The model in the spread was then-twenty-one-year-old Cheryl Rixon, who had indeed been one of Guccione's favorites — never his lover but, like certain other Pets, a protégée, a surrogate daughter with whom he could share his sardonic black humor, his life-wisdom and his dreams. First appearing in the magazine in December 1977, and made Pet of the Year in 1979, Rixon lived in the House with Guccione, Keeton and a handful of other Pets for four years, from 1978 through 1981, and was put on a small retainer. She worked hard for the company as a model. "I was in the studio three or four days a week," says Rixon, who today lives in Los Angeles, where she runs her own jewelry company and is married to a partowner of the ultrahot Sunset Strip restaurant Chi. "I was doing shots for Penthouse, for Viva, ads, editorials, fashion. I traveled all over the planet promothing the magazine."
For Rixon's Pet of the Year pictorial, Guccione flew with her on the Concorde to England to shoot in his London apartment. On the eve of their departure, Rixon had gone to the gym, where she happened to see supermodel Janice Dickinson strike an upside-down yoga stretch pose. Rixon duplicated the pose for Guccione as a special surprise at the photo shoot — sans leotard. "Bob was just entertained," Rixon says. "He thought that was the best idea anyone had ever come up with."
The shoot lasted a week, and the pair worked all day, every day — an exhausting regimen, especially for Rixon, who was twisting herself like a contortionist through the daylight hours and getting no sleep at night. "I would be on the couch, and Bob would come into the living room and sit on the floor and talk the whole night, telling me all about Catherine the Great. I saw that entire film, even though it was never made. He sat and described every frame of that movie to me."
Rixon liked and respected Guccione, but life back in New York, at the House, she says, was often "uncomfortable" — and not only because of the curfew and because all her phone calls were logged, timed and (she was told) taped. There were also the complex psychosexual dynamics that ran beneath the House's carefully cultivated facade of propriety, not to mention the ruthless competition between the Pets and Keeton — both of which Guccione fueled, partly as entertainment for himself, partly to foster greater loyalty from his dependents. "All the girls threw themselves at Bob," Rixon says. "They imagined that they would take Kathy's place." Rixon herself did not pursue Guccione (she was dating Roger Taylor of Queen at the time), but far from this endearing her to Keeton, it did the opposite. "Only later did I understand that she was offended that I didn't try to steal Bob," Rixon says.
Rixon's own sojourn at the House came to an abrupt end in 1981.