THE LOVE BLOAT
Antony and Cleopatra! Romeo and Juliet! Liz and Larry!
In the grand tradition of those legendary lovers comes a newsome twosome determined to add their own names to that romantic roster. Meet Paula Grecco and Michael Modzelewski, the Valley newlyweds who dare to ask the question, "Can a Playboy bunny find happiness with Cosmopolitan magazine's Bachelor of the Month?"
Product of a blind date that blossomed into love at first sight, these sweethearts fancy themselves the "Most Romantic Couple in America." And if the rest of the country fails to agree with that superlative, it won't be for lack of trying on this pair's part.
Deeply, madly, head over heels in love, Grecco and Modzelewski believe they've discovered the secret of keeping a marriage alive. Not bad for a couple who has yet to celebrate its three-month anniversary. Now eager to share their message with the masses, these love emissaries recently launched a crusade to crash the syndicated TV talk-show circuit.
One tiny catch, though. Grecco reports that none of the shows is interested in booking the pair until the couple is able to produce newspaper clippings documenting its much-touted romantic lifestyle. And just in case anyone's wondering, that's why we've all been invited to the couple's north Phoenix love nest today. The conversation that follows can be best described as an episode of The Love Connection as staged by Allen Funt.
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She's Paula Grecco, a 39-year-old flight attendant whose giddy demeanor is reminiscent of early Suzanne Somers. When not ballyhooing the benefits of her love-drenched lifestyle, the bubbly blonde enjoys chatting about her "wild and crazy" adventures as a "Sky Goddess" for Continental Airlines. (I had three passengers die on me this year," she confesses. "We had to drag their bodies back to the kitchen.)
He's Michael Modzelewski, a 38-year-old travel writer whose own exploits include swimming with killer whales, running a marathon on the Great Wall of China and climbing the third-highest mountain in North America. Several years ago, the adventurous scribe spent an 18-month stretch living virtually alone on an island off Alaska, an adventure he chronicled in Inside Passage, a well-received nature book published last year. As a result of the book, Modzelewski was named Bachelor of the Month in last November's issue of Cosmopolitan.
Giggling, Grecco recalls how that magazine brought the couple together. "My niece found an old issue of Cosmo in my closet and she said, 'Hey, this guy's pretty cute. You should write to him,'" Grecco remembers. "I said, 'No way, that's too queer.' But I threw the magazine in my flight bag and showed it to some of the other flight attendants. Everyone thought he was real cute. So even though I thought it was pretty queer, I wrote him anyway."
A smart move. Out of more than 3,000 letters that poured in from the Cosmo blurb (and a similar feature that appeared in Alaska Men magazine several months later), Grecco's communiqu was the one that really grabbed him, Modzelewski says. This was no small achievement, considering that Grecco was vying for his attention with, among other colorful rivals, a convicted murderess who is serving time in Florida, a meddling mom who wrote an impassioned love letter on behalf of her daughter, and a former Miss Memphis who claimed to have dated John F. Kennedy eight times. Other correspondents reportedly attempted to curry favor with Modzelewski by mailing indecent propositions and perfumed panties.
"The Cosmo thing was wild," says Modzelewski. "Ladies were flying in on their own dime from all over the place. They'd come in for a few days or a weekend, we'd have a good time and that was it. It wasn't like they were looking to hook a husband or anything."
Not that Modzelewski took advantage of the situation. "Out of 3,000 letters, I think I only dated about 18 women," he continues. "And I didn't sleep with all of them, by any means. How empty and boring, just carving notches on your bedpost."
No stranger to short-lived liaisons herself, wife Paula bobs her head in agreement.
"When I first became a flight attendant, I was like a kid in a candy store," she confesses with a naughty grin. "Here I was, surrounded by hundreds of men all day. I'd date a guy from this state, then a guy from that state. I thought I was really something. But it quickly got so boring and so queer I just couldn't stand it."
In any event, the binge dating came to a halt when Modzelewski received the mash note from Grecco.
"Can this be one woman?'" Modzelewski remembers asking himself. "What came off in that letter was someone who was very successful at whatever she did. She was a feminine feminist who ran her own show. That's what I responded to."
