Nick Nolte, male model

By EW Staff
Updated September 15, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT

To play Thomas Jefferson, Nick Nolte donned a ponytailed wig, covering the golden locks that helped start his little-known career as a model. Before the 1976 mini series Rich Man, Poor Man made Nolte a household name, his face had already appeared in households — on boxes of Clairol Summer Blonde hair lightener.

Nolte’s modeling stint began after the Nebraska native moved to Minnesota in 1969 to act at the Old Log Theater in the town of Excelsior. Don Stolz, the Old Log’s producer-director, recommended Nolte to the Minneapolis-based Eleanor Moore Talent Agency. ”He looked somewhat Scandinavian,” says Jane Noyce, who worked at the agency. ”We are all very Scandinavian up here, so he fit right in.”

Though already nearing 30, Nolte soon became ”the hot commodity in Minneapolis,” says Noyce, who booked him for modeling jobs until he left Minnesota two years later. Nolte appeared in TV and print ads for the utility company Northern States Power, she says, and was featured in newspaper ads for Dayton’s department store. Describing what sounds like a precursor to the Lucky Vanous Diet Coke commercial, Noyce says that whenever Nolte visited the agency, ”nothing would get done. I mean, the office kind of stopped. He had this charisma about him.”

After Nolte had begun acting in New York in 1971, he posed for the Clairol box. One prominent modeling figure — Ford Models president Joe Hunter — remembers Nolte making the rounds, and came close to working with him. ”He interviewed with us, and we loved him,” Hunter says. ”We wanted to represent him. But he didn’t have his heart in it, because he wanted to be an actor.”

By the time Nolte broke into the L.A. scene in 1973 with a role in the William Inge drama The Last Pad, his modeling days were behind him. Though his hunky look still turned heads, he agreed to just a couple of TV commercials and no print work in L.A., according to Mimi Weber, his personal manager from 1973 to 1981. ”He was delicious looking,” she says. ”He really was.”