Since she was 17, supermodel Beverly Johnson has been recognized primarily for her classic beauty.
This seems appropriate, considering that Johnson, who turns 60 in October, has graced more than 500 magazine covers, including her historic shoot as American Vogue's first black cover girl in 1976.
Yes, Johnson may be gorgeous, but don't sleep on her knack for keeping several irons in the fire. Like fellow supermodels Tyra Banks and Iman, she's wise enough to expand her brand beyond the expiration date that the fashion world likes to place on catwalk icons.
The Beverly Johnson brand will become more visible over the next several weeks: She stars in Tyler Perry's latest film project, Good Deeds, which premieres nationwide on Friday, Feb. 24, and in her new OWN reality show, Beverly's Full House, which debuts on March 31. And after 14 years of lending her likeness to the Beverly Johnson Hair Collection, Johnson, through her new company, BJE LLC, will launch Model Logic, a new multicultural hair-care line, at Target stores nationwide beginning Feb. 26. She has also authored two beauty books.
Johnson chatted with The Root about her new movie role, Whitney Houston's death and the benefits of having a diverse portfolio.
The Root: Whitney Houston has been on everyone's mind since her death last week. You were friends, and like you, she helped remove barriers in modeling when she became the first African American to pose on Seventeen magazine's cover. How are you handling the news?
Beverly Johnson: I've known her since she was a young lady. I remember meeting her at Wilhelmina Models when she was a young girl and they said what an amazing singer she was. And of course I had known her mom and Dionne Warwick for many, many years. We were in each other's company often, and I think we had a mutual admiration.
You know, there aren't many things that make you stop. But for me, hearing about Whitney's death, the world just stopped. She was such a sweet, sweet soul, you know, her essence. And to hear [that she died] is very, very sad. I think everybody is still reeling from it. I know I still am.
TR: It seems that Whitney Houston's death affected a lot of people. Another person who admired her is Tyler Perry. You're featured in his new film, Good Deeds. How did you become involved with this movie?
BJ: I did two episodes of Meet the Browns, even though I really don't act very much anymore. That's how I got a chance to meet Tyler Perry and got to know him. He offered me the role, and I said, "Of course." I play Gabrielle Union's character's mother, Brenda, which was like a cakewalk for me. She's a lovely, beautiful, bright young lady, just like my daughter, Anansa, so it really wasn't a stretch for me to play her mother.
I have a few scenes, and it was just really great working and seeing Phylicia Rashad again. [Perry is] so easy and wonderful to work for. There's no drama — no pun intended — and it's about getting on with the work. It was a very pleasant experience.
TR: You mentioned your daughter, Anansa, and how she is also a bright, beautiful young lady. The world will get to see you work to strengthen your relationship with her and her new family on Beverly's Full House. How will this show differ from the type of reality TV that people have become accustomed to viewing?
BJ: What's wonderful, again, is working with Oprah Winfrey — it's like working with Tyler Perry. You're talking about a woman of great integrity, and her network stands for that. We were talking [about] developing a constructive reality show, as opposed to the other types of reality shows. I love the other reality shows just like everybody else — I'm just as addicted; my daughter got me into that — but this is a different kind of show. Meaning that hopefully there's a lot of takeaway where people will walk away with something that will enrich their lives besides being entertaining.
Everybody's life is very interesting, I think, and it's not that we're any different. I just think our intentions were a little different. And I don't want to give away a lot of the show, but if it weren't for the show, Anansa and I wouldn't address a lot of things that every mother and daughter have — [like] that mindset where things kind of just get swept under the rug, and it's like the elephant in the room, and nobody really talks about it or whatever has gone on in the relationship. It's also a show about communicating and getting close to people who you really care about, and a show about how to listen and how to build stronger bonds.
TR: Beverly, you're really involved with a lot of projects, including a new line of hair-care products that's coming to Target next week. Why is it important to have a diverse portfolio?
BJ: It's the Model Line, and we're bringing hair to Target! We're going to start it off with drawstring ponytails, and Target hasn't had hair for 20 years. I was with a company for 14 years that would not distribute [my wig line] to black-owned beauty-supply stores or to retail stores. [The line] was only distributed in the Korean-owned [beauty supply] stores. So I have the opportunity, now that I do own my own company, to distribute my hair line [to whomever I choose].
I think it's very important in life that one has and one develops all of [one's] abilities. I think that it's great. I always tell my daughter, always have different things to fall back on. It keeps the possibilities infinite for oneself [so that if] something happens to your one line of work, you have other talents. I've always been about that. I'm a plan B, C, D girl, and that's how I've always operated. I'm busier now than I've ever been in my entire career. The company is my full-time job; that's what I do.
Aisha I. Jefferson is a contributor to The Root.