By Michael E. Miller
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By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Sabrina Rodriguez
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Exuding a rare combination of Old World charm and bubbly all-American congeniality, Regina inspired immediate confidence in her clients. But she was ever the professional. She's still reluctant to reveal the stories behind the smiles in the photos that are so proudly displayed on her walls. When customers ask about them, she prefers to feign amnesia: She can't recall just who wore a toupee, which actress needed a "little more help," what star made a scene backstage.
"Oh really," she laughs, coyly brushing a lock of hair away from her face and breaking into the same girlish grin she wears in the old photos all around her. "I'm not fooling anyone. Of course I remember, and everybody knows it."
In 1962 Regina got a call from CBS's production department in New York. Jackie Gleason and his American Scene Magazine would broadcast several shows live from Palm Beach, featuring the buxom blond actress Jayne Mansfield.
"Ruth was in the dressing room with Floyd Patterson, the boxer," recalls Pete McGovern, who, as Jackie Gleason's personal publicist for 24 years, traveled to Palm Beach with the cast. "He was a black guy, and she was just putting a little powder his face so it wouldn't shine. Mickey Hargitay, Jayne Mansfield's husband, he was a weight lifter, he was sitting on the bed talking with Patterson, and I was in the room, too. All of a sudden I see Patterson's eyes widen. In walks Jayne Mansfield, stark naked in high heels, with that equipment she had. My mouth fell open. But Ruthie didn't look up, she just kept right on going."
Regina recounts her own version of the scene: "Jayne Mansfield's hair was a mess, everything was horrible. She was running around the room, looking for who knows what. Somehow I spoke with her and calmed her down. I said, 'Please be seated, Miss Mansfield. Everyone's waiting to see you.' I got the rollers on her head. I did her makeup and got her dressed. She was a vision.
"The first day I was there I had lunch alone," Regina continues. "I was the new girl on the block. But the next day, after they knew what I had done, they invited me to lunch. They said, 'If we ever come back to Florida, we'd like to work with you. One and a half years later they called," she adds, smiling at the memory. "It's like they say: 'Don't call us, we'll call you.' And they called."
In September 1964, Gleason and an entourage of 97 arrived in Miami on a chartered train dubbed The Great Gleason Express, replete with six full bars. Jackie Gleason and the American Scene Magazine was the first network TV series to be taped in Miami on a permanent basis. And with the Gleason show, Regina was introduced to color television. "My color work was outstanding," she boasts. "I made everybody look beautiful and not too made-up."
She was the first hair and make-up artist to receive an on-screen credit for an East Coast network show. "From then on, everyone who did makeup got one," she adds with pride.
The Gleason show's cast and crew spent every Friday and Saturday rehearsing and finally taping the show at the Miami Beach Auditorium. (After Gleason's death in 1987, the auditorium was renamed the Jackie Gleason Theater of the Performing Arts). Off-stage, they were a gang.
"Down there everybody was like family," says Pete McGovern. Like other crew members from out of town, McGovern spent 39 weeks each year here from 1964 until 1970. "We partied together, we played softball together, and Ruth fit right in. She'd always come along. We'd go to the Roney Plaza, or the Embers. We'd eat at Wolfie's or go down to Joe's Stone Crab.
"Ruth was fantastic, she was the best we had," McGovern goes on, speaking by phone from his home in Westport, Connecticut. "Jack Haley came down to do a show, and he was crazy about her. Edgar Bergen, Groucho Marx . . . everybody loved her. Ruth was a great one to pal around. But she was very painstaking in her work. She couldn't be rushed. She did everything just right. Ruth was and is one of the best gals around."
Regina walks over to a poster-size photo of herself arm-in-arm with Gleason. As she recounts how he sent her flowers each week after the program -- along with the ones he sent to each of the show's featured June Taylor dancers -- her eyes begin to mist. Once, she remembers, Gleason even offered to pay for golf lessons for her at his club.
"Jackie really appreciated people who did a great job for him," she asserts, pooh-poohing the actor's reputation as a cruel egomaniac. "He was under a lot of pressure, facing millions of people each week. If you had people who goofed and didn't come through as he would have liked, naturally he'd be upset. But I worked with Jackie very closely -- I was head of a department. I was on Jackie's first page, his last page, and in between."
She recalls one night when the production crew assembled in front of the camera and did the Gleason Glide -- the Great One's trademark stage move. Arising from the loveseat, she jumps into the air and lands, one foot in front of the other, arms flung open toward her audience of wig-wearing mannequins.