Melanie joined the Eileen Ford agency in July 1973. "She was a very pleasant kid but naïve," says Jerry Ford, Eileen's imperturbable husband. "She had a bit of a weight problem. Good mouth, good teeth."
Already, by March 1974, she was doing well enough for Seventeen to run a cover story, "Meet Melanie Cain," which concluded to the effect that "everything about Melanie is refreshing—she's the image of everything wholesome, like Kellogg's Corn Flakes."
Melanie's first apartment in Buddy Jacobson's building was on the ground floor. She shared it with a couple of other models, Colette Blonigan and Pita Green. Later, she moved up to the seventh floor. 7C. (Sometime later it was to be rented by Jack Tupper.)
Melanie had never met anybody like Buddy Jacobson. He was slight, with shaggy hair by now—not the short back and sides of his early years on the track—a nondescript dresser, not remotely like the male model she had been seeing for her first months in New York. But his rap was awesome, his presence hypnotic.
Jacobson's reverses had not diminished his appetite for control—had, if anything, increased it. He is remembered for cultivating eccentricities back in the ski-lodge days. "He would never wear socks," says an associate. "He would ski without socks. If you argued that something was red he would try and convince you it was green."
Not too long after the Seventeen cover, he talked the slightly reluctant Melanie Cain into partnership in a model agency, named for a favorite show, My Fair Lady.
The competition in New York was already heavy, but Buddy had a strategy. "They wanted young, fresh faces. They told me they just threw a dart at the map and went where it landed," one model said. One of the darts, presumably, landed on Minneapolis. And, for all that Minneapolis knew, My Fair Lady was the Ford, Wilhelmina, and Zoli agencies combined. "They came out in the fall of '75 and advertised in the papers," she added. She said she knows of seven girls to whom Buddy Jacobson handed airplane tickets. For a while she stayed at the back of the agency, sharing a small room with another girl, and she still likes Jacobson—"I don't think he did it"—but she stayed only a month and a half before moving eventually to Eileen Ford. "Buddy wasn't really doing anything for us," she said, simply.
Buddy was doing things for Buddy. Mainly in property. He acquired the Park East, a former hospital on 83rd, and planned to turn it into a $3-million co-op. His workmen were Italian, mostly from the South, mostly unacquainted with English, occasionally lacking papers, and always fanatically loyal to their capo.
Neglected, My Fair Lady languished but survived. "They tried to be professional," says Zoli. "There is always some work around. They did hands, legs, lingerie."
"They had pretty girls," observes Andrea Quinn of Seventeen, "but offbeat types. Like girls who were too short." Most agreed the agency's only substantial asset was Melanie Cain.
Cain's relationship with Jacobson lasted, in sheer propinquity, some five years. But the second half was not like the first. Six times she packed and left. But Buddy's control was hypnotic. She always returned.
But the control went beyond the autocratic to the obsessive "I have no friends," Jacobson told me with no regret. One visitor to My Fair Lady recalls Buddy shouting into the telephone, "What do you mean, he's your friend? There are no such friends. There are people who want to use you." Models staying in the building were discouraged from allowing boyfriends to use the swimming pool. It was Buddy Jacobson's domain.
Also, there were the lies. About his age, for instance—Buddy passed for mid-thirties. More oddly, he introduced David and Douglas, his sons, as his younger brothers. And about his women. Buddy Jacobson subscribed fully to the Hefneresque myth that the superior man is denoted (or created) by a continuous sequence of swiftly executed copulations, but he carried things to an especially loveless limit.
"It's tremendous, the power he felt. He's sitting in Nicola's with four girls, nine girls, thirteen girls," recalls an acquaintance, Nicola's being the pleasant restaurant opposite Jacobson's building. "But he wasn't interested in the girls.
"I don't think he was really into screwing. Nothing kinky. I once saw him with this fabulous young broad, and I asked if she was a good f - - k.
"He looks at me strange. 'What do you mean?' he said. 'A f - - k is a f - - k.'"
Jacobson handled his compulsive infidelities well enough for a while. One time, Melanie caught him in flagrante and fled. He walked in later and said, "I've decided to forgive you." But the pressure was slowly becoming too much. Modeling, moreover, was no longer satisfying. For a couple of years, she had been taking dancing classes. Jacobson told her to stick to the modeling. How could she compete with girls who have been training since the age of six? "I told her she would end up as a hoofer in Vegas," he said. But Melanie was discontented. Then somebody else with plans moved in. Jack Tupper.