Jessica Vartoughian Has Nailed Down a Claim to the Title of First Manicurist

updated 12/12/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/12/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

Sirens blare and red lights flash. The guard at the White House gate salutes smartly as the limo pulls up. Out steps a petite, dark-haired woman clutching a lumpy bag. The theme music swells to a crescendo as the title credits fill the screen. Yes, folks, it's another episode of Jessica V., Emergency Manicurist.

The series is imaginary, but the scene is real. Jessica Vartoughian, self-described "nail doctor" and manicurist to the stars, is also responsible for the upkeep of Nancy Reagan's First Nails. Back in 1981 Vartoughian reportedly flew from her fashionable Los Angeles "nail clinic," Jessica's, to Washington to give the First Lady an emergency manicure just prior to Ronald's 70th-birthday party. "It is an honor to do the First Nails," says Vartoughian, 43, who has been handling Nancy's hands since Ron became California's Governor in 1966. Vartoughian does the First Lady's nails about every two months, either when Nancy is in California or when Vartoughian is in Washington on other business.

Faithful clients such as Nancy, Diana Ross, Linda Gray, Anne (Mrs. Kirk) Douglas and Betsy Bloomingdale have made Jessica Hollywood's hottest manicurist, hands down. In little more than 20 years, she has gone from being an immigrant Rumanian making $2.50 an hour doing manicures at a Beverly Hills department store to heading Jessica's Nail Care, Inc., a company she says will gross $5.5 million in 1983. Her empire includes the flagship Sunset Boulevard clinic, seven franchise shops and a line of nail-care products sold in more than 4,000 beauty parlors and stores across the country.

Vartoughian (née Sarkissian) was brought up in a close-knit Armenian community in Bucharest. She was married off at 16 to a man she says she neither knew nor liked. She left both her husband and Rumania in 1960, traveling first to Beirut and then to Los Angeles, where she was reunited with her parents. After learning English at Hollywood High School at age 21 and passing the state licensing exam for manicurists, she got her department store job. Nine years later she started her own company.

Jessica married another Rumanian, Victor Vartoughian, 50, in 1966. They had known each other back in the old country, where he was a celebrated soccer player, "the O.J. Simpson of Rumania," according to Jessica. Victor now serves as president of the company, while Bergi, her 25-year-old son by her first marriage, is sales manager. Jessica, Victor and their daughter, Nadya, 11, live in a four-bedroom home in L.A.'s Hancock Park section.

Actually, Jessica rarely comes in contact with a cuticle these days; she leaves that to the 28 manicurists she employs. Of course, she keeps her hand in on those special cases...

And so, pausing only briefly to admire her handiwork, Jessica slides back into her limo, allowing herself a small smile of satisfaction. Fade out.

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