Rhonda Shear has a story to tell! The model-actress-comedienne-businesswoman-designer-philanthropist-political candidate (Whew!) can now add “author” to her diverse resume. Named after the successful USA Network’s ’80’s/’90’s B-movie show that Shear hosted (ushering countless numbers of teenage boys into an early puberty in the process, no doubt!), her new book is named Up All Night: From Hollywood Bombshell to Lingerie Mogul: Life Lessons from an Accidental Feminist. In a culture where so many celebrity autobiographies come and go, Up All Night is anything but just another skin-deep portrait of a Hollywood sex kitten. Indeed, there are many titillating anecdotes about her fellow stars (and even a politician or two!), as well as many eye-popping photos within the pages. But Shear’s book is also deeply personal, provocative, insightful, inspirational, motivating, and busting with unflinching insight into the experience of being a woman in the entertainment business. Shear tells her unique story while vividly bringing to life the American pop culture landscape that surrounded her through the years. Best of all, it’s fun to read, with Ms. Shear’s smart, sassy sense of humor infiltrated throughout. Like so many young women, teenage Rhonda wanted to become a performer, and she was determined to fulfill her dream. But even before her plane landed in Los Angeles in 1977, this girl’s life was anything but ordinary. Raised in New Orleans, Shear was a frequent winner of beauty contests (She won three Miss Louisiana pageants.), a model, a candidate for New Orleans Register of Conveyances, and even the the subject of a good old Southern scandal: Named “Queen of the Floral Trail Society”, she was stripped of her title after appearing in Playboy— fully clothed! Shear realized early in life that there was power in beauty, but she used it cautiously. Unlike many of her peers, she never succumbed to the casting couch when she dealt with Hollywood’s infamous sexual status quo. In her own words, “It was more effective to be alluring, seductive, and just a little bit out of reach.” Unlike so many beautiful women in Hollywood who try to distance themselves from being called a “sex symbol”, Shear embraced the role. She frequently appeared as the all-American man’s object of desire in so many classic TV shows through the late 70’s and ’80’s (from Happy Days to Three’s Company to Married With Children). There’s even a post-Hollywood style Lifetime Television for Women-style happy ending: In 2001, Shear was reunited with her handsome junior high sweetheart, Van Fagan, after over 20 years. The two married and started their own business together. Interestingly, the charismatic actress would find her most lucrative endeavor– and her longest steady gig in front of a camera — with Home Shopping Network. In 2010, Shear designed the Ahh Bra, and the product was an overnight success. The Ahh Bra was the number-one selling bra worldwide, with over 35 million bras sold internationally.
RHONDA SHEAR: THE ALL NIGHT INTERVIEW: Star Uses Brains, Beauty, and Business Sense to Stay On Top!
But there’s also a serious side to Shear’s book. In her path to success, she discusses the struggle she faced with keeping her homegrown Southern girl values in La La Land. In addition to battling the notorious “boy’s club” mentality of Hollywood at the time, Shear also had to fight for respect as a comedian. Like her friend and role model Joan Rivers, she wanted to be taken seriously as a funny girl. She succeeded largely due to her unflinching work ethic (“If an agent didn’t hustle at least as hard for me as I hustled for myself, I dropped them.”) as well as her
sheer Shear determination.
Not surprisingly, there’s talk of making Shear’s book into a movie. Inserting a joke about the recent Oscar winner The Shape of Water, the actress tells me, “It would be really amazing if somehow that happened. Who knows what they look for out there right now? I guess it has to have a fish in it…!” She adds, “There is something to be said about strong female movies. I would actually want to go even further than what was in the book. My story has a lot. There was date rape. There was a strong love of someone who I really cared for, but I was really young and too afraid to get into a relationship and ruin my career. You had to be single back then. It was such a different vibe. You had to have the appearance of being single and being available. It was just a really different time. Also, people are finally talking about it (sexual harassment) in Hollywood, with the #MeToo movement, but no one’s really portrayed it on camera yet. It would be really interesting. I had my dreams. I had my goals. I studied to be a performer. But then you have all these people telling you ‘Well, if you sleep with me, then you’ll get what you want. But if you don’t, oh well.’ It didn’t matter if you went to college, or how educated you were. It made you feel dirty and cheap.. On the other hand, I think the #MeToo movement has gone too far. Without a doubt, I know from my days that many of these people go along with it. They not only go along with it, but they throw themselves at people, wanting to get ahead. No one’s talking about that. But that was as prevalent as everything else! There are strong feelings on both sides.”