Modzelewski still marvels over Grecco's incredibly checkered rsum, and one can hardly blame him. Featuring stints as a Playboy bunny, an actress, a Palm Beach master chef and, most recently, a flight attendant, the list reads like the early career path of a Sidney Sheldon heroine.
Grecco erupts in raucous laughter, something she does often, frequently for no discernible reason. "You know what I think attracted him?" she gasps, between guffaws. "You're gonna love this. After he read my letter, he probably thought I was going to wear my ears, cook the dinner, serve it, then say, 'Coffee, tea or me?'"
If that's what Modzelewski really thought, he wasn't far wrong. Grecco reports that she occasionally livens things up by prancing around in front of her husband in her old Playboy bunny get-up.
Truth be told, Grecco appears to be bringing all sorts of fantasy to this fairy-tale romance. Although she repeatedly states that she posed nude in the August 1974 Playboy magazine, her picture appears nowhere in that issue. Quizzed about the discrepancy, she theorizes that the photograph must have actually appeared in a different issue, but she is unable to say which one.
As for Grecco's acting career, her role in the Tom Cruise film Risky Business turns out to be nothing more than a fleeting appearance as an unbilled extra. And despite her claim that she is an accredited master chef (of which there are fewer than 50 in the country), a spokesperson for the American Culinary Federation reports that the organization has no record of Grecco.
Still, there can be little doubt about Grecco's claim to being a tireless self-promoter. Although the TV talk-show circuit is still a dream, she's already used Modzelewski's travel background to win him a spot on You Bet Your Life, the new Bill Cosby quiz show. And just last month, her tub-thumping resulted in an all-expenses-paid cruise to Alaska, in return for which Modzelewski gave two onboard lectures. "See, the more I help him with his career, the better it is for me," smiles Grecco. "Then I get to go on all these cruises and stuff."
"She's a PR wizard," beams Modzelewski. "My career has really gone up since I met Paula. And, you know, I think a lot of it has to do with love."
Modzelewski admits he's learned a lot about that subject since he became the vicarious heartthrob to thousands of Cosmo readers last year.
In the first blush of unenlightened adoration, Modzelewski confesses that he initially treated his box of love missives like a traveling trophy case. "Every time I'd go over to one of my buddies' houses to watch a game, someone would say, 'Bring the letters! Bring the letters!' I'm kind of embarrassed to admit it, but, yeah, I took the letters over. Everyone had a great time sitting around, drinking beer and reading my mail from all these ladies. I know the guys sure got a kick out it, even though their wives or girlfriends didn't appreciate it too much."
Modzelewski's ungallant approach to his personal correspondence eventually reaped dividends, of sorts. Somewhere along the line, he lent the carton of dog-eared notes to a friend, a computer nut who wanted to conduct the sort of survey that some might view as a fem-lib nightmare.
"He thought it'd be interesting to put all the vital statistics into the computer to see how many were blondes, how many were brunettes, what their average measurements are, all that stuff," Modzelewski explains. "I wasn't really interested in those kind of stats, but I thought it would be fascinating to see where these letters were coming from."
The answer? "The American South, two to one."
Puzzled by this geographic bias, Modzelewski telephoned one of his Cosmo pen pals, who lives in Atlanta, Georgia. "What's your take on this?'" he recalls asking her. "Why do Southern women respond more than women in any other area?'"
Without hesitation, the woman reportedly replied, "That's easy. We've all grown up on Gone With the Wind. We're looking for a guy that's a tad bit reckless, but very, very romantic. We're looking for Rhett."
Not so coincidentally, Looking for Rhett also happens to be the title of the unpublished book Modzelewski recently finished. Subtitled Romance in the 1990s, the manuscript chronicles what Modzelewski has learned about life and love since Cupid began buzzing his mailbox last year.
"American women are starved for romance," announces Modzelewski. Somehow, this revelation doesn't seem that surprising, particularly since Modzelewski's research was based largely on his experiences with the sort of women who feel compelled to write love letters to strangers.
"These women complain that the guy lays on the hearts and flowers for the first couple months, then the well goes dry as soon as he's got her hooked. That's the major beef I heard over and over again."
