By Jennifer Oz (2022)
In 1993, Romantic Times Magazine’s annual Book Lovers Convention held its inaugural Mr. Romance Cover Model Pageant Competition or more commonly known as The Mr. Romance Competition (“Inside Scoop”). This report aims to tell the story behind the handsome faces of the Mr. Romance Competition through analyzing readers’ craze for cover models, Faulkner’s reasoning behind creating the competition, participants’ sentiments, and reactions to the pageant. The Mr. Romance Competition indulged readers and bolstered cover models, but authors’ felt it hindered their work toward a less stigmatized industry.
Kathryn Faulkner founded Romantic Times Magazines in 1981 (“Inside Scoop”). It was the first magazine focused on reviewing the romance genre (“Inside Scoop”). Faulkner initially created the magazine to appease romance readers’ demands for news regarding “new titles from their favorite authors,” “reviews of the top reads, profiles of authors and cover illustrators, and how to write a romance and get it published” (“Romantic Times – – the End of an Era”).
In 1982, the successful magazine expanded to include the Romantic Times Book Lovers Convention (“Inside Scoop”). Eleven years later, these conventions incorporated the first Mr. Romance Competition where male cover models competed in looks, chivalry, poise, honor, etc. to be named Mr. Romance (Faulkner 1996).
Fabio and Faulkner
Celebrity cover model Fabio frequented Romantic Times Magazines’ pages, headlines, and special features (Faulkner 1991). Romantic Times Magazine’s August 1991 issue discussed the 1990 Fabio meet and greet with an article entitled “Johanna Lindsey Swept away by her gorgeous Cover man…Meeting the Fabulous ‘Fabio’” (Faulkner 1991). The page on the left contains Johanna Lindsey in Fabio’s arms -bridal style (Faulkner 1991). The page on the right holds numerous photos of fans meeting Fabio (Faulkner 1991). All showcase the readers’ adoration for Fabio.
Fans wanted to know all about the adored cover model. In the July 1991 edition of Romantic Times Magazines, the magazine divulged the “scoop on ‘Fabio,’ telling fans that “he’s somewhere in his twenties;” “he lives in Manhattan;” “he’s Italian;” and exposing information about his parents (Faulkner 1991).
Fabio reappeared in the April 1992 issue to advertise “a new venture premiering…in Romantic Times Magazine” where readers could experience talking to Fabio on the phone (Faulkner 1992). The advertisement displayed enticing phrases, such as “Discover Fabio’s Innermost Views on Romance” (Faulkner 1992). Program creators at “the Polo Lounge in the famed Beverly Hills Hotel” found themselves occupied with phone calls – enough to warrant the purchase of additional advertisements in the May 1992 issue of Romantic Times Magazines (Faulkner 1992). The success of the program showed the available and underutilized profitability in bringing readers and their favorite cover models together. This opportunity was noticed and exploited by Faulkner in her convention efforts. Crediting herself with Fabio’s discovery, Faulkner decided to bring her fabulous Fabio to the Booklovers convention (“Inside Scoop”). Next, she added cover models who would walk around the convention and greet attendees, known as “The Parade of Heroes” (Faulkner 1996). Finally, Faulkner created the Mr. Romance Competition where she hoped to exploit readers’ and media’s fascination with cover models to bring more attention to the convention (“Inside Scoop”).
Through Faulkner’s marketing efforts, the contestants of the Mr. Romance Competition became known as the “heirs to Fabio” and effectively incentivized readers and media to attend the convention (Moser 2000). To further attract readers’ attention, the Mr. Romance Competition began including celebrity hosts or emcees including celebrity emcee Michael O’Hearn (Faulkner 1996). Faulkner understood that the fans wanted to see more of their favorite romance heroes and she capitalized on this.
To Be a Cover Model
It starts with an ad. The Mr. Romance Competition application is advertised in the Romantic Times Magazinesissues leading up to the convention. The advertisements from 1996 all have the following wording:
If someone you know wants to enter the Mr. Romance Cover Model Pageant Competition, have them send two photos (a headshot and a full body shot) to: Amy Gangemi, c/o Romantic Times, 55 Bergen St., Brooklyn, NY 11201. Be sure to include his name, address, phone number, age, and a self-addressed stamped envelope.
