After decades on TV, posing in Playboy four times, being pursued by former Gov. Edwin Edwards and now releasing an autobiography in which she calls herself an "accidental feminist," Rhonda Shear has some insights into sexual harassment in Hollywood. She recently was asked about it by Bubba the Love Sponge (aka Todd Clem) on his syndicated radio show.
"He thought he was going to shock me," Shear says from her home in St. Petersburg, Florida. "He said, 'I know why you didn't get hit on and why that didn't happen to you. You're too yappy.'
"'You're right,' I said. The minute a guy was starting to get turned on, I started talking and telling jokes."
The radio exchange led to her latest opportunity.
"He made me his in-house cougar," Shear says. "I am going to be on the show once a month. I said, 'I'll teach you all the tricks.'"
This week, Shear is in her hometown of New Orleans to celebrate the release of her autobiography and advice book, Up All Night: From Hollywood Bombshell to Lingerie Mogul, Life Lessons from an Accidental Feminist. It chronicles her teenage years as a pageant winner (including winning three Miss Louisiana titles), her long association with Playboy, stints on TV including hosting 450 installments of the cable TV show Up All Night and beginning her lingerie business, which topped $100 million in sales in 2012.
Some New Orleanians may remember her 1978 campaign for Register of Conveyances.
"I ran in the same election as Dutch Morial's campaign for mayor," she says. "He endorsed me."
Shear may be the most famous person to have run for Register of Conveyances. It started as a feisty payback for being denied the title of Queen of the Floral Trail after she appeared — clothed — in Playboy. When she realized that the person who delivered the decision, Gaspar Schiro, was running for the office, she threw her hat in the ring. She lost by 135 votes (Schiro served until the office was dissolved in 2008).
Though she had come up with a plan to modernize the office, once denied, Shear simply moved on. Though admitted to Loyola University's law school, she decided to go to Los Angeles for the summer and tried to break into TV. She played Fonzie's (Henry Winkler) girlfriend on a few episodes of Happy Days. Over the years, she appeared on dozens of shows including Dallas, CHiPs, The Dukes of Hazzard, The Gong Show and many more.
Though usually typecast as a blonde bombshell, Shear wanted to be a comedian. She couldn't break typecasting in TV, and eventually used the image as a joke on Up All Night. As the host of the low-end cable show, she dressed and sometimes acted like a ditzy blonde while introducing B-movies and censored sexploitation flicks. The more the network cut out of the films, the more time she had to fill in with her own commentary and bits. She also had fun secretly teasing foot fetishist fans who wrote to her, as she details in the book.
Filming meant she often spent many hours in lingerie and tiny outfits, which later spawned another career. Her quest to find comfortable underwear for a curvy body led her to launch a lingerie line with her husband in 2003. Being a natural on TV helped. The line took off with the help of an infomercial and her time on Home Shopping Network. At first she tried telling underwear jokes, but that wasn't what worked best.
"You have to tell a story," Shear says.