Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Jason Savas: Unmasking the Hero

Beginning in the Mid-20th Century, model Steve Holland found plenty of opportunities to influence the look and feel of men's action-adventure poaperbacks. Transitioning from a mediocre acting career, Holland went on to become the “Face That Launched a Thousand Paperbacks”. Collaborating with artist James Bama, Holland would be the face of pulp icons Doc Savage and The Avenger and later era heroes including Richard Blade and Mack Bolan. After Holland's immense impact on the genre from the 1950s through the 1970s, a new face began to emerge, seemingly a successor to Holland's photo-realistic throne.

That man was Jason Savas.

After years of rigorous investigation, Paperback Warrior was finally able to locate Savas. In a revealing interview, we discussed his childhood, modeling career and his current endeavors as an aspiring Hollywood screenwriter.

Jason Savas currently lives in the same New York City apartment he was born in. Surrounded by his large collection of sports memorabilia, the 65-year old explained that athletics at an early age led to his eventual introduction into the lucrative world of modeling.

“My mother put me into the dojo when I was six-years old. I studied Judo and practiced it for a long time. I was a jock and competed in Judo tournaments and then in high school I did wrestling and lacrosse. I wanted to be a jock, and jocks played college sports. I wanted to play professional sports. This was 1977 and I had long hair down to my shoulders. My girlfriend in college was with me and we were walking by a poster or sign of a model and she said you look like that guy up there.”

After graduating from the City College of New York (C.C.N.Y.), Savas found himself walking through Central Park and bumped into a former wrestling competitor from high school named Joe. Little did Savas know that this quick exchange would effect the next 11-years of his life.

“Joe told me he had become a model and said I could do it too. He gave me a name and a number. We ended up going to the beach and someone took some photos. I stumbled into fashion modeling during the summer of 1979 and was lucky enough to work almost everyday for years after signing with Wilhelmina Model Agency. My earliest work consisted of trade publications...newspaper and magazines...catalogs, designer press kits and magazine work such as G.Q. and Men's Wear doing both editorial and advertisements. I was still new to the industry and both surprised and excited by the wide variety of modeling work available.”
In December 1979, Savas began modeling for the first of several Gianni Versace ads and by 1980, he was all over the fashion world posing everywhere from cigarette ads to cosmetics. But in 1981, Savas also found himself doing a different type of modeling.

“I found myself in a studio shooting a book cover. It was very strange because I had never done illustration work and it was different. I got to wear a costume and it was over in a flash because a shoot only lasted one hour and you were done. Very simple, but fun. Then I started doing more and more book covers. I guess I took over the reins from Chad Deal [a popular 1980s cover model]. I did over 1,000 covers and interestingly, I did more romance novels than action or western. Romance was the largest market and many times we got to wear period clothes which makes it even more fun. The one-hour shoots allowed a modeling agency to slip us into several photo shoots a day and/or in between 'real modeling' jobs. Book covers were a bit like play acting. I enjoyed shooting the covers because you never worried how you looked because you would be painted.”

Savas explained that these shoots originated with the publisher contacting the modeling agency and requesting a certain type of model – rugged, blonde or dark hair. He stated that 99% of the time the illustrator was present at the shoot. Once the photos were taken, the illustrator would then paint the photo and insert various location settings. For the majority of Savas' career, he paired with photographer Robert Osonitch.

“Robert Osonitch was the king of illustration photographers. He had the operation down pat for every type of shoot: lighting, back drops, clothes. His studio had a major wardrobe collection and he was an excellent director as well.”

Savas adds, “I own one oil on Masonite, 20” x 30” without the type (pictured) that I bought from the artist Steve Assel. He used me many times for western covers, including a half-dozen Louis L'amour stories. He was an excellent artist and I enjoyed working with him. Also there is a vast difference in talent among the artists, very noticeable. It seemed to me that Harlequin used the lesser artists while Zebra, Warner, Fawcett and several other companies had more money to pay for the better artists.”

The model's painted photo can be found on a majority of Stephen Mertz's 'M.I.A. Hunter' series published by Jove. He is also featured on noteworthy action-adventure series like 'Avenger', 'Eagle Force', 'Out of the Ashes', 'Vietnam Ground Zero' and a number of stand-alone titles like “Black Moon”, “The Raid” and “Long Ride Home.”

“I have a list of over 1,000 covers and probably found close to 250 physical books mostly in airports. One of the Harlequin romance writers, who lived in Iowa, requested me several times and showed up to a shoot one day. We became friends and she gave me a book cover of myself in nine different languages.”

After his 11-year modeling career, Savas invested in a business and his passionate sports memorabilia hobby (click HERE to see videos of his vast collection). He even authored his own action-adventure novel titled “The Messenger” in 1999. These days, Savas is hard at work writing screenplays and hopes to find some Hollywood interest.

Find a paperback featuring Jason Savas? Email us a photo or the book's title at


  1. Wow! Kudos for finding and interviewing Savas! Great sleuthing and a great post!

  2. Lots of additional photos of Savas on the Paperback Warrior Facebook page.

  3. Great piece. Do you know if he had any awareness of Steve Holland?

  4. Great article, always interesting to learn more about the people who appeared on the covers of these books. Did notice you misspelled 'paperbacks' as 'poaperbacks' in the intro though.

  5. Fun! Shared to the Historical Mystery Books facebook group:

  6. My aunt was an art director for a few of the big romance book companies. Back in the late 70s and early 80s, she would take me on the photo shoots and I got to see the entire process from picture taking to artwork to book cover. I was maybe 13 or 14 when I met Jason. He was just so sweet and nice to me. I watched him shoot multiple covers and of all the dozens of shoots I witnessed; he is the only model I remember. Here I am 52 and I still think of him fondly. It was great to see an article written about him and to find out what he is currently up to!

  7. Great article on Jason! Can you get a message to him for me? He used to advise me about our mutual friend, Bryan Lucas back in NYC in the late 80's. My name at the time was Carla Levene and he can now find me by Carla Morton. If you can get this message to him, it would be much appreciated. I'd love to connect with him.