Antonio Sabato: Daytime's new hunk -- The handsome star of ''General Hospital'' has raised the soap's rating, and has his sights set on prime time next

By Alan Carter
Updated April 23, 1993 at 04:00 AM EDT

Maybe you thought Regis and Kathie Lee were the only ones keeping track of their fan mail with pushpins on a map? Check out the dressing room (the one with Bartman on the door) of General Hospital‘s Antonio Sabato, the Italian- born former model who has daytime viewers in a lustful lather. Recording the origins of his 300-plus letters per week, Sabato’s map is destined to end up in shreds. ”My goal was a pin in every state,” says Sabato, 21. ”Now I’m getting mail from Australia, Germany, France, and South America. It’s so cool.”

Since Sabato splashed out of almost nowhere (a Janet Jackson video, minor movie parts) onto ABC’s General Hospital as brooding hash-slinger Jagger Cates last summer — accompanied by Chris Isaak’s ”Wicked Game,” the character’s own moody theme music — the 30-year-old show has jumped from seventh in the daytime series ratings to third.

Now Sabato hopes to lure his following to prime time. On April 28, he’ll star opposite Dallas‘ Linda Gray as a seducer and accused murderer in the fact-based NBC movie, Moment of Truth: Why My Daughter? Executive producer Michael O’Hara admits Sabato ”frankly didn’t do that well in the reading, but the camera just loves him. We needed to explain why a young girl would be under this guy’s spell, and with Antonio, well, it’s sort of obvious why someone might have the hots for him.”

More interesting is whom Sabato has the hots for. Married for only three months last year to model Tully Jensen, Sabato is currently attached to actress Virginia Madsen, 31, whose picture sits on his dressing table. Two years ago he briefly and quietly dated Madonna (”we went to a little place where no one cared”) and says he would like to have made a pass at Janet Jackson during the filming of her 1991 hit video Love Will Never Do, but ”she was really in love with someone at the time, and I didn’t want to f— up the job.” As for men, Sabato’s idols are Marlon Brando and Al Pacino. ”They’re so fascinating,” he says. ”You have to wear seat belts to watch them.”

After his divorce, Sabato moved back to his parents’ home in Marina Del Rey, Calif. Antonio Sr., 49, a former spaghetti Western actor turned spaghetti restaurant owner (Trilussa Cucina in Beverly Hills), and Yvonne, 45, a realtor, dispense food and guidance. ”We are like one,” says Junior of Senior. Junior is hoping his next move will be feature films (his GH contract expires next April). Advice to Hollywood’s big-screen hunks: Wear your seat belts.