Rhonda Shear Interview: 'Up All Night' Host, Lingerie Queen, Raises Funds for St. Jude Children's Hospital
Written by Melissa Parker, Posted in Interviews Businesspeople
Rhonda Shear has become one of the most successful women’s designers in North America. The well-known host of the incredibly popular USA Network’s Up All Night and former beauty queen helms her multi-million dollar Rhonda Shear Intimates and is beloved for her quick wit, show stopping presence, and clever soundbites.
This dynamic entrepreneur and Home Shopping Network (HSN) TV personality has combined her greatest strengths – beauty, brains, and (com) passion – to helm HSN’s celebrity team for this year’s St. Jude Children's Research Hospital 5K on Saturday, November 20. Twiggy, the world’s first supermodel, will be joining Shear at the start, Northwest Hillsborough YMCA in Tampa, Florida, shortly before 9:00 AM EST.
"St. Jude is an awesome hospital. They don’t turn any kids away and they do spectacular work. Marlo Thomas looks amazing. I saw her in New York when we did the premiere of the ornaments. Her father would be so proud to see what she’s done."
Shear married her high school sweetheart, Van Fagen, on January 11, 2001. They currently live in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Rhonda, you were born in New Orleans?
Rhonda Shear: Yeah, my husband and I are actually reunited junior high school sweethearts. We’re getting ready to celebrate our 10th anniversary after a 25-year separation. We’re these couples that you read about … like those old couples that get back together.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The two of you found each other again on Classmates.com.
Rhonda Shear: He was looking for me; I wasn’t looking for him because I was in LA and wasn’t planning on my life changing. He was still in Louisiana. He got me when I was a kid and he got me again! We’re actually so meant to be, though. We really are soulmates and we’re having a blast! We’re in business together, the whole deal.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What happened to the relationship when you were younger?
Rhonda Shear: We went together three years, which was from 13 to 17, and then I started getting really popular. I was flirting with the boys and he got jealous. It was pretty innocent but he couldn’t handle it. One day he came to pick me up, I wasn’t there, and he broke up with me. We tried to get back together but he would not make up with me.
Van came back when he was 23. He was about to propose to his future wife, but he just wanted to see if there was anything there for us. I was on my way to LA and I didn’t have any desire to see him. I was still kind of mad with him that we broke up (laughs). Then 23 years later his wife had this midlife crisis and she left him. One year after they divorced he reached out, gave me every phone number he had (so I knew he was single) and we were going back and forth.
I was flirting with him just because I thought it would be fun to just see the first guy you ever kissed. I went back home December 27, 2000, and we eloped 15 days later. He was just so different from all the LA boys. I forgot what it was like to be with a real guy. The LA guys were great but they fought for just as much mirror time as me.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): They wanted a lot of attention.
Rhonda Spear: Exactly. I was dating these guys in the entertainment business, but I’d go back home and Van was chopping wood and cooking fish he had just caught. It was like a new experience (laughs). He’s a great businessman on top of all that, too, so that was a bonus.
We weren’t planning to get into the intimate apparel business at all. It was something he put together for me because I had an interest in it from my Up All Night days. I just liked lingerie, but the fact that he was able to literally turn this into a major business was really something. It has been teamwork, too – my creative side and his business side.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): In between your years of first dating each other and your marriage you won some beauty pageants and was even accepted to law school.
Rhonda Spear: Yeah and that’s what made me mad. I won all of those pageants, Miss Louisiana and so on, then I didn’t hear from him during those years. He just came moseying back after all those years (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you really want to be an attorney?
Rhonda Spear: No, when I was in New Orleans I was holding all of these different titles. One was Miss Floral Trail Queen. That was actually not so much a beauty pageant as a social honor like the Queen of Mardi Gras. My parents had put up money for me to reign as Queen of this organization that beautifies the parks and everything. Anyway it was a conservative organization.
I had posed for Playboy with all my clothes on. It was for something called “Girls of the New South.” I was wearing a full out antebellum gown. Later I took things off, but back then I didn’t (laughs). The Floral Trail people got really upset over just the connotation of me appearing in Playboy back then. Those were some conservative times. They dethroned me even though my parents put up money so I sued them.
The guy who spearheaded the whole thing was running for office for something like the Registrar of Conveyances. In New Orleans it’s an elected position. Just to get back at him I threw my hat into the ring and then I ended up really getting into it. I almost won (lost by 120 votes). I decided that I should get into politics. I was the first and youngest woman to ever run for anything in Louisiana so that was very cool and ahead of its time. I went back and I was accepted to law school. I went to LA that same summer and my life changed. I thought, “I don’t think I’m going back to go to law school. I think I’m going to be an actress.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Bob Hope basically discovered you?
Rhonda Shear: The first thing I did was a Bob Hope Special. Out of a thousand girls he picked me. One thing led to another and the next thing you know I had an agent and was getting booked on all these different things, so it was just meant to be. After the Bob Hope Special I did a lot of hosting and acting, then finally I got USA’s Up All Night. They wanted a sexy over the top hostess and I was doing stand-up comedy at the time.
