Andy Nelson poses in line with beliefs A MODEL IN MANY WAYS

March 15, 1992|By Mary Corey | Mary Corey,Staff Writer

First, the face:

At a glance, it's more a study in geometry than a series of features. The jawbone as angular as an isosceles triangle; the faint lines etched like graph paper around blue eyes; an aristocratic nose, long with a squarish tip; and setting it all off, a nest of blond curls.

Put all these together and you have the face that has launched a thousand ads -- clothing, liquor and cologne -- and made its owner, Andy Nelson Jr., one of the most celebrated local models.

From the pages of GQ to the runways of Giorgio Armani, the man with the chiseled good looks and easygoing style has worn everything from tuxedos to torn jeans for the camera. In the process, he's earned a reputation for being a professional in a world of prima donnas. And that has brought its reward: an annual six-figure salary.

But behind the money-making visage is not a glamour guy but a devoutly religious 38-year-old man who now refuses to do liquor ads or to accept assignments that keep him from his wife and two daughters for long.

His decision raises a question: Can a man with scruples make it in the modeling business?

To ask Andy Nelson Jr. that you have to travel far, past haystacks, rolling hills and grazing cows to a small white cottage he rents on a horse farm in Glen Arm.

His wife, Christine, and daughters, Natalie, 3, and Olivia, 17 months, come tumbling out of the back door dressed in floral cotton outfits. Cats and dogs roam around the picnic table, and the sun shines for the first time in nearly a week.

An ad team couldn't have created a more idyllic image, but what's being sold here? Despite making a living from his looks, in person Mr. Nelson doesn't try to impress. Words like "ain't" and "gotta" pepper his speech. His gray trousers are ripped at the seam. And sure, he'll show you pictures of himself taken by celebrity photographers Francesco Scavullo and the late Robert Mapplethorpe, but what he really values is a portrait of his father, Andy Nelson, a former defensive back for the Baltimore Colts football team.

"Modeling is a business," he says. "Most people think that all you have to have is an interesting face and somehow it's like easy street, but there are so many people like that. You have to work at it."

Aside from his distinctive features, Mr. Nelson has been praised for his physique -- a 6-foot, 1-inch, 180-pound frame he keeps toned through daily exercise -- and his ability to vary his looks.

"He can be a businessman. He can be a rough-looking, outdoors-type person. He can be slick, very stylized, and he can be all-American," says Ken Eggerl, vice president of 3 West Casting, a local modeling agency that represents him.

Mr. Nelson never intended to live his life in front of the camera. Growing up the eldest of seven in Towson, he planned to play pro football like his father.

Andy's father saw no early signs his son would choose modeling. "He was a skinny little fella," he says. "He wasn't pretty or anything like that. He kind of grew into it."

During his teen-age years, Andy "drank a few beers, had a battle or two, but I never had to go get him out of jail," he adds.

After graduating from the University of South Carolina in 1976 with a degree in physical education, Mr. Nelson tried out for the New York Jets and quickly realized he lacked the speed for the big league.

He moved on to managing a chain of local fitness centers, a profession that led indirectly to modeling. A club member who worked in advertising asked him to pose for a hospital ad.

"I said, 'No man, I ain't going to do that' . . . I assumed that all [male models] were gay. After doing some research, I found that wasn't the case," he says.

He never seriously considered switching careers until the fitness chain went bankrupt, and he found himself jobless at 29.

Not everyone liked his decision to try modeling. "My dad wasn't too thrilled about it, but then I showed him a few paychecks," says Mr. Nelson, who routinely makes $150 an hour.

He eventually signed on with the prestigious Elite Agency but only after promising to spend a year in Europe building his portfolio.

"Europe is almost like a farm team," he says. "When I got to Milan, it was full of models -- kids from California looking for a

wave they couldn't find. I was a little older and I had a little more savvy."

During that year, Mr. Nelson also made another decision about his life: He wanted to marry his girlfriend Christine, whom he had met years before at a fitness club.

"I had a big crush on him," recalls Ms. Nelson, who grew up in Highlandtown. "I always dated . . . truck drivers. They weren't anything like him."

While he was attracted to her, he was intrigued by her traditional values, particularly her interest in born-again Christianity.

She persuaded him to attend services with her, but it wasn't until he lost his job at the fitness club that he became serious about it. "During that period when I was without work, I developed a relationship with Jesus Christ," he says.

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