Rhonda Shear and her husband now live in St. Petersburg, Florida with their five dogs. They are true partners not only in life but in their business, Shear Enterprises. Van handles the financial aspect and Rhonda handles the marketing. As Rhonda puts it, “It’s divided well!” The sexy Ms. Shear took the time to speak to me about her book Up All Night and much more:
JR: Hi, Rhonda! Congratulations on Up All Night! I love the advice that you give to women, whether they are in the entertainment business or not. You encourage them to keep their own personal ethics, and remind them that they shouldn’t have to– and DON’T have to– barter with their sexuality for their career. It’s a very empowering message.
RS: It is! You can have someone dangling a carrot in front of you, literally (Laughs). I’ve really had some powerful people do that to me too. Of course, I was never represented by them, because I wasn’t going in that direction. I tried to walk this line of flirting with these people and making it seem like “Maybe one day…!”. It became like a game to me. But I never did go that way! They weren’t going to do anything unless you did go in that direction. It was either their way or the highway. So, I had to do it on my own, legitimately! Of course I never really got the big, big things that were offered to me, because it was a different level. It’s the same in all businesses, but of course the prize is bigger in Hollywood, obviously: fame, success, power!
JR: Well, you definitely did it YOUR way! What was the process of writing the book like for you?
RS: My book was a blast to write, and it took a little bit longer because I would go on these binges where I would write, write write– and then I would go away for a month and do “real life”… so it was interesting. I do want to write another book which is closer to my career now: about women’s self-image, and how they think of their bodies, and how they think of themselves. As a woman, it messes with your mind when you get a little bit older, and you gain a little weight, and you feel like you’re worthless because Hollywood has put all this stuff on you. I deal with women every day who feel this way. They feel, “I’m not the same!” or “I don’t look the same”. People beat themselves up. So, I want to write about that… but I want to do it with levity!. I have so many stories from other women. When you’re in the bra business, people open up to you!
JR: No doubt! Body image affects men as well as women. As you write in your book, when we reach a certain age, we wake up with body parts we didn’t have before (Laughs)… and gravity can be very unkind as we get older, even if you exercise and eat right! You can only fight so hard!
RS: Yes, there’s only so much that you can do! I have a hairdresser who’s very powerful: She’s not only a stylist. She owns her own salon, and has invented a lot of techniques with hair. She’s quite sought after in the industry. She’s been brokenhearted by a couple of guys. She just texted me about a date she had last night… but since she just had her heart broken recently, she decided “It’s too early to date!” I said, “No! You gotta get out there! The first guy you date is not necessarily gonna be ‘the one’!” But you have to sharpen your dating skills the same way you would sharpen your career skills. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s true. I have so many friends who feel that way, who may just want to stay home. But the right person– male or female– is not going to just drop into your life. You gotta get out there and circulate. People don’t do that anymore because of social media. They just text. But before I met my husband, I was dating. I was juggling about eight or nine! I wasn’t sleeping with those guys. You don’t have to do that to have a good time! That’s part of the whole thing too: You don’t HAVE to sleep with someone. If someone forces that, then just walk away. But you do need to sharpen your dating skills. I bring that up in my book too: People don’t know how to date or flirt anymore. And it’s going to be even harder with the whole “movement”. You can’t even tell someone “You’re cute”, because then you’re up for sexual harassment accusations.
JR: While we’re on the subject: As someone who has been in the entertainment business for so long, how do you feel about the explosion of people coming out and talking about sexual harassment in the entertainment business?
