07/10/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT
Some guys get shy when they're caught in front of a camera. Then there's Tom Elliott. "I wanted him to be rolling over the hood of a car or something," says PEOPLE assistant picture editor Andi Schreiber, who arranged to photograph the 42-year-old California stunt-man. Instead, "Tom basically volunteered to light himself on fire. I kept saying, 'Whatever happens, don't call me from the ICU.' "
And there you have it: the lengths some men will go to for a shot at being the hottest among PEOPLE 's first-ever 100 Most Eligible Bachelors issue. The idea for this cover story came from senior editor Elizabeth Fenner, but not, she assures us, because she is in the marketplace. "I have a wonderful boyfriend," says Fenner. "But my single women friends are lining up for a shot at our New York City outtakes."
Fenner took on the project in January and, with help from assistant managing editor Carey Winfrey, began defining criteria. The fellas didn't have to be rich, gorgeous or famous (though many turned out to be all three), but they did have to be "attractive in the larger sense of the word—worthy people," says Winfrey. Then, says Fenner, "we put out a call to all the PEOPLE bureaus for men over 21 who have good careers and are kind to their mothers and to small children."
After months of reporting—and a lot of research help from New York City reporter Mary Hart—our correspondents delivered a cross-section of eligible males. Reporting in hand, writers Michelle Tauber, Susan Schindehette, Kim Hubbard, Shirley Brady, Samantha Miller and Ting Yu went to work with a will. "There were plenty of cuties," says New York City-based Miller. "Unfortunately I worked on all the West Coast guys, so none of them are in the vicinity."
Art director Hilli Pitzer and picture editor Schreiber keep insisting that the task of capturing each bachelor's appeal on film constituted actual work. "It was a lot of work," says Pitzer. "We were looking at great guys all day!" According to Schreiber, most of the nonceleb bachelors felt awkward at first when posing, but loosened up after a few minutes. And some were naturals from the start. "Tom Foley was very comfortable in front of the camera," she says of the 31-year-old New York City firefighter, who closes out the Top 10. "The photographer didn't have to pull too many teeth to get him to take his shirt off."
It's summer. It's the Fourth of July. Grab a cold drink, pull up a beach chair and enjoy. Perhaps, even clip and save.