Beverly Johnson is not a fearful woman, she knows what she wants out of life, and she takes it. From a very young age she decided she needed to help in her family’s income and so she went on to become a model. In her early career, Beverly was given the honor of having her face stamped in the cover of Vogue, the most prestigious magazine in the world. That alone would be an accomplishment for any model, but the year was 1974 and Ms. Johnson was the first woman of color to ever be featured in the cover of Vogue.
From that moment on, Beverly Johnson would never again be just a model, she had become legendary. A part of the newly formed division entitled Legends, at New York’s Trump Models, her placement there could not be more suited. At a time in which everyone is a supermodel, to be recognized as a legend is quite distinguishing, even more so, because Ms. Johnson is from an era in which the term “Supermodel” wasn’t even invented.
Legendary Beverly Johnson remains. In 2012 she has launched a reality TV show in Oprah Winfrey’s network, OWN, and the rise to success of her newborn endeavor in the world of cosmetics in a partnership with Target. The first ever “Modelpreneur” continues to amaze us.
After more than 40 years actively working in the entertainment industry, Beverly’s career has produced more than 500 magazine covers, advertising campaigns, beauty contracts, runway shows, two books, movies, tv shows and an extensive list of charity work.
Ms. Johnson’s most important accomplishment however was not in front of any sort of cameras, but in the privacy of her home: her daughter Anansa, with whom she now shares a home alongside her granddaughter and son in law. Beverly’s Full House is not just the title of her television series, but a description of what her life has become; a life full of great accomplishments and happiness. Here Beverly tells us a little more about her full life.
What drove you to doing this docu-series on OWN?
It was the perfect opportunity to have my daughter, who I will always love, around me, and my new son in law, who is the son who I always wanted, and also my first grand child. Also, I knew that my daughter would never consent to going into therapy or any of the other things I had been involved with all these years, and she loves reality shows, she got me into reality tv, so she was thrilled with the whole idea, and that’s why I did that pitch to Oprah, it was a great way to get closer to my daughter and work in our relationship.
I can’t imagine how it is to have cameras all around your life and your house constantly; are there ever moments when it becomes too much to deal with and too difficult? Is it a big camera crew?
Well, of course it took some adjusting at first because I didn’t really know how intense it was and I didn’t realize it was going to be 20 to 25 people in my home every day. I don’t know what I was thinking. But also because it is a constructive reality tv show, it wasn’t about shooting indiscriminately, and the purpose of the show was to build a stronger bond with my daughter and to document me building my company. After a while, since we had a purpose in mind, it was much easier to manage, because we knew why we were doing it.
So there is definitely a way to manage the crew?
No, there is no coordination, they are there, from sun up to sun down, and sometimes even longer than that, so there is no way to coordinate anything. We are in a reality tv show, so therefore we had life coaches come in so we could carry on all our normal activities because we are taking our cameras with us when we are going to fashion shoots and everything else in our daily lives.
So, now you are working on this docu-series and your company, but looking back in your career you have been in film, now you are in tv, you’ve done runway, you’ve done advertising, all sorts of things. What are the mediums that you worked with throughout your career that excite you the most? What makes your heart beat faster?
Today the digital media is something that really excites me, I think it’s a frontier that is very exciting, I love the podcasts, the streaming web, I read several blogs, I tweet via @BeverlyJohnson1, I facebook, it’s really about sharing your feelings with people and there is a connection there, I really believe that the internet has really made us able to connect with each other like we never have before.
And because you were the first african american woman in the cover of Vogue, I believe people look up to you, there is this aura around you, you seem to be a huge role model to women of color in particular. Do you think there is a message that comes throughout your career? Did you ever aim to pass on this message that you can do whatever you want and succeed?
I really believe that I am living my life and living my dreams, and if I can inspire and be a role model to other people it’s great, but I am basically just living my life as an open book. In the 70’s and 80’s I was just telling people what was going on in my life and career, and now I get to share it in television, in reality television. I am just doing what I do.
You are of course a fashion and a beauty icon and you have transformed that career into very smart business decisions. When you were at the top of your modeling career years ago, did you already have the idea of working towards these projects or did they come to you little by little more recently?
They were always there, and I got into the business because I wanted to help out my family financially and I was able to do that. I was also able to open up a whole world of fashion and beauty and the arts, which I have grown to love, and also have the pleasure of, in some ways, become an expert just from being in it for so long. I think that it’s something that I wanted to share with other people, my knowledge, my experience and my career, these are things I always wanted to share with everyone.
Can you point out a moment in your career in which you look back and you say “this is it, now I have everything I could have asked for and I am happy!”?
Well, I would say, career wise, I knew that being the first woman of color in the cover of Vogue was something that nobody would ever be able to take away from me because I was the first and Vogue was and still is such an important media, not only in fashion but in the culture of America. So I always said that if I never get to do anything else, I have achieved a huge accomplishment! And that was in the beginning of my career, so it was all uphill from there.
How did it make you feel; were you blown away? Because when you went to shoot the editorial, did you know it was going to be a cover?
No, I didn’t know it was going to be a cover, in those days you never knew you were shooting a cover, you never knew you would be the cover until you saw yourself in the stand. But I knew it was a big deal, it still is a big deal to be in the cover of Vogue, but I didn’t know what what it meant to be the first woman of color in that cover, and what it meant for people of color around the world. I wasn’t prepared for that kind of responsibility to be thrust upon me at such a young age, but it gave me a purpose and kind of a road map of where I should go and how I should honor that achievement.
And lastly, I want to talk about charity, because I know you have done extensive work with Aids organizations and many others, how important is it for you to work with charity?
I did a lot of work with Aids and Amfar in the 80’s, we did that advertising shoot by Annie Leibovitz with Christie Brinkley and all those girls that were coming out and really speaking about Aids when it was still tabu, so I still am affiliated with various Aids organizations and always will be. That’s when you really get to step out of yourself and lend your celebrity to others. I am the spokesperson for global down syndrome, my niece has down syndrome and it is just such a great organization. They do a fashion show every year and if you could just look at their faces when they are walking down the runway and how they perform, there is so much about the condition and knowing that we can help these kids to reach their potential, so that’s something I am very involved with. I am also involved with a center out here in the desert that works with abused children, and we also put a fashion show together for them, and just to see these girls self esteem move up is something that makes it all worth while.
So, should we expect a second season for “Beverly’s Full House”?
Oh, I don’t know yet, it’s too early to tell. I do know it is the second biggest hit in the network and we have had a great feedback on it but we are very hopeful and happy about it.
Article originally published in The Peninsula - volume 9, Issue 2 / June 2012