BiographyWaverly, Pennsylvania, USA
The top male model of the 1970s, Matt Collins found himself thrust into a life and career he never expected. His life had meager beginnings, born to a coal executive in Waverly, Pennsylvania, one of five children. Growing up, he was a ferociously smart loner, only brought out of his shell by his major love: riding and training horses. At the age of 14, Matt quit high school and took off to Virginia and was taken in by a horse-owning family that was need of a trainer. Read more... waste of his intellect, but it was a risk that he knew he had to take; and it paid off greatly. Matt toured the horse show circuit and by his early 20s, he was earning $50,000 a year as a rider-trainer. In 1974, Matt encountered a stubborn obstacle: a brown gelding horse named Harreus. No one had been able to ride the horse before, except, of course, for Matt. They toured the 1974 season together, and were so successful that Matt planned to start a stable with the horse. Soon after, however, Harreus' owners sold him to the Japanese government for its Olympic team. The National Horse Show in Madison Sqaure Garden in 1974 would be Matt's final collaboration with Harreus. And it would be at this show, of all places, where fate would intervene. With his plans dashed, Matt was still upset and visibly brooding; thus the signature look of the male model was born. Tall and lean, with sandy hair, dark eyes, strong cheekbones, and sullen demeanor, Matt caught the eye of none other than Wilhelmina Cooper, owner of the prestigious modeling agency. Unaware of the world of fashion, celebrity and painfully unaware of his own good looks, Matt almost gave her the brush-off. Figuring he didn't have much to lose, Matt relented and was signed on the spot to Wilhelmenia Models. At first, he merely agreed to two months worth of work, and even then, it would be between shows. Matt was put to work in various print ads, his brooding appearance and air of arrogance sold suits, cigarettes, beer, and "every shirt you can imagine." Soon he earned $1,000 a day and two months then turned into 4 years. Matt posed with the popular models of the day, such as Cheryl Tiegs, Shelley Hack, and soon-to-be actress Rene Russo. He was also friends with and photographed by Herb Ritts. Matt even posed for posters, from the same company that released the iconic image of Farrah Fawcett in her bathing suit. Such things, he mused, were aimed at "the ironing board set." Though not entirely satisfied with his line of work, the money and recognition allowed for Matt to branch out into minor film appearances and performing his own stunts in commercials. Even if he wasn't fond of being a model, many fans did, and Matt found himself flooded with fan-mail; 30,000 letters in a month, to be precise. Up to that point, his only major film role was a small part as Valentino in the Gene Wilder film, The World's Greatest Lover. Though brief, that part launched many offers Matt's way, all of which he turned down: soap opera roles, television series, and a seven year contract with Universal. Instead, Matt opted for more acting classes and signed with Allan Carr (Grease). Carr pitched to Columbia Pictures Televisionan idea to make a sitcom based on Matt's life, tentatively titled Million Dollar Smile and to star Edward Albert. The sitcom never materialized, but in 1978, Matt was approached to star in The Last Resort, a film adaptation of Porter Darwin's book Butterflies in Heat. The book was a defining piece of gay literature and bestseller, receiving praise from the likes of Tennessee Williams, James Kirkwood, and James Leo Herlihy. The story centered on gay hustler Numie Chase and his diverse, clientèle: a black drag queen, an aging, domineering fashion designer, an alienated gay man, and the run-of-the-mill nice girl in search of love. Each of them are vying for a piece of Numie, who is in search of love himself. The film adaptation, starring the top male model of the decade (with a feature in After Dark magazine earlier in the year) and Eartha Kitt, was highly anticipated. Released in 1979 and titled Tropic of Desire, the film was highly enjoyable, campy, and borderline soft-core pornography; it didn't fare too well with critics, but fans embraced it. In the years since its release, Tropic of Desire has become something of a cult hit. During his prosperous modeling career, Matt wisely invested his money in East coast real estate, as well as continuing to focus on his love of riding and training horses. So come the 1980s, Matt had minor television appearances, but it didn't matter too much to him. By then, he was finally able to leave it all behind. Art as they say, imitates life, and one more attempt to bring his life to the small screen came about in the 1983 made for television film Making of a Male Model, starring the always entertaining Joan Collins and the beautifully tragic Jon-Erik Hexum. Though greatly exaggerated in parts, it was the basic story of Matt's life; the small town boy who makes it big off of his looks, sees the industry for what it is, and walks away from it for his own peace of mind. Next time you take notice of the brooding, pouting, pretty male model in the pages of a magazine, do remember the originator.