BY MICHAEL J. RUDOLF
Wyoming County Press Examiner
Students at Tunkhannock Area High School know Robert Northerner as a substitute teacher. Some of them recently discovered his more prominent earlier career.
Before going into teaching, Northerner, of Mehoopany, spent several decades as a fashion model and actor. He appeared in numerous print ads and commercials during the 1970s and 1980s, and also had some small roles in movies and television.
“I honestly don’t know how they found out,. I keep a low profile,” Northerner said, noting that he never mentioned his modeling work to the students. He believes a student may have seen his photo in an old catalog and recognized him.
Now that they know, he’s happy to talk about it with them.
Northerner, a native of Seaside Heights, N.J., said he never intended to become a model. It was one of those classic instances where he was “discovered” by being in the right place at the right time.
Northerner explained that he was in a New Jersey shopping mall where a fashion show was under way. A woman came up to him and asked if he was a model. When he said no, the woman offered him $150 on the spot to model a suit in the show.
From there, his career bloomed. The organizers of that show introduced him to representatives of the LeJeunesse Modeling Agency in New York City.
“They signed me immediately, which was just unheard of,” Northerner said.
It wasn’t long before Northerner moved on to bigger agencies, such as International Top Models and then Elite.
While he was doing photo shoots for Elite, Northerner said the agency had an affiliation with 20th Century Fox. The agency sent him to Hollywood for a casting call with noted producer Dino De Laurentiis.
Northerner said De Laurentiis told him he had a face for movies.
“He said to me, ‘If I were you, I would pack my bags and move to Hollywood. You’ll work every day,’” Northerner recalled.
Taking that advice, Northerner landed a small role in the soap opera “The Young and the Restless,” and had bit parts in several movies, most notably as a dog handler in “Ragtime.”
Even though these were relatively obscure parts, Northerner said they helped advance his career.
“These were all seeds that were being planted,” he said.
Northerner got frequent work in television commercials, an continued doing print ads as well. He said he had a rugged look that agencies were looking for at the time.
“I was fortunate that I didn’t need a lot of make-up,” he said.
His resemblance to some more famous celebrities didn’t hurt, he noted.
“They kept saying I looked a lot like Robert Redford,” Northerner said.
Some of the ads Northerner said people might remember him from include a campaign for Irish Spring soap from the 1970s. He was also one of 17 models to portray the “Marlboro Man” in cigarette ads – even though he never smoked.
Northerner also posed for book jackets in the series of James Bond novels. He also appeared in a poster for a Superman movie, where he is seen from the neck to the waist, ripping open his shirt to reveal the superhero’s classic “S” uniform.
“They wanted someone who was fairly well built, but not overly muscular,” he said.
During his career, Northerner said he worked with several other models who later went on to have prominent acting careers. He recalled doing a shoot in New York with a young Tom Selleck. The two men exchanged portfolios before they parted.
“The next thing I see, he’s on ‘Magnum, P.I.,’” Northerner said.
Northerner’s modeling career had an abrupt end as a result of a medical condition.
He said that while he was doing a photo shoot for an ad for Arrow shirts, he noticed a large bulge on the side of his neck. Initially he thought it was throat cancer, and had surgery to have the lump removed.
As it turned out, the lump was benign, and Northerner was cancer-free. But the surgery left him with a large scar on his collar line.
“It ended my modeling career,” he said.
Northerner decided to go back to school, earning a master’s degree in archeology and history from Monmouth University, and taught at the university’s archeological field schools.
A few years ago, Northerner and his wife Carol – a native of Meshoppen – decided to relocate to the area where she grew up. Northerner had hoped to get a teaching position at Keystone College, but that didn’t work out.
Because he doesn’t have state teaching credentials, Northerner said he isn’t permitted to teach full-time at the high school level. But he is qualified to be a substitute, and gets steady work at Tunkhannock Area in a number of classes, mostly history and science.
“Out of 182 days last year, I was in for 179,” he said.
At age 60, however, Northerner said the time may be right for him to return to modeling. The years have weathered his skin, he said, making the scar less noticeable and giving him an even more rugged appearance than ever.
“The modeling field has changed. There’s a big demand for models who look like me,” he said.
Northerner offered some advice for people who want to get into modeling. He said a lot of it is timing, and being properly prepared.
Newcomers who approach modeling agencies should be equipped with three photos: a head shot, a body shot and a tasteful swimsuit shot.
“They’ll look at those pics and they’ll look at you and study you,” he said. “They want to see if there’s some confidence in you, whether you can project to the camera.”
Modeling agencies can be brutally honest, Northerner said. If you aren’t meant to be in that career, you’ll know right away, he said.
“And if they like you, they will hire you,” he added.
To get back in the modeling field, Northerner said he would probably have to move, most likely to the Virginia area. It’s bittersweet, he said, because he likes teaching and the students at Tunkhannock.
“The only way I’d stay up here was if I got a permanent teaching job,” he said.
In the meantime, Northerner said he is enjoying his rediscovered fame. He is more than happy to talk with students or anyone else who wants to get into modeling.
“I’d love to sit down and talk to any one of them who is interested,” he said.