RS: I’m glad it’s all coming out. Look how long it’s taken people to speak up! People were terrified back then. I would have never spoken up about the things that I went through. There was no voice. Not only was there no voice, but no one would have listened. Things happen in the right time. The climate would have never accepted people speaking up back then. It was completely a boys’ club, and you would have been tossed out. There’s the story in my book about me and Henry Winkler, when I went to do a commercial instead of coming to rehearsal for a part I had gotten on Happy Days. That really hurt my career– at least the career I was going after at the time: sitcoms. With Henry Winkler, it wasn’t sexual: He let me go because of an ego trip, because he was “The Fonz” and he could do it, and he wanted to show me: “Oh my God, you took a commercial?”… and “I’m The Fonz and you weren’t there.” I had asked permission to do the commercial. I was way too meek at the time to ever do something without getting tons of permission. I thought about this years later: It did end up blackballing me– unsaid blackballing. All those people who had loved me from that whole sitcom scene never used me again after that situation when I was let go… and they had been using me on a regular basis for small parts. I believe that the small parts would have turned into a major part. But he nipped that in the bud. I’m not mad at him for it, but it did hurt my career at least in the sitcom world, which I was so interested in doing when I first moved to L.A.
JR: That was their loss! I know that when I watch all these old sitcoms on TV today, I see the same faces over and over again. The casting seemed almost incestuous! It was apparently a very tight-knit community.
RS: You’re right! It was incestuous. That’s why casting is so much more complicated than what people think. But a lot of that goes on in Hollywood. It’s just about favors! But those are just about small parts. It’s the big parts (Laughs) that the Harvey Weinsteins were totally in control of! Oh my God, when I think about that guy! I won’t say “all” those gals, but I can tell you that a great many of them were playing his game. It’s sad. There was no one larger!
JR: Your book was so prophetic. You wrote about exactly what everyone’s talking about now. But in the book, you make it a point that a woman can use her beauty and talent to her advantage WITHOUT having to cross that line.
RS: Right! It’s very seductive when someone says “If you sleep with me…” or “If you do this…” then you’ll get that role. Think about it. I was never in that situation when someone offered me that major role that would be life-changing… but you can imagine if you’re some young girl or some young guy and someone does that… and you’re like, “Wow!” And then you think, “Well, this isn’t really me, but how can I turn this down?” I can see both sides of it so easily. Again, it happens everywhere… but Hollywood and Washington, D.C. are where the power is, and there are many women and guys who go out there to play that game and follow that power and money… But hey, I’d rather be sitting here in my backyard just like I’m doing, looking out at this beautiful boat that’s been anchored there for like two weeks! I don’t know what it’s going there, but I’m thinking, “Wow, if you have a boat then you can have free rent everywhere!”
JR: (Laughs) You’re making me jealous. I wish I was in Florida now. It’s cold here in New York! So, you also brought up in your book that didn’t mind men hitting on you, as long as they were nice and well-intentioned about it, and as long as they didn’t go overboard!
JR: Like you said before, people have to learn social skills!
RS: That’s what it is. Social skills. Oh my gosh, they really, really do! God knows, I fall prey to the texting thing too. Because sometimes you just want to text and not go into the whole conversation thing. I love texting, but sometimes I’ll catch myself and my girlfriends texting, and I’m like, “Why are we doing this? Let’s just talk!” and we’ll call each other. It’s ridiculous But I imagine that if you’re younger and you’re in that world where there’s JUST texting, then I don’t even know if they know HOW to talk! Even in my own office, so many of my gals are in sales and they e-mail… and if someone doesn’t answer an e-mail right away, they don’t reach out. I tell them, “You still have to get on the phone and call people.” But they want to just hide behind e-mails. We’re working on that! (Laughs)
JR: That’s a great thing! So, in the book you write about your very unique upbringing in New Orleans. I haven’t been there yet… but it’s on my list of places to visit!
RS: You have to go! It’s such a culturally rich city. There is a lot of crime there, so you have to watch your back and know where you’re going. But I have to tell you, it’s such a part of American history and it’s so unique. You do not feel like you’re in this country when you’re in the French Quarter in downtown New Orleans. There’s the architecture. It’s fabulous. And of course, there’s the food. There’s nothing like it anywhere. They have their own cuisine. They have their own accent. There’s a sultriness that hangs in the air there which is very cool. I’m very proud of my city!