That led me to my love of lingerie because we decided to put the character of late night in lingerie and keep the boys titillated. What’s so funny is that now I have all these fans who grew up with me that have been clamoring for me to bring back the show. They grew up with me just like I grew up with I Dream of Jeannie.
I get all of these interview requests from these kids that grew up watching Up All Night. They say, “You need to bring it back!” My husband is saying that we are going to bring it back on the Web. He wants to produce it, do it Web based, and just basically charge a yearly fee to see the movies. These kids want more of that whole horror genre. It’s interesting how things can come full circle.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Many of the old horror films are cult classics.
Rhonda Shear: Yeah, no one is doing anything like this. These guys say, “You’re my idol. I grew up with you.” You just don’t think of things that way, you know?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Right. How did you begin the business?
Rhonda Shear: I was private labeling other people’s lines in the very beginning and not designing. We had such beginner’s luck back then. That was 8 years ago and now everything is designed and we manufacture everything.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What is the Ahh Bra?
Rhonda Shear: It’s a leisure bra and a very comfortable four-way stretch. There are no hooks or wires and you can step into it. It’s amazingly comfortable. It’s my everyday bra because I can’t deal with underwire anymore. This bra has always been a huge seller on the Home Shopping Network.
My husband said, “We should turn this into an infomercial.” I didn’t see a bra as an infomercial, but we co-produced it. You usually go into an infomercial and these companies will give you 3%. You can create it and own it, but they produce it for you and you get 3%. We went to a company and we told them we were either partners or it wasn’t happening. So we’re 50% partners in this big company out of Canada. They’re awesome.
The infomercial business, depending on who you’re in bed with, can be a little shady. The Infomercial Monitoring Service rated us #1 for five weeks and that’s rare. Women love it. It’s so incredible to help women and have them feel really good about themselves. Who knew? It’s a little bra and my husband’s creation.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Tell me about the St. Jude fundraiser on November 20.
Rhonda Shear: That’s through HSN, which is our biggest customer other than our infomercial. That’s why we moved to St. Pete from LA. They’re very involved with St. Jude’s and Marlo Thomas and they asked me to be a team leader. I created a Christmas ornament for them and it’s sold online. I was involved with St. Jude on a lesser level in LA. So many celebrities get involved with it and I used to do dinners for them so I know the organization well.
I’m a team leader for the 5K walk coming up which is a cool honor. Twiggy, the model, is one team leader and I’m the other team leader. I used to idolize Twiggy and now we’re good friends. She’s still an icon and a special lady. I’m trying to raise the most money for my team for HSN. Many other HSN celebrities will be there.
I can get many local friends to walk in it. I said, “We’ll put them all in the Ahh Bra so they’ll be comfortable during the walk.” People can donate if you go to my page through St. Jude and look up the walk. It’s linked to HSN’s page, my Facebook, and Twitter. It all links to the walk in Tampa. Each team has a goal of $5,000 and we’re happy to make more.
St. Jude is an awesome hospital. They don’t turn any kids away and they do spectacular work. Marlo Thomas looks amazing. I saw her in New York when we did the premiere of the ornaments. Her father would be so proud to see what she’s done.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you traveling now doing stand-up?
Rhonda Shear: I’m not traveling at the moment, but the business is taking off internationally. We travel to Canada on a regular basis and travel back and forth between New York and Los Angeles because of manufacturing, so we’re in the air a lot. We also hit all the lingerie shows such as Curve in Las Vegas and New York. We’re always on the road so I love being home.
I’ve been doing a show called “Rhonda Shear’s Pajama Party” for years. It’s just my girls and me all in lingerie on stage and I’ve had so many requests to bring it back to Law Vegas. I just can’t find the time to totally dedicate to the show. All of my comic friends say, “We’ve gotta do this!” Somehow I’ll fit it in again.
Our company is really expanding right now. We have a retail store called Maison Rouge (“Red House”) from our native New Orleans roots and we also just bought a building that’s 24,000 square feet. We have a great house on the water and we keep adding things to it so we just redid the backyard. It’s just pretty crazy right now.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Any spare time for cooking?
Rhonda Shear: I’m a Domestic Diva on top of everything else (laughs). I love cooking.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Cajun food?
Rhonda Shear: Yes, my mother and husband’s mother were great cooks. The funny thing is I never really cooked just because I was single. I never married until I married Van. When we first married he was in the kitchen cooking up a storm. I asked him how he learned to cook and he said, “Well, men do that in South Louisiana. My mother was a great cook and I used to watch her.”
I got competitive and pulled out my mother’s recipes and it all came back to me. My mother was more of a Creole type, a combination of French and Italian. His mother did that, but also the Texas food so he has both things going. When we have dinner parties people clamor to come to them. We definitely have popular parties because of our food. We love to entertain.
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