An official registration form will be mailed to him within two weeks along with all the rules and requirements for the competition. Video auditions are welcome. Serious participants only.
In addition to good looks and great physiques, we will also be looking for hero-like qualities such as poise, chivalry, honor, and, of course, he must be a romantic! (Faulkner 1996).
This advertisement attracted applicants to the competition and informed them on how to apply (Faulkner 1996). Competition advertisements functioned to excite readers about the competition and entice them to buy tickets to the convention (“Inside Scoop”). Furthermore, it posed the male pageant as a competition that considers more than mere physical appearances (Faulkner 1996). It was a man with “honor” and “chivalry” who will win the competition (Faulkner 1996). A man readers saw as their fantasy heroes (Faulkner 1996).
When looking at the advertisement it is noticeable that after three years of hosting the competition and holding open applications, Romantic Times Magazines still needs to instill earnestness in the competition (Faulkner 1996). The advertisement states “Serious participants only” (Faulkner 1996), conveying that there were past applicants that made fun of the application process or made a joke of the competition. Thus, the Mr. Romance Competition had its adversaries as well as its profitable benefits.
Applicants for the Mr. Romance Competitions were incentivized to apply with the convention’s networking opportunities, possible prize cover model offer, and a chance to win an effective title (Staff, Weiss 2011).
The Romantic Times Book Lovers Convention was crowded with published and soon-to-be published authors and some needed cover models for their future book covers (Faulkner 1996). Along with authors, representatives from different publishers attend the convention and publishers are often decision makers regarding romance novel covers and the men on said book covers (Deahl 2017). Thus, their presence was an additional networking opportunity for cover models (Staff, Weiss 2011).
Networking does not end with the cover art’s decision makers. The atmosphere of the competition was not exactly ruthless (Staff, Weiss 2011). The cover models developed connections and friendships with their competitors (Staff, Weiss 2011). Communicating with the contestants allowed cover models to learn about others’ experiences in the industry including career moves and strategies (Staff, Weiss 2011). As in any profession, this increased communication helped clarify appropriate treatment and pay (Swiatkiewicz 2018).
The convention also gave cover models the opportunity to network with fans (Staff, Weiss 2011). As seen with Fabio, fans’ fascination with a certain cover model can aid in the cover model’s success. Readers at the convention met cover models in person and bonded with them (Faulkner 1996). The networking with readers was bolstered by the 1996 inaugural requirement for the contestant to partake in a themed dance. In 1996, it was the “Old South Ball,” which was so successful it ensured the requirement stayed for years to come, but the dances showcased a need for protocols regarding reader and cover model interactions (Faulkner 1996; Staff, Weiss 2011). At the ball, Mr. Romance contestants were required to mingle and dance with readers in a gentleman-like manner which would be considered in the final entitling of Mr. Romance (Faulkner 1996). This was joined by cover models’ intent actions to gain a “fan base” at the convention by bonding with the readers and even asking about reader’s kids (Staff, Weiss 2011). The presence of the Mr. Romance Competition created greater connections between cover models and readers.
As seen through past ventures like phone calls with Fabio and “scoop on Fabio”, readers want to know more about their favorite cover models (Faulkner 1991). Faulkner’s intentions for the Mr. Romance contestants to become heirs to Fabio were further actualized when Mr. Romance winners were given profiles in Romantic Times Magazines and romance genre blogs, appeasing readers’ demands to learn more about these cover models (Faulkner 1996; “Inside Scoop”; Staff, Weiss 2011). After the success of first Mr. Romance David Alan Johnson and the growth of the industry’s understanding of Mr. Romance’s fan base, the title began to gain respect in the industry and aided in pageant winners securing jobs (Moser 2000).
Some years, the winner of the Mr. Romance Competition was guaranteed an offer by Romantic Times Magazine to be on the cover of that year’s chosen romance novel (Staff, Weiss 2011). This opportunity was provided as a prize through Romantic Times Magazines partnering with an author that year (“Inside Scoop”).
