hours work with the Convention and Visitors Bureau. He was interviewed at an advertising agency with several other applicants. When it was his turn, the interviewer grabbed Crawford’s hands and began molding them into various positions. He got the job, and for three hours it was Crawford’s charge to insert a scuba mask into a briefcase — over and over again. All they wanted, it seemed, were his hands. The resultant photo was to be used in a brochure to entice sports-minded business executives to San Diego. For that job, he was paid $195, less the ten-percent cut to his agent, Nanci Washburn.

But it is not easy to make a living as a male model in San Diego. In his last year with the Highlander stores, Crawford earned only $6000 as a model; about half of what he earned in his other job as product-display manager of the seven stores. And, to be truthful, that $6000 from modeling also included several live fashion shows for the local Broadway, Bullocks, and Saks department stores. For a day show, Crawford earns fifty-five dollars; for a night show, sixty-five dollars; and for a Sunday show, seventy-five dollars. But considering there might be only three or four jobs like that a year, the salary seems slightly less inflated than one might initially suspect.

With money in his wallet, Crawford walks to a vegetarian restaurant called Kung Food on Fifth Avenue near Quince. He orders a lunch of a fresh fruit salad, an avocado-and-cheese sandwich, and a glass of iced tea. It is still early; not quite one o’clock. Crawford strolls back to his apartment with the intention of driving to the beach. Since losing the Highlander position, he has been working on his tan.

Today he throws a towel into the back scat of his blue 1974 Volkwagen bug. drives to Black’s Beach, and parks near the Torrey Pines glider port. He maneuvers carefully down the cliff path, spreads his towel on the sand, and removes his clothes. He rolls over every fifteen minutes to keep the tan even. The sun makes the beach an oven, and Crawford sits up. For a brief moment he is dizzy, then he stands, walks to the water, and without hesitation dives right into the tube of a salty breaker. It is a Thursday afternoon and the beach is nearly deserted. He swims directly out to sea, feeling the muscles in his arms stretch and relax, stretch and relax. It is ironic, really, that Crawford should love the beach so much, considering :hat he has lost jobs because of the beach-inspired look. Manufacturers such as Hang Ten and Ocean Pacific want young beach boys to do their modeling. The Latin lover look doesn’t exactly sell clothes to the fraternity crowd at San Diego State, and Crawford understands this. “But you don’t have any control over the type of model they want,” he says. “You get a hell of a lot of rejection and you can’t take it personally.”

But even so, Crawford often takes rejection badly. It hurts. If a man draws blueprints, and a contractor rejects them, the architect doesn’t have to take the rejection personally. But a model is judged on something as personal as his face and body. The agency doesn’t like the color of his hair; he’s too tall or too dark; he has stubby fingers when they need graceful hands. In the modeling profession, Crawford has learned, it is essential to separate criticism of the body from criticism of the self. “If they tell you no,” he says, “you have to realize that it has nothing to do with how much talent or background you have, or how nice a person you are.”

And then there was this most recent rejection: being fired from his job with Highlander. A matter of economy, they called it. They cut back on their staff and they closed their downtown branch store. Crawford, they figured, had his modeling career to fall back on, so he wouldn’t be too hurt by losing his job. Crawford doesn’t agree with that, but even so he doesn’t want to fault them too much; they gave him a lot of opportunities he might never have had otherwise, like coordinating fashion shows, assisting and being featured in the television commercials, choosing the clothes and accessories for the store window displays. “But in the end, I think they could have handled it a lot better,” he says. “I felt that I was a little bit taken advantage of. I gave them more than a lot of years; I gave them a lot of myself.”

Crawford was hired by the Highlander chain in 1974 as the display manager, a job which included window displays and interior design. It wasn't until a year later that they realized Crawford was an experienced model. They began to feature him in all their advertising — print (magazine and newspapers), billboards (like the one near Sixth and University, near Crawford’s apartment), live fashion shows, and television commercials. In fact, one of the television commercials he helped produce two years ago won an award from the Men’s Retail Association of America and was nominated for a local Emmy. The ninety-second commercial was filmed by a crew from Channel 10 on location downtown, and featured Crawford in seven different changes of clothing he had selected. His face began to show up everywhere: San Diego Magazine, the three network-affiliated television stations in town, the San Diego Union and Evening Tribune. His face had become inextricably linked with the Highlander. He was Highlander. He was their Image Man.

People as far away as Hawaii and Palm Springs approached him and recognized him from his work in San Diego. Great for the ego; devastating for the career. There is little modeling work for males in San Diego as it is; being stereotyped only exacerbates a dismal situation. And now, jobless and with that face, it’s hard to take solace in being recognized. But his agent, Nanci Washburn, has told him on a number of occasions — during times of despair for Crawford — that leaving the Highlander is not the most tragic thing in the world. “If anything, it could be the best thing that ever happened to you.” she told him after he was dismissed. “You have been so known just for the Highlander that it’s time to make the transition." And that is why the party tomorrow night is so important to Crawford’s career. Richard Armas, the photographer, can give a model a new look, a fresh image, a different face. Crawford will have a new portfolio — very contemporary, very avant-garde. It will be a strictly New York-L.A. sort of look. Very high fashion. Severe. Modem. Armas can do this for Crawford. He can introduce him to the right people. He can make things easier. He can give a struggling model the fighting edge to bolster a sagging career.