JR: You grew up in New Orleans, lived in L.A. for 26 years, and spent a lot of time in New York City too. For a woman who partied at the Playboy Mansion and who hung out with every other star imaginable, what is life in Florida like for you?
RS: (Laughs) My husband Van and I were living in L.A. We were junior high school sweethearts who were reunited. We floundered a little bit in the very beginning, because we were both very strong people who had always worked for ourselves. I mean, I was hired by other people, but I was the one working at it as an actress. You have to get yourself hired. He had always had his own business. Neither one of us were good for working at a “regular” job, I guess you’d say. He basically sold his business for me. He was a true entrepreneur. I didn’t realize until a few years into our marriage how great he was at putting businesses together. But the one way we were both very similar was the way we would both take a shot at things and not look back. We were both like, “Let’s just go for it!” When we got married, we were like, “Now what?”… because we really didn’t think it through. We started the business, and Van suggested that maybe if we moved closer to HSN, which is in St. Petersburg, that our business would grow even more. Our business is not seasonal. Undergarments are worn year-round! So, that’s what we did. We kept an apartment in L.A. for many years, but then we decided to just go for it and come here. In the beginning, I was mortified. I was a Southern girl and spent a lot of time in Florida when I was growing up. It was the closest vacation spot for my parents to take four kids. But Florida just seemed so… different! Remember, I had lived in Beverley Hills for so many years. When we got married, I had finally talked Val into moving to L.A. So, a year into our marriage, we first went from Louisiana– which was like living in something out of Green Acres— to going back to Hollywood, and then finally to Florida. It was a chance to do something together. But for my husband, putting together a business was nothing new. I was at the marketing end. We completely self-financed. No bank was going to talk to a couple new to a business that they had never been in. At first we were low on funds, but we believed in ourselves. So, we moved here, took that chance, and our business did grow. It literally exploded by being here. Being live on HSN sold more product. You’d be on at 3AM to move product. Probably from my Up All Night days, I’ve always been able to sell at crazy hours of the day or night when a lot of people normally don’t move product– not because of their personality, but for some reason my product just works around the clock. Having someone who can sell at all hours of the night is something that HSN or any other shopping network looks for. It was both good and bad: Good because we were moving product, but bad because I had to go to the studio at crazy hours. Remember, it’s all live! But anyway, when I first moved here, it seemed very “poduck-y” to me. But now I’m sitting outside in my backyard as I’m talking to you, overlooking a harbor. The homes are beautiful. I absolutely love it! Now, I would not be blasted out of here! But I think that different cities suit you at different points in your life. St. Petersburg does have a Southern feel, but you also have people from all over who moved here. So you don’t really hear that Southern twang– at least in the city proper. The zoning is really weird. You can have a neighborhood next to a trailer park next to a business. So, that took a little bit to get used to! A lot of people at HSN were recruited from New York and L.A. All of them in the beginning were like, “Ooh…I don’t know about this!” But we’ve all watched St. Petersburg change since 2004 or 2005 when we first moved here. The vibe is so cool now, with great buildings and great restaurants and great boutiques. But we’ve also seen a city with no traffic become one with heavy traffic! At least it’s not L.A. traffic. I love my hometown of New Orleans. I’m so glad that it was my background. You grow up thinking that everyone should have a “go cup” in their hand and should be drinking around the clock, or go through a drive-thru daiquiri stand and know that you can have an alcoholic beverage in your car! That’s just weird. But if your from New Orleans, it was normal. My parents used to drive down Bourbon Street– back when you COULD drive down Bourbon Street– and you could see nearly naked girls. And then of course, there was Mardi Gras. You expected everyone to have a Mardi Gras in their city too! New Orleans was an interesting place to come from, but I love where I am now! We have great friends. We do a lot of charity work. We are involved with John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. The city is very museum-rich, and very music-rich, and very artsy. The Salvador Dalí Museum houses the largest collection of Dalí’s works in the country. It’s also a very accepting city– no matter what you do, or how you dress, or whatever your preferred sex is. It’s all good. It’s very Democratic and very Republican at the same time– but it seems to work here! We also have some of the most beautiful beaches! The city has its own little sexy vibe going on here– and in some areas, it’s actually reminiscent of New Orleans, with some of the balconies… and in downtown Tampa, with their backdrop of the Cuban influence. So… now you have to visit New Orleans AND St. Petersburg! (Both laugh) Look at me, bragging about my town! A few years ago, I didn’t want to change the area code on my cellphone. But I did. I went from 310 to 727! (Laughs). How could I ever give that up? But after getting past all of that, it’s been paradise!