Romantic Times Magazines began using past Mr. Romance Competition winners to gain further traction to the Book Lovers Convention, as well as bolster the appeal of the cover models they employed to walk around the convention to greet attendants (Faulkner 1996). This was done through advertising the presence of past years’ winners (Faulkner 1996). An example of this was seen in the cover model coverage for the “Heroes of Baton Rouge” or Heroes of the annually chosen city (Faulkner 1996). This was a short profile on each hero in Romantic Times Magazine which debuted while tickets were selling for the convention (Faulkner 1996). Rob Ashton was featured in the “Heroes of Baton Rouge” where his appeal to potential convention attendees was strengthened through Romantic Times Magazines reminding readers that “Rob was the winner of RT’s 1995 Cover Model Competition” (Faulkner 1996). With this title, the readers further trusted Rob Ashton to satisfy their desire to meet the man of their fantasies because he was chosen as the best of the cover models by Romantic Times Magazine and the previous year’s attendees (Staff, Weiss 2011). Thus, the appeal of the promenading cover models is strengthened by the inclusion of the Mr. Romance title.
Not Always Swooning
Through Romantic Times Magazines’ Mr. Romance Competition, cover models were granted networking access, potential job opportunities, and effective resume building titles. Readers could meet their favorite cover models or live out the fantasy of meeting a romance genre hero in real life. How do the authors benefit from the competition?
Mutually beneficial relationships sometimes arose between authors and cover models at the convention with some authors even finding their next cover model (Staff, Weiss 2011). Some authors enjoyed meeting the cover models of their own favorite romance novels, as shown by Johanna Lindsey being swept away by Fabio (Faulkner 1991). However, not all authors were excited by the Mr. Romance Competition. Scholar of genre romance Andrea Cipriano Barra noted that “during [her] first visit to the convention, many authors to whom [she] casually spoke in the lobby or elevator expressed discomfort both with the men’s presence (as they believed it reinforced stereotypes about romance) and their purpose (what they perceived as objectification)” (Barra 2014). Authors found that although the means to which Faulkner attempted to attract attendants to the convention were grounded in past success with cover models, these strategies did not perpetuate ideals authors wanted to represent about genre romance (Barra 2014; “Inside Scoop”). Instead, the Mr. Romance Competition entailed “discomfort” for authors (Barra 2014). The competition perpetuated stigmas about genre romance that some authors did not want in a convention to which their own names and novels were associated (Barra 2014). And so, cover models present at the Book Lovers Convention could not win the hearts of all because the competition does base itself in physique and appearance which some authors did not support (Barra 2014). With measurements of competitors’ bodies found in issues of Romantic Times Magazines, physical traits were an undeniable factor in the Mr. Romance Competition (Faulkner 1996). Additionally, stigmatized verbiage such as “pimp” was commonly used when describing activities associated with the Mr. Romance Competition (Staff, Weiss 2011). “Pimping” specifically referred to readers helping cover models secure votes for the competition through showing a photo of the cover model to as many attendees as they could (Staff, Weiss 2011). This was often unsolicited and sometimes resulted in cover models asking these readers to stop such actions (Staff, Weiss 2011). Moreover, verbiage and actions like “pimping,” along with the focus on the cover models’ physiques, hinders authors’ works toward redefining the romance genre. In the authors’ eyes, the stigmatization of the romance genre is reinforced with the superficial aspects of the Mr. Romance Competition (Barra 2014). Therefore, the Mr. Romance Competition brings plentiful opportunities, especially for cover models and eager readers, but comes with the perpetuation of genre romance stereotypes.
Romantic Times Magazines aimed to capitalize on the appealing nature of cover models through a male beauty pageant where readers met their fantasies’ heroes and cover models found career opportunities (Faulkner 1996; Staff, Weiss 2011). While readers and cover models find beneficial aspects in the competition, authors see this male beauty pageant as “objectifying” and perpetuating of romance genre stigmatizations (Barra 2014).
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