Rhonda Shear first entered the national spotlight as Miss Louisiana in the mid-1970s, competing in the Miss USA campaign. Just a few years later, Shear was a regular in television and film projects, years before she co-hosted USA Up All Night with Gilbert Gottfried. Shear still acts, although that has been only one facet of her career.
In 2001, Rhonda Shear started a company with husband Van Fagan. Rhonda Shear Intimates was a staple of the Home Shopping Network within a few years, and by 2011, it had done $72 million in sales. In addition to its trademark Ahh Bra, the company has also produced cosmetics, swimwear, and fragrances. Shear Enterprises has also collaborated with celebrities on their own product lines, including former Playboy Playmate Crystal Hefner. The success of Rhonda Shear Intimates has led to many industry awards, including Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in Florida, cementing Shear as a top entrepreneur.
Things have come full circle for Shear who recently released her first memoir, Up All Night: From Hollywood Bombshell to Lingerie Mogul, Life Lessons From An Accidental Feminist. The book chronicles Shear’s transition from beauty queen, to on-air “bimbo,” to running a company which has done over $100 million in sales with no signs of slowing down. The Ahh Bra is reportedly the number-one-selling bra in the world with well over 30 million sold. More on the multi-talented philanthropist can be found at www.rhondashear.com.
I knew about you from Up All Night, but re-discovered you after hearing you on Gilbert Gottfried’s podcast. Is that something that you have heard from a lot of other people?
Rhonda Shear: Definitely heard from some of Gil’s fans. They were happy to know I was still out there, and after listening, they even thought I was “further out there!” That had to be the dirtiest show I have ever done. Of course I was helping feed the fuel with Gil. I know his buttons. He is hysterical, especially with naughty impressions of old male comics. Even my guesting on Howard [Stern] didn’t come up or down to that low. I love Gilbert. He is brilliant. We had great times on the few shows we guested together during our USA: Up All Night years. It doesn’t surprise me a bit that he is a great dad and a great hubby to fabulous Dara [Gottlieb]!
Up All Night: From Hollywood Bombshell To Lingerie Mogul, Life Lessons From An Accidental Feminist is your new book. How long did you spend writing it?
Rhonda Shear: A little longer than I wanted. A year and a half. I wrote it first as an autobiography, then realized that was lovely for me and my family. I thought that perhaps not everyone would remember their glorious puberty years of USA: Up All Night. I went back and reworked the entire book, editing and shortening many stories. Taking lots out, but adding life lessons and the bubble over my head about what I was thinking during different episodes of my life. From Louisiana beauty queen, politician, stand-up comic, movie host, posing nude for Playboy, finding love and marriage at 45 and truly becoming an award-winning entrepreneur. Who knew I wasn’t a Bimbopreneur?
When it came to writing the book, did you know the full story before you wrote it? Or did you realize that certain parts of your life needed to be focused on more as you were writing it?
Rhonda Shear: I had an idea, but like most lives, so many things early on lead to the end result. The hardest time I had was finding that order to make sense to the reader. So many things start at almost the beginning of my life and come full circle. That’s one of the lessons. Use all knowledge we receive in a lifetime. Never stop learning. And as my dad always said, “be nice to the people on the way up, cause you never know who you will meet on the way down.” Humble is key.
— Rhonda Shear (@RhondaShear) October 9, 2017
Your first step into entertainment, as far as I’m aware, was within beauty competitions. Did you have aspirations to act when competing in pageants?
Rhonda Shear: I did pageants so I could refine my dance ability to win Miss Dance of Louisiana. Which I never did. My earliest ambition was to major in choreography. After I won my first trophy and crown, it became about collecting crowns and accolades. I was 16! I learned to love competition and become a good sport, win or lose. Still my mantra.
As Miss Louisiana I was sent out to Hollywood for a modeling job and by a stroke of luck auditioned for an episode of Happy Days while there. I was bitten by the acting bug. But at 19, my parents said, “No Hollywood” until I had my degree.
When in your career, did you become a businesswoman? Did you do anything entrepreneurial when you were still acting full-time?
