When Anna Bjorn Tells Husband Jakob Magnusson to Take It Off, She's Only Rehearsing Lines
Anna Bjorn and Jakob Magnusson's marriage faces more threats than most. At 25, Bjorn is one of the world's most beautiful and successful models. She earns more than $2,000 a day for her "Take it off" and "Trust Anna" Noxzema commercials (following in the historic tradition of Noxzema girls Gunilla Knutson and Farrah Fawcett) and for the Sassoon ads in which she swirls her blond hair.
Jakob's career so far is in low gear by comparison. He created a critical stir in U.S. jazz last year with his first American LP, Special Treatment, which was heavy on electronic sounds. It was, Jakob, 27, now admits, "probably too complicated for the average listener." That means the album was not a commercial hit.
The couple's social life presents other problems. Married two and a half years, Jakob and Anna decorate many prestigious guest lists, partying with Christopher Reeve, Maud Adams and Britt Ekland. "At any time a fabulous woman might walk in, or a handsome man," Jakob admits. "We're aware of the dangers." Still, says Bjorn, "Jakob's so laid back. I've only known him to be jealous once. That was kind of nice."
Income difference and temptation aside, the couple seems secure. "It would be hard for either of us to have a life with somebody else," Jakob says. "There's no one else here who understands about back home."
"Home" is Iceland, probable birthplace of explorer Leif Ericsson, a rocky 40,000-square-mile country with a population of 230,000. Anna's grandfather was Iceland's first dentist, she says; Jakob's onetime French teacher is currently its Madame President. For years Magnusson's rock band, the Studmenn ("Groovadelics," he translates), has been selling thousands of records there, which is the equivalent of millions here. "At home we were big fish in a small pond," he explains.
Still Icelandic citizens, he and Anna have revived the once-dormant Southern California chapter of the Icelandic American Association. It has 400 members. There are quarterly meetings, with Icelandic films and such foods as gravlax (marinated salmon), herring and caviar. Several times a year the couple return to Reykjavik, Iceland's capital. It has, says Jakob, "lots of artists and writers" and a regular influx of tourists, including dancer-cum-salmon-fisherman Mikhail Baryshnikov.
While Bjorn and Magnusson went to the same high school in Reykjavik, they never met. Anna, who was two years behind Jakob, recalls, "I had glasses and braids and no breasts then. He wouldn't have looked at me." In London in 1974, however, a friend of Magnusson's who ran a modeling agency saw a picture of "this Icelandic girl" in a newspaper. Jakob tracked her down and asked her out. On their first date he ordered inkfish, a relative of the squid. "She refused to eat it," Jakob recalls, "and that was our first argument." "First and last," adds Anna.
They began living together in 1975 and the next year went back to Iceland. Bjorn resumed her college studies, majoring in English literature, and Magnusson made records. When veteran British rocker Long John Baldry asked Jakob to play keyboards on a 1977 Canada tour, Jakob had to say yes: Elton John, Mick Jagger and Rod Stewart all were Baldry sidemen at one time. Anna came along, and at tour's end in Vancouver they decided to see L.A. "It was a smogless day," Jakob recalls. "We sort of looked at each other and said, 'This is where we want to be.' "
They pawned their cameras to buy a car, an unpainted 1976 Mercury they parked around the corner when they went job-hunting. Soon Anna got an interview with Nina Blanchard, the models' agent who discovered Cheryl Tiegs. "You'll get your cameras back real soon," Blanchard told her. "We're going to make a lot of money together."
Bjorn was picked over hundreds of other models for the Sassoon account, her first big break. Since then she's represented more than 100 products. Meanwhile Magnusson signed with Warner Brothers for a modest advance. "Nobody's ever been signed from Iceland," Jakob says. "I was a novelty." His first album pleased top jazzmen Tom Scott, Stanley Clarke and Freddie Hubbard so much they're playing on his second, Jack Magnet (after a common mispronunciation of his name). Due out in January, "It's more an R&B pop kind of thing," says Jakob, "not so self-indulgent."
He and Anna became husband and wife in March 1978. Explains Bjorn, "Society wants you to get married if you live together." Jakob rented a Rolls-Royce for the wedding, which took place in a Japanese garden he found in Pasadena. But, he adds, "Marrying didn't make a lot of difference to us."
Though extended business trips often keep them apart, Anna says, "We both understand what the other is going through." Jakob insists he doesn't care that her income is greater; they are enjoying the money regardless of who earns it. "We enjoy wasting it together," says Anna. "Where we come from, money doesn't matter that much. Other things are important, like family."
Bjorn's father was also a dentist; her mother was a TV ad director. (The parents divorced when Anna was 6.) Anna wanted to be an actress so badly she once soaked her hair in cow urine, believing an Icelandic folk tale that such a shampoo would make it blonder and thicker. Nonetheless, by high school she planned to be an interpreter, until a friend convinced her to try modeling in England. Anna landed her first major acting job last year in More American Graffiti; though the movie was hardly a smash, the Los Angeles Times called her "a bewitching newcomer."
Magnusson's father was an importer. His mother was an artist and pianist. They too were divorced. But Jakob says, "When the Beatles broke up I took it more seriously than when my parents did." A language major at a small college in Reykjavik, he considered a political career until his senior year, when he formed a group called Rifsberja (the Cranberries). They became the Studmenn in 1974.
In California Bjorn and Magnusson water-ski, sail, roller-skate and entertain in their pink three-bedroom house, which is filled with tasteful Art Deco objects.
Anna admits, "We don't have any ties here." But that could change. "The dogs keep biting people," she says of their mixed Lab-Dobermans, Nina and Frederik. "We may turn them in for babies."
Currently the best measure of their status is in L.A.'s wheeled society. They sold their old bomb to a movie company that rolled it off a cliff for a low-budget film. Now, in true Hollywood success-story fashion, Bjorn and Magnusson drive a Volvo and a BMW.