At the ripe age of thirty-three. Crawford needs all the help he can get. Unlike most professions, in which middle-age men reign, a model’s peak years arc in the late teens for women, the early twenties for men. One of the few consolations in being a male model (even though there is by far less work than for women) is that the men have a much broader age-range in the profession. Photographers frequently need men in their forties, fifties, and sixties for modeling. Certainly older men are not needed as much as the younger, though, and still in his early thirties, Crawford is fast becoming an older man.

Once again at home, after his afternoon at the beach, he showers off the sand and the salt, then falls asleep on his bed for a few hours. He wakes around seven and flips on the television set to Channel 10, to the Merv Griffin Show, which has a fashion show scheduled along with the usual roster of celebrity guests. The show is being coordinated by Nina Blanchard, probably the leading modeling agent in Los Angeles. The models who grace the Griffin studio set are, without doubt, exquisitely beautiful. They are perfect. But there is something lacking, and that something is called Angel.

It’s hard to describe this quality called Angel. “Angel is a charisma,” Crawford says, “a persona you give off when you’re on that stage. Those guys are superlooking, but they have no Angel. And that, thank God. I have. That’s what’s going to get me where I’m going. All those guys on Merv Griffin are nothing but glorified hangers who are just going to wear the clothes and be beautiful. That’s great, though, because if you’re beautiful, that’s all you have to do.” He pauses a minute. The doubt returns to his voice. “But I’m not beautiful, so I have to put out a bit more.”

The first time Crawford realized that he had Angel was during a benefit fashion show to aid the reconstruction of the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. The fashion show was one portion of the whole production and it was hosted by Charlton Heston at the Town and Country hotel in Mission Valley in the summer of 1978. There was dancing, singing, a full orchestra — a grand evening of entertainment. But the fashion show, coordinated by legendary Hollywood clothes designer Edith Head, was the main feature of the extravaganza. Crawford went up to Head’s Beverly Hills mansion — actually, to the cozy bungalow in back where Head stores some of her most treasured creations — and listened to the master as she dictated the direction of the upcoming fashion show. The night of the show, Crawford first went before the audience in a wool suit manufactured by a company called Celsius 21. Despite the glamorous crowd and the excitement, Crawford was professional enough to know that he should treat his part as if it were a Sunday show at Bullocks. But when he arrived at the foot of the runway, a strange thing happened. It started slowly, but then came to a magnificent crescendo as he walked toward the audience. It was applause. They were actually clapping for him. It was indeed a “very special moment,” he says. His mother was in the audience that night, and afterward she said to him, “Well, they certainly know who you are.” And his agent said, “Jim, you’ve gained all the confidence you need. You’ve got it. You’ve got that something.” And that something is Angel.

Of course, not all the assignments that ensued were quite as chichi as the Old Globe benefit. Mannequin work, for example. There is a hierarchy in modeling. Television commercials are at the top, then comes print work, then live shows. Mannequin falls somewhere below that, but even so, it’s fun. There was a mannequin assignment eight months ago at the Broadway in Carlsbad. It was a grandopening party and the entertainment included a number of live mannequins who stationed themselves in various departments of the store. Crawford and a young woman were directed to the furniture section, where they arranged themselves on a sofa and assumed semipermanent stances; first, she lay down in his lap. Then, twenty minutes later, they changed, and he sat with his arm around her. “People think you’re really a mannequin.” he says. “They’ll try to make eye contact, and they’ll make faces at you. One time, last Father’s Day at Bullocks, we did a mannequin show and this woman came up and pulled the hairs on my legs. She didn’t think I was alive. When she pulled my hair I said to her, 'Don’t do that,’ and she nearly had a heart attack.”

After the Merv Griffin Show, Crawford pours himself a glass of white wine. He sips at the chablis for a while and watches the television. Then, forsaking a night of dancing and drinking with friends, he retires to bed.

Friday evening. Crawford is on Interstate 5 northbound to Los Angeles. He will disport tonight with Armas, and, later, discuss the photo shoot. Crawford is anxious about his new portfolio. He is ready to have his look redone. His hair may have to be cut very short, and the mustache may have to go, but that’s all right. He will put himself in the hands of Armas and let the expert make the suggestions.

This will not be his first shoot with Armas. Six years ago, just before he was hired by the Highlander, Crawford had his portfolio shots taken by Armas. Crawford went to him then with shoulder-length hair and a beard, and came away looking like an advertisement from Gentleman’s Quarterly. It changed his career; he hopes it will change it once more.

