05/02/1994 at 01:00 AM EDT
When the telephone rings in the bedroom of Jennifer Flavin's apartment in Manhattan Beach, Calif., she eyes it suspiciously. The tabloids have been calling her nonstop for weeks now, and the 25-year-old model has had enough. She sits unmoving through one, two, three rings. Finally, after the fourth, she reaches over with a frustrated shrug and picks up. "Hello," she says unenthusiastically. Then her avocado-green eyes brighten. "Ohhh, Steve!" she coos. "It's been a long time! I...no, I can't talk right now. Can I call you back in about a half hour? Mmmm. Bye." She hangs up and resumes sitting, comfortably crossed-legged, on her bed. "Dating," she says with a wink. "I'm working it, babe."
At up to $5,000 a day—and with new contracts with Revlon and MCM Luggage—she is one of fashion's hot models, but a convincing actress she ain't; the wink in Flavin's eye can't quite hide the wistfulness in her voice. Behind her facade of good cheer is the news dropped on her last month from out of the blue—literally via Federal Express—that her longtime boyfriend, Sylvester Stallone, had unexpectedly and unceremoniously dumped her. "He sent me a six-page handwritten letter, in pen," she says. "It was pretty sloppy."
But not so sloppy as to obscure the bottom line: their 5½-year romance was over. The reason, which she learned not from Stallone's March 11 "Dearest Jennifer" letter but from her agent at the Elite modeling agency a few days later, was that Stallone, 47, had been having an affair with another woman, model-photographer Janice Dickinson, 37 (see story, page 95). On Feb. 23, Dickinson had given birth to a baby girl, Savannah Rodin, widely reported to be Sly's. "It hit me like a ton of bricks," says Flavin. "I had no idea this was going to happen. We talked about us having children, about when I was going to get pregnant. We were already picking names, marking down names that he liked and I liked."
Stallone, shooting his latest thriller, The Specialist, in Miami, has declined to comment on his romantic life. His friends and family arc also keeping mum. "I don't know anything about it," says Stallone's mother, astrologer Jackie Stallone. "I only know what I see on TV"
Flavin, too, has resolved to put the past behind her as soon as possible. Still, she is quick to admit that the sudden breakup and the humiliating revelation about Sly's possible father-hood felt "like every woman's worst nightmare."
It was, to say the least, a surprising end to what she thought had been a rewarding romance for both her and Stallone. The two had met by chance in a West Hollywood restaurant in 1988. She was a 19-year-old Valley Girl visiting Hollywood with a friend; he was a first-magnitude star with a celebrated love life. By 1984 his extramarital affairs—including a 10-month relationship with Susan Anton—had led to the breakup of his 10-year marriage to Sasha (mother of his two sons, Sage, now 17, and Seargeoh, 15). A spectacularly tempestuous 548-day marriage to Danish Amazon Brigitte Nielsen ended in 1987 and left Stallone feeling, he said, "battered," "scarred," "trashed" and "humiliated."
And then, into that hip Hollywood eatery walked Jennifer. During the next few years, Stallone's career bounced from lows (a disastrous comedic turn in 199l's Oscar) to highs (last year's smash thriller Cliffhanger). Through it all, Flavin remained at his side—and he at hers. One day she was on his arm at the latest L.A. AIDS benefit, another day he was front-row at the Paris fashion shows to cheer his favorite model down the catwalk.
But it was their time alone together—often spent at his $8 million home in Benedict Canyon or his $4 million spread in Malibu—that meant the most to them both, says Flavin. "I'd come over, and we'd watch a movie, cook dinner, goof around with the dog or walk on the beach," she says. Other times, Stallone drove to the San Fernando Valley to hang out with Jennifer in the family home she shared with her mother, Shirley, 58, a secretary, and her sister Julie, 23—one of Jennifer's six siblings—until two years ago. (Her father, a postal worker, died in 1980.) The sanity of that life seemed to do the superstar good. "I'm loving life again," Stallone told the Toronto Star three years into the romance. "Jennifer has made all the difference."