Modzelewski wasn't about to pull that boner himself. "Everything I learned from these other ladies, I now apply to Paula," he says. "I mean, Dustin Hoffman took her out, she lived with [MacGyver star] Richard Dean Anderson and she once had a date with John Glenn. This is the big time, okay? I knew that if I was going to catch this girl, I'd better get on the stick. But I also knew that doing it for two months wouldn't cut it."
Modzelewski kicked off his big-league love campaign by staging a surprise treasure hunt for the couple's second date. Arriving at the San Francisco hotel room where she was to meet Modzelewski, Grecco found a vase containing a dozen long-stemmed roses, along with a note inviting her to look under one of the pillows on the bed. Beneath the pillow was some slinky lingerie, accompanied by yet another note directing her to another part of the room. Several gifts later, the game eventually culminated in the bathroom, where Grecco was instructed to pull back the shower curtain for a final surprise. "Michael had provided everything a woman wants and needs," says Grecco, who discovered a bathtub filled with iced bottles of champagne, as well as several platters of love food--raw oysters and sushi.
"The minute I walked through that door, bam, she was ready for me," says Modzelewski. "It was incredible! If more guys would treat their ladies this way, they'd see it makes all the difference in the world."
How does Michael love Paula? Let us count the ways.
When Modzelewski proposed to Grecco, he did so via a giant banner stretched across an arrival gate at San Francisco International Airport. (I was amazed, crying, and the happiest I've ever been," recalls Grecco. "Everyone cheered.) On one of their earliest dates, Grecco reportedly rounded up a free airline ticket and suggested that Modzelewski meet her for a romantic, if long, lunch in Aruba. And in the ultimate nod to jet-set romance, the two continue to maintain separate residences--hers in Phoenix, his in Berkeley. After all, they're always just an airplane ride apart.
"It keeps things fresh," says Modzelewski, who claims he still manages to see his beloved bride at least once a week, more often than not in some distant city in which Grecco happens to have a layover.
"I want to have an affair with my wife forever," continues Modzelewski, who never fails to show up for a rendezvous with flowers in hand, according to Grecco. "We still want to date," he says. "We've met in Paris, London, Greece and Austria. Even though we're married, I've still got to call up and ask her out. We think it's important to keep that freshness in a relationship."
And when he can't be near the one he loves? "He sends me poems, letters and hot, erotic faxes," explains Grecco. "This man uses words to rival Cyrano de Bergerac! He is so creative--he never repeats himself twice. It's as if there is no end to his love."
Grecco (who, like Modzelewski, has a previous marriage under her belt) advocates spicy communiqus as a cure for any failing union. "One of the male flight attendants I work with told me he was having trouble with his marriage, so I showed him some of the letters Michael had faxed me," she reports. "So he went home and started sending his wife love letters. Now he says they're completely back in love and stuff. Michael's letters to me made him realize how he'd taken his wife for granted."
"Being a creative person, I really get a lot of pleasure out of dreaming up surprises like these treasure hunts," says Modzelewski. "It's a clich, but it's true--it really is better to give than to receive. It's fun. I don't know why more men don't get into this."
How these unconventional love tips apply to the average Joe, who doesn't have access to unlimited free airplane tickets and, horror of horrors, who might even be living under the same roof with his wife, is not exactly clear.
"He'd just have to be a little more imaginative, that's all," says Modzelewski. "Maybe he could spend three hours going through magazines in a bookstore finding pictures for a special collage. Women would rather have that kind of creativity, knowing that he'd spent the time on a special surprise rather than spending a great deal of money."
Despite their endless talk of romance, one can't help wondering why Grecco and Modzelewski seem so obsessed with playing out their love affair against a background of airport metal detectors and gangplanks. Could it be that they are incapable of enjoying one another's company in anything resembling a realistic setting? And why did they bother to spoil their globetrotting courtship with something as confining as marriage?
"Because of AIDS, it's really pass to be a bachelor these days," Modzelewski maintains. "Look at Warren Beatty, Ted Kennedy, Hugh Hefner, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson--they're all married."
"Plus now we get free airline tickets," volunteers Grecco.
Modzelewski beams at his bride. "Paula brought a magic carpet to this relationship."
So are Paula Grecco and Michael Modzelewski really the world's most romantic couple? Maybe. Maybe not.
But you've got to hand it to them. They're certainly made for each other.
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