He veers off the Santa Ana freeway onto the Hollywood freeway, and takes the Melrose Avenue offramp. Heading west, he passes Paramount and Desilu studios, then turns onto Hudson Avenue near the Wilshire Country Club. He double-checks a slip of paper with the address written on it. and creeps his way up the block to an unremarkable commercial building that Armas uses as a residence-studio.

It is dark; just past nine. Crawford is dazzled as he enters the huge, gymnasium-like room. Everything is painted white — the walls, the furniture . . . everything. In one corner is a kitchen, and in this corner is the living room, and over there is the photography studio. One complete wall is paneled with a display of Armas’s photographs: Grace Jones, the disco singer; Eartha Kitt. the actress; and scores of photos used in national magazines.

There are about forty people inside, listening to new-wave music on Armas’s stereo. Crawford finds Armas, and they reintroduce themselves after their long separation. Armas says they will talk about the photo shoot after the party, then excuses himself to play host, leaving Crawford to fend for himself. Although he knows no one, he recognizes a few guests by reputation. There is a young man in the comer with blond hair and an angular jaw who is seen from time to time in Gentleman’s Quarterly. He is speaking to a chic young woman with a gaunt face who models for Yves St. Laurent. Sipping a cocktail and surrounded by admirers is the disco singer Patti Brookes. And standing in a comer of the studio is Casey Kasem, the host of the syndicated radio program American Top Forty, whose voice purrs like a well-tuned Mack truck.

Crawford looks good. He fits in. He is trim and tan. In fact, several people, including a fashion-show coordinator, remark how bronzed he is. The setting is intimate, and the conversation flows as easily as the liquor. Crawford drinks scotch and water; it loosens him up without transforming him into a foolish drunk. This is not the sort of party where a model hoping to break into the L.A. fashion scene should make a fool of himself. And so Crawford remains a bit reserved throughout the evening. He plays the party like a fragile violin. But there is something else: He can’t shake this feeling that he is something of the country boy coming up to the big city for the night to see the fast-living Hollywood city slickers.

A young actor named Rodney, who hails from San Diego but who has since relocated to Los Angeles, recognizes Crawford from the Highlander ads. “It just seems so strange to me,” Rodney says, “that someone could have gained as much recognition as you have in such a little market as San Diego.” Rodney is up for a part in a situation comedy to be televised this fall, but even if he doesn’t succeed this time around, he says, it won’t be the end of the world. Crawford understands; he is in the same situation. If he doesn’t make it this time around, he, too, will try again. Success is just around the corner. They both sip on their drinks, then Rodney says, “Everybody at this party is just about in the same boat as you and me, Jim. We’re all living in the same dream.”

The next day Crawford is back in San Diego. Armas has decided to set their shooting date sometime soon. In the meantime, he told Crawford, stay out of the sun. You’re getting too tan. As for the hair, it’s fine, and keep the mustache for now.

Until the shooting date, Crawford will keep up his morning walks and afternoon swims. He will eat vitamins and call his agent to check for work. He will worry. He has a habit of brooding about life. He sees himself at the brink of a new phase in his career, and he is so, so afraid that something might go wrong.

And so he copes with his fears. He copes through exercise, and dancing, and evenings out with friends. And he copes by visiting his friends, the psychic mediums. Crawford first became involved with psychic readings eight years ago. It was a time of emotional insecurity for him. He was a junior at San Diego State enrolled in the education department, but he knew his true goal was in the direction of modeling and the fashion industry. Having been raised a Catholic, he went to several priests with his problems, but found no respite from the demons that plagued him.

Then a friend suggested he go hear a lecture on campus by a local psychic, Nancy Tappe. Tappe spoke to a crowd of 300 on the topic of auras, the emotionally related colors that supposedly surround a human body and which are imperceptible except to people with a highly developed sense of psychic awareness. Crawford sat on the floor in front of Tappe and was made an example by her for the benefit of the audience. "This gentleman,” she said, reading Crawford’s aura and its implications, “will be a famous man someday. His name will become a household word.” It was exactly what Crawford needed to hear at the time. Here was someone who could give him spiritual guidance, someone who would urge him on to become all that he desired. He quit school soon after that lecture and has visited various psychics on a regular basis ever since.

A week prior to the party at Armas’s Hollywood studio, Crawford called on a Pacific Beach medium named Gertrude, a rather exclusive psychic. The only way to get an appointment with her is to be recommended by a mutual acquaintance. Now, on the threshhold of a new life, Crawford recalls that meeting with Gertrude. “She told me, ‘You have everything coming to you. Everything that you visualize as your goal will be yours. You are going to be very famous . . .’ And she also said, ‘This past year, when you’ve felt that you haven’t really grown, has been a time for you to develop in your head.’ Then she compared my career to John Travolta’s, how he just was kind of floating along and then, almost overnight, had this huge, incredible success. And she said the same thing is going to happen to my career. And I know that can be.”

Crawford is silent for a moment, then hesitantly fumbles for a cigarette. He musters every ounce of self-assurance he has, and, with utter conviction, repeats, “I know that can be.”

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