JR: Wow! That sounds amazing! So, as a sex symbol and an expert on beauty, I want to know: What percentage of being beautiful or sexy is actually looks, and what percentage is something else– like, for example, confidence, or intelligence, or other qualities?
RS: I think that if you’re confident, that makes you more beautiful both inside and out. Take Meryl Streep for example. Sometimes I think she’s not that attractive, and other times I think she’s really beautiful. I think that’s the confidence level. I used to think that about Cher. I would think, “Wow, she’s really beautiful!” and then I would think, “No, she’s really not!” If you’re going by just straight looks and she just walked into your house, you probably wouldn’t know her from Adam. But if you put off that air of confidence– that “it factor” as my father would call it– then that makes you beautiful. I think maybe it’s 60% confidence. I know a lot of pretty women and men too who are not confident. They don’t “shine”– so you tend to overlook them. I guess you have to have a little bit of both looks and confidence. That’s why I think that when people are job hunting, they’ll say that attractive people tend to get the job before the unattractive ones if you just go by looks. But I think that it’s more that someone can put themselves together the right way and look professional. And that’s with any job, not just show business. They have to have that “shine”. We just hired two young ladies, and they both have that “it factor”. So, I do think that confidence and how you handle yourself are both important, whether in show business or anything else.
JR: In your book, you write about how Joan Rivers was such an inspiration for you as a performer, especially as a woman of comedy. The two of you also have something else in common: In addition to performing, she found an even more lucrative career selling her own line of clothes and jewelry through QVC. Like you, she was able to reach out to an even wider, mostly female audience. She worked her tuchus off as a performer, but most of her wealth came from her QVC line. God bless her for that!
RS: That does not surprise me at all. With our “Today’s Special”s on HSN, we can sell quantities that retail can’t come near. She was on QVC, which was about three times the size of HSN. So, when you think of those kinds of numbers, there you go. By the way, we were just bought by QVC! I’m quite excited about it. Mindy Grossman, the former CEO of HSN who’s quoted in my book, is wonderful. She changed the face and look of shopping television. She was a great visionary. She’s now CEO of Weight Watchers, and I’m sure she’ll do amazing things with Oprah: She’ll either end up running her political campaign or end up running her network. She’s that kind of mover and shaker. But I think that at the end of the day, I look forward to being a partner with QVC. I think that’s exciting. My husband and I own our company. I’m not a paid spokesperson. I used to have a little bit of a Hollywood ego, where I’d say, “Well, you know, in Hollywood I’d still have the paparazzi to take my picture…”! I still have great respect for the people there. My husband tells me, “Your respect here is the paycheck. Be quiet!” (Laughs) He’s right. At the end of the day, that’s the respect anywhere. We’re still on the air, we’re still making money, our brand has grown… But if you’re an actress, you still want someone to go, “That was a really great performance!” You’re not going to get THAT kind of love! I tell my husband, “But if I’m not getting it from them, can’t YOU at least tell me how good I am?!” (Laughs) It’s interesting. But Joan knew all that… and her brand is still alive and well. They still love her brand. It’s funny: After she passed, Christie’s had a couple of her auctions. It wasn’t as big as the one in New York City, but they did have an online auction. I actually got a necklace of hers. I was so excited. I didn’t even tell my husband. I just did it!
JR: I won’t tell him, I promise!
RS: I just had to have that necklace. I was so excited when I won it. It’s beautiful! It’s an 18 karat gold chain necklace. Just the fact that she wore it is so exciting to me. I loved her. And she used me a lot on her television and radio shows. She was a bit of a mentor to me. I “got” her whole business background. She was a workaholic. That’s what kept her alive. What killed her was such a horrid mistake.
