Greg Dranda was a small-town guy with a big heart whose life was cut too short. He was a regular fixture on the cover of David Magazine in the 1970s and early 80s.
I came across Greg as I was thumbing through a collection of old magazines where I kept noticing his handsome face and perfectly sculpted body on several of the covers. I was sure there was more to him than just a photo so I started digging.
Greg was once a bartender at The Copa and Backstreets in Fort Lauderdale.
Originally from the small-town of Zanesville, Ohio, Greg always had an interest in fashion, acting, and performing. After his 1965 high school graduation he served two years in the army. When he returned he appeared in a few local television commercials. His first big break came when he was asked to be in the showcase role in a film titled “The Killing of Jack Riley.”
Greg, with his vicious smile and serious look, played the killer. The local newspaper described him as a “dark, smoldering sex symbol” with a big career ahead of him.
Acting, though, it turned out would not be Greg’s thing. Instead he turned to modeling and was able to land some big gigs. Around 1971 he left his Ohio small town life for a modeling contract in Atlanta. In the couple of years he spent there he would appear as the focal point in everything from national commercials to magazine ads for major clothing lines.
He even appeared in a Coca-Cola calendar ad. It took two weeks of him waking up in the early morning to capture the perfect mist scene. He hated it.
His “boy next door” look took him from city to city, and contract to contract, but after a couple years he returned home to Ohio. In 1973 he traveled to Florida and was photographed by Mark III Studios in North Miami for a spread in the then Jacksonville based David Magazine.
During his short stay he fell in love with South Florida and would relocate to the area.
Having had some experience in banking, Greg found a North Miami apartment at Summer Winds and got a job at a local bank. It was around this time that he came to terms with his sexuality publicly and began to explore the local gay circuit scene.
Keith’s Cruise Room in Hallandale, Tops and Teejay’s in Hollywood would be among the places you’d find Greg on a Saturday night. Sometimes he could even be found in Miami Beach’s Pin-Up Lounge or up at West Palm Beach’s Turf Bar’s.
After a stint learning to bartend he found himself working “the Pitts” at The Copa. It was at this time Greg began entering, and winning Mr. David, Mr. Fort Lauderdale, and Mr. Florida contests. He even gained some more national notoriety in 1979 when he became Blueboy Magazine’s man of the year. His body became such a famous sex symbol in Fort Lauderdale’s disco era that when “Alive! Magazine” photographed him (without showing who he was) for a story about giving the perfect massage, readers immediately wrote in stating “they’d recognize those pecks anywhere.”
Greg never participated in what he called “tacky take it off” style contests, but did do a handful of artful nude photo spreads for several magazines, including “Alive!”
He always said his success was due to his intelligence, poise, smile, and incredible ability to resist telling his age. He was once quoted saying “As long as you have a good body and people want to pay you to photograph it, you should let them. You won’t look that good forever.”
In all seriousness, he felt his appreciation and sensitivity to others was really key, more so than his good-looking body. And it is that legacy that lives on today. I spoke to Keith Allen of Fort Lauderdale who knew Greg quite well. He told me Greg was a big model train collector. When you went inside his North Miami apartment there would be model trains in all directions everywhere.
“When you looked at Greg you would see the masculine muscular handsome hunk of a man, but when you would go inside his home you would see a sensitive, caring, mothering type of a man,” Allen said.
Allen told me when Backstreets opened in 1981 in Fort Lauderdale, Greg left the Copa and finished out his career there and moved to the Victoria Park area with his partner, Steven, the only partner Allen had known Greg to ever have.
In 1984, Steven died of AIDS and Greg sank into depression. With AIDS beginning to appear in all corners of the gay world in South Florida it wasn’t long before Greg himself realized he too had the virus. Knowing that he probably didn’t have many years left he traveled home to Ohio and back to Atlanta to put his affairs in order.
Greg Dranda died due to AIDS complications on December 11, 1986. He was 39 years old.
His name is commemorated as a patch in the AIDS Memorial Quilt. He will forever be remembered as what David Magazine called him, “A perfect example of what today’s groovy guy should be.”