Tova Borgnine, cosmetics specialist and QVC star, dies at 80
Ms. Borgnine was a serial beauty entrepreneur who found success with an exotic skincare line that had a genealogical history. Worried that the dry desert air would make the Las Vegas showgirls who were her clients look older than their years, she set out to find an emollient to correct their skin. As the story goes, she pressed actress Merle Oberon to reveal the secret to her rosy complexion, which turned out to be a mask based on an ancient Aztec formula involving cacti, made by a family in Mexico. Ms. Borgnine tracked down the family and they agreed to sell her the formula.
But in the fall of 1976, before she had a proper business or sorted out manufacturing and distribution, an article in a syndicated gossip column noted Mr. Borgnine’s newly rosy complexion and plugged the mask. his wife’s cactus facial. Within days, as the Borgnines said, they had received hundreds of letters demanding the proceeds and checks totaling $56,000.
“It must have been a slow news day,” Ms. Borgnine liked to say.
The Borgnines started the new business together. They called it Tova 9, a play on their last name. Mr Borgnine called himself “Guinea Pig No. 1” and often recalled his wife persuading him to use his mask.
“So she’s like, ‘Honey, try it.’ I say, ‘Grumble, grumble.’ But I put the stuff on,” he told the Boston Globe in 1978. “So help me out Hannah, I like the stuff.”
In an interview, Cristofer Borgnine confirmed that the tales were not apocryphal: he remembers regularly coming home and seeing his father reading the newspaper in the living room, his famous features frozen in a bright pink face mask.
Mr. Borgnine went on to brag to reporters about his wife’s products: “I shave with it, I shower, I shampoo with it, I clean my teeth with it, and I smooth my skin with it.” The soap lathered well in hard water, he said, and his friend Steve McQueen has already taken 60 bars on the spot. Burt Reynolds, an avid catalog buyer, was a customer. Just like Elke Sommer and Charo. (Ms. Borgnine’s business was still mail-order only.) In the early 1980s, she added a Burt Reynolds men’s line, created at her request.