JR: Oh, I know. I still can’t see her on TV without getting all emotional. (Pause) So, on a lighter note: Your business is making women feel beautiful and sexy and, most importantly, making them feel good about themselves. It can sometimes be challenging to feel that way after a certain age, given our youth-obsessed society. But then I’ll see someone like Sophia Loren, who’s 83 years old. When I met her in person last year, she was still every inch a beauty and a sex symbol. How can women still feel sexy after 40, 50, 60, et cetera…?
RS: I think that Sophia Loren is a perfect example. It’s confidence. It’s also about not “letting yourself go”, mentally or physically. You don’t need to dress to the hilt or dress like you’re going to the Oscars every day, but it doesn’t hurt to put on a little lipstick, and get your hair and nails done. Keep yourself up physically. I can get away in this community with being dressed down, which is part of why I love it. And sometimes it irritates me, because I want to play dress-up! (Laughs) I think you should always keep your mind active. Keep reading , researching, and learning. Stay up on technology, even if it means going to a class. Be around younger people. I don’t like older people who feel like, “I’m older and I know it all!” Hang out and socialize with younger people. My husband and I have a lot of social events and charity events. Even last night, we had 10 people at our house. The ages were from the 30’s to 78. And we have friends in their 20’s. Those are our friends, and I don’t see age with them. You don’t have to try to dress or look younger, but be around younger people. Be open to them, and they will be open to you. I think that it’s really important. And it will give you the confidence level if you feel like you know what’s going on instead of going, “Oh, these kids!” Understand things like hashtags. It doesn’t mean you have to be out there tweeting, but at least understand what’s going on.
JR: Yes. At least know what an “emoticon” is! (Both laugh)
RS: I tell my friends who are married that it’s OK to have a date night with your husband. You don’t always have to be home and cooking. Go out! Have a Thursday night or Saturday night date where you go out and wear more than your sweatpants. Treat it as a special night. A lot of this came from my mom. She’d always say, “Get dressed up for your husband!” She’d probably be mortified that I’m NOT as dressed up for my husband as she would be. I don’t think you have to do it 24/7, but I do think that if you keep yourself up, your loved one will notice. If you care about yourself, then other people will care about you too. That’s part of it!
JR: How about men? What makes a man sexy?
RS: That’s so funny! I just had this conversation. My husband just turned 65, which I can’t believe. I’ve known him since I was 12! I had a little dinner party for him, and I had this Marilyn Monroe lookalike. It wasn’t like one of those singing telegrams. This girl was a real performer from Orlando. She was really great. She sang and put on a whole show, and embarrassed him and all that! But later we found that she also does impersonations of Katy Perry and a couple of other gals. My husband declared, “Oh, I have a crush on Katy Perry!” I went “WHAT?! Where did that come from?” Well, I have a crush on Ed Sheeran! I actually said this last night, and some of my male friends were like, “He’s not attractive!” I said, “Are you kidding? I think that kid is so sexy. I love that kid.” For me, I have never gone for the pretty boy or the blue-eyed blond or the brunette or whatever. I have always gone for intelligence, and people who write well and have command of the English language, and who have wit! I love wit! I guess I go for someone who I can sit and talk with, and play with. I love the fact that my husband is like me in that we’re spur-of-the-moment people. We can be doing absolutely nothing and I’ll say, “Hey, let’s get in the car and drive to Sarasota for the weekend!” and he’ll go “Yeah!”. So, for me those things are really important. I’ll tell you what else I find really attractive, at least with my husband: He just walked through the back door, and he is flirting with his dogs right now. He’s talking baby talk with them. I think that’s one of the things I really liked about him: He puts on baby talk for my five little girl dogs. You have to be able to play with your mate, and cry with them, and be spontaneous with them. Spontaneity is a big part of what turns me on. I wouldn’t want someone so rigid that they’d say, “Oh no, we can’t do that.” For me, that’s important. And I still do have a crush on Ed Sheeran! (Laughs) Van can have his crush on Katy Perry all he wants!
JR: Hey, crushes are important. I’m sure that a lot of guys still have crushes on you from when they saw you on Up All Night in their teens and their 20’s!
RS: (Laughs) Yes, they do!