And yet despite its apparent authenticity, the relationship was far from orthodox. "When we come together, it is wonderful," Stallone said in 1991. "When we are separate, there are no strings attached. That's the way it is. No strings." At the lime, Flavin met Stallone's bachelor bravado with some worldly-woman posturing of her own. "I'm not naive about what may go on when I'm not around—he's a 45-year-old man—I can't change the way he is," she declared in 1992. "Still," she added, "he's not a cheating dog every day of the week. We spend five out of seven nights together, so I don't know where he'd find the lime."
That he did find the time is now clear. Those close to Flavin have little trouble understanding her naïveté. "Jennifer just always wanted to trust in him no matter what," says her mother. Adds her longtime friend Kirstin Wolf: "She's the kind of girl who wants to believe in the best in everyone. She said, 'I know he loves me.' So it was never an issue." But in hindsight, Flavin says she does feel a bit gullible for believing Stallone's frequent protestations of innocence. "I'd always hear things," she says, "but he'd always kind of defuse the situation. He'd say, 'Oh, she just wanted a picture with me' or something like that. Being a star, people are always going to talk about you."
Flavin doesn't know exactly when Stallone first met—or became involved with—Dickinson. The two models have worked together and even socialized. Two years ago, Jennifer and Sly bumped into Janice at Planet Hollywood in Manhattan (Stallone is part-owner of the chain) and hung out to chat. "We had a good time together," says Flavin of their occasional meetings, "but I never knew...."
The fact is, until the moment the Federal Express man knocked on her door on March 14, Flavin believed her relationship with Stallone was right on track. As she tells it, three weeks before cutting himself loose, Stallone was playfully teasing her about her rotten drives on a golf course in Malibu. A week after that, Flavin says, the two were making plans for her to join him on the Miami set of The Specialist.
When Stallone arrived in Florida, however, it was Dickinson and her newborn baby, Savannah, who flew in to be at his side. Stallone called Jennifer, she says, and suggested she postpone her arrival. "I thought he was just a little nervous about moving to Miami and starting a new movie," says Flavin. "Now I know he was a lot nervous," she adds with a giggle. "It's a good thing I can laugh about it now, right?"
At first, she admits, "I cried a lot. I called all my friends. And I cleaned my apartment about five times. I had so many pictures and things to get rid of." In the aftershock, what hurts Flavin most is the way Sly chose to break up. "I was disappointed," she says. "You can't just write somebody off in a letter after six years. It's not like I was going to try to beg him to come back to me or anything. I just wanted to talk."
Flavin's friends say she is better off without him. "Jennifer doesn't want the picket fence," says Wolf, "but she does want someone she can come home to—and trust." Despite the disappointment, though, Flavin insists she's not bitter. "Everybody thinks I should still be upset," she says. "But since the news I've just been carrying on with my life. I mean, we broke up, and it's a major part of my life. It was hurtful, but you learn by your mistakes, and you pick up the pieces and carry on."
She is looking out for herself these days—emotionally and financially. "I feel good now," says Flavin. "I sleep well at night, better than when I was seeing him." Flavin is, she makes clear, a working woman—always has been, always will be. "Sylvester has never given me any money," she says. "I've never asked him for any money, and I wouldn't start now." In addition to her modeling she is working on several projects for the Home Shopping Club: a line of skin-care products, her own brand of modern costume jewelry and a new health drink.
The benefits of this busy schedule go beyond the financial. She has little time to brood over Stallone or what the two might have had together. "This turned out for the best," she says. "He's got a healthy baby, and I've got a healthy life."
Flavin reaches over and picks up one of her mementos from life with Sly: a bronzed casting of his veined, muscular forearm and his outstretched hand draped with climbing ropes. Stallone, an accomplished amateur artist, made several of the pieces after finishing Cliffhanger. Does she plan to get rid of it now? Flavin shrugs. "No," she says. "It'll make a nice paperweight."
KAREN S. SCHNEIDER
JOHNNY DODD in Los Angeles