Rhonda Shear: I never stopped selling myself. Probably my biggest downfall, I sold too hard. I pushed too hard. I felt I had to win and make use of every day in my early years in Los Angeles. My parents were paying the rent. I got known, but had not proved my talent. I hid behind my young sexuality by being self-deprecating and making guys laugh. I fell in love with comedy, and as a comic, you have to win or sell yourself to your audience or you lose them. I had a natural ability for self-promoting which is sales!
Was your foray into business inspired by anything particular? Did you study business at Loyola University?
Rhonda Shear: I studied Mass Communications at Loyola thinking I would stay in my hometown of New Orleans and work in broadcasting. I ran for public office at the age of 22, and that changed my perception of adults and where my life could take me. I wanted to go to law school, but I wanted to go to Hollywood too. Hollywood won.
I wrote many pilots, sold Playboy on a pictorial called Women of Comedy. I was told I was too sexy to be funny at that time and I wanted to prove them all wrong. Hef loved the idea, and so it became a layout in 1991. Not the time of too many women pushing sexy and funny around. I was told I was unmanageable because I never felt my agents or managers were doing enough. I guess I needed to be on the other side of the camera, but didn’t realize it. I liked the decision making and not the waiting around to get the gig.
Was there any temptation to sell your company once your sales starting kicking into high gear?
Rhonda Shear: My husband and I had offers especially after winning Florida Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year. When we started our business, we were newlyweds, high school sweethearts reunited. We wanted to work together and make up for lost time. We weren’t ready then or now to stop having fun and growing. We created the Rhonda Shear Brand. It’s our baby, and through life you realize if you love something, nurture it and grow it. Maybe later, but not now.
— Rhonda Shear (@RhondaShear) September 29, 2017
Shear Enterprises, LLC expanded into cosmetics, swimwear, fragrance, and Boomer Hottie a few years back. Are there plans for other products?
Rhonda Shear: We did a short stint in fragrance. I loved it. But timing is everything in direct sales. Our product shipped late, we never made up the airtime for that first show on HSN, and that was it. We also have done lines with Kathy Nijimy, Crystal Hefner, Anthony Sullivan, and Kato Kaelin. Even a couture red carpet gown under Rhonda Shear.
We are still a big mom and pop business, and I feel expanding our own line is to our best interest. Especially in the ever-changing face of retail, our business model is needed. Women don’t want to go into a brightly-lit store and shop for intimate apparel when they can go online and browse and shop from the comfort of their own home.
We have won international awards for our Ahh Bra selling over 35 million worldwide in 34 countries. We have done dozens of take-offs on that core item, so no reason to stop doing what everyone loves. We have Ahh Bra, Ahh Lifestyle, and AhhDreams currently. That spans intimates, loungewear, athleisure, sleepwear, shapewear and apparel. We are good for now. I love putting out a quality product for all women of all shapes and sizes. But of course, we always look at all opportunities.
I know you appeared in You Are All Going To Die a few years ago. Do you have aspirations to act more?
Rhonda Shear: OMG! That was the 48 Film Festival here in Tampa. What a blast. There are so many talented people in the industry here because of shopping television and direct marketing and infomercials. We stayed up for 48 hours. I would love to do viral YouTube videos. I work with Ken Bradley and Gene May. So talented! I do have a Rhonda Shear YouTube Channel and we are continuing to add to that content! We are doing more Facebook Live and growing all my social media accounts. It’s an awesome way to reach so many.
I couldn’t go through the whole audition process, but I would love to play a hot cougar on a sitcom! My dream when I moved to Los Angeles was to have my own sitcom. Taped in front of a live audience, like a mini-play every week. I still love it, but would never give up my dream life, my gals I design for and help, or leave my puppies for too long.
When not busy with work, how do you like to spend your free time?
Rhonda Shear: I spend my free time planning for the next charity event, designing, getting together with great girlfriends, dating my husband, cooking, loving my dogs and domestic diva duties!
Finally, Rhonda, any last words for the kids?
Rhonda Shear: Never give up, stay focused, don’t let anyone tell you can’t, ’cause you can. Believe in yourself. And take chances when you have a great idea. Get that idea out there! You can win!
[Featured Image by Jeff Abraham]