*SPOILER ALERT* This review uncovers the heart of the story in the book “Ask ME about Mary Kay:the true story behind the bumper on the pink Cadillac.” written by Jackie Brown, one of Mary Kay’s very first consultants.
The author Jackie Brown opens with a short prologue of a story from the bible about twin boys, Esau and Jacob. In case you are not familiar with it, the older brother (Esau) sold his first-born birthright to his younger brother (Jacob) for a meal. Esau didn’t really care or think much about anything other than filling his belly at the time (Genesis 26-33.) “The following is another story of trickery, betrayal, and deceit. And as the story of Jacob and Esau, these same elements are the basis of a battle between two women who were once close, and the turmoil and tragedy that spread from the conflict.”
In chapter one Jackie begins the story of her journey with Mary Kay towards the end of their professional relationship. She sets the stage at a funeral and informs you that “late one night earlier that week, Jean Rochelle, mother of four daughters ages five through ten, had put a gun in her mouth and pulled the trigger.” She whispers to her friend Marjie, “in a million years I would never have believed that competition between two cosmetic companies could bring one woman to such a state.” She then takes you back three years earlier to the day she answered an ad in the newspaper on how to earn a free wig.
Jackie was working as a secretary for a law firm in 1963. Mary Kay was the one who answered the phone and scheduled the appointment to meet with her later that day. When she entered the building for the interview, she found herself captivated by a glitzy pink showroom full of cosmetics. Mary Kay greeted and introduced herself to Jackie, then ushered her into her personal office for the interview. Mary Kay told her she was looking for consultants to do her “beauty shows” and explained to her how the wigs were earned. She told Jackie about how she had worked for Stanely Home Products, and that she would model her company with a similar “party plan.” The wigs were a reward for the consultants after a certain amount of cosmetics were sold. She had intrigued Jackie enough to let Mary Kay try the products on her. As Mary Kay began taking them out of the demonstration case, she began to tell her the story behind her company. She said, “I was giving a Stanley party one evening, and a woman showed up and began handing out samples of her own products to the guests. It was small time, just jars of cream which her father, a hide tanner in Mena, Arkansas had developed. As he turned those stiff ugly hides into soft pieces of leather for gloves he began to wonder if he could something similar with human skin? He began experimenting on his himself using a modified form of the process. He soon noticed that his hands and face looked younger. When he died a man of 70, he looked like a man of 50. Upon his death, his daughter put the formulas into cosmetic form and began marketing the skin care line.” Jackie Brown had lived a short time in Mena and thought she might know the family so she asked Mary Kay who it was. Mary Kay seemed reluctant to give the name, but finally said “her name was Ova Spoonemore.” Jackie then prodded, “and the name of the company?” Mary Kay replied, “BeautiControl.” Far from being offended that someone was handing out other products at her party, Mary Kay wanted to try them out herself. The results were so startling that they made her want to buy the formulas and go into business for herself with her own line of cosmetics. And that is exactly what Mary Kay had insinuated in that meeting; that she had bought the anti-aging formulas from the hide tanners daughter, and with that launched Mary Kay Cosmetics. She showed Jackie some before and after pictures, giving the impression that they were the results of her cosmetic products. Jackie loved the facial, the story, and the pictures-she was sold. And that night she bought the kit (and the story) that would launch her into the cosmetic business for many, many years to come.
Jackie Brown was one of the first employees in the beginning of Mary Kay cosmetics, and was very instrumental in helping it grow. After a couple of years Jackie (as well as other consultants) began to deal with some broken promises from Mary Kay and her son Richard, who was in charge of the marketing. Growing more frustrated and skeptical as to where the business was headed, Jackie and another top consultant (Marjie) decided to track down some of the rumors that had been flying around about Mary Kay. One of the first rumors they wanted to deal with had to do with the hide tanners story, the pictures, and the company BeautiControl.
Marjie’s husband Stan had managed to track down and get a hold of some BeautiControl products. Marjie and Jackie used the products for a week and were astounded at the results on their faces. They wanted to meet with the person who was still making the products, and get the whole story. Turns out the person was the hide tanners granddaughter, Dathene. Shortly after they spoke on the phone Marjie and Jackie drove together to Dathene’s house. They sat and had coffee at her kitchen table, and the ladies questioned Dathene about her relationship with Mary Kay. Dathene told them that her mother Ova Spoonemore was friends with Mary Kay and that she (Ova) had asked her (Mary Kay) to do her commercials for BeautiControl. Mary Kay agreed and did commercials for BeautiControl on TV, along with the other products she was selling with Stanley and World Gift items. Mary Kay liked the products so much that she talked Dick Kelly (with World Gifts) into adding a cosmetic line to his company, and her friend Ova into making some products for her. Years later Mary Kay approached Dathene with an offer for $500 for a document that would include the ingredients to her cosmetics. Dathene did wonder why, but Mary Kay said it was just in case Dick Kelly sued her. Jackie asked her is she ever sold the BeautiControl formulas specifically, or the company itself? Dathene said “No, she gave me $500 and I didn’t give her anything in return except a piece of paper. I thought it was the easiest $500 I ever got, and I thought it had to be a gift from God.” Jackie pressed, “What about the before-and-after pictures taken by your mother using BeautiControl products? What is Mary Kay doing with those?” Dathene replied, “I loaned them to her but she never gave them back. She was supposed to get her own before and after pictures.” Suddenly a strange look came over Dathene’s face. It seemed to be sinking in that not only had Mary Kay taken the pictures, she had also taken the family’s history. “Is Mary Kay saying I sold her everything? The BeautiControl formulas, the company, and my family’s history?” cried Dathene. “That’s exactly what were saying,” said Marjie. “I would never do that!” Dathene said. “My mother made me promise two things: One, that I would bless every jar of cream, and two, that I would always keep the formulas in our family!” Jackie had been listening to this exchange with the feeling that she’d heard this story before. Like with Jacob and Esau.
They asked Dathene if the company was ever incorporated. She said it had been at one time, but she could not pay the fees to keep it active. They wondered if Mary Kay could have possibly reserved the name in Texas? At that time Dathene was making the products in her home, and people would have to return the jars to her so she could sterilize and reuse them. She worked as a cosmetologist by day, and made the products at night, but was barely making enough money to provide for her and her five children. Jackie Brown and Marjie determined that day to help Dathene, and give BeautiControl back its birthright. And they did. But not without a huge fight that included a long litigation (9 years) between them and Mary Kay cosmetics, a suicide, and much more drama than I would have ever expected.
Marjie and Jackie, together with their husbands invested time and money and resurrected BeautiControl in 1966. Jackie and Marjie started their journeys all over again as beauty consultants, and the husbands worked in the sales and manufacturing end of the company. The team sold the company to Jinger and Richard Heath in 1981, who launched the trend “Are you a spring, summer, fall, or winter?” BeautiControl was acquired by Tupperware Brands in 2000, and to this day remains a crown jewel out of all their companies. In fact, BeautiControl happens to be the #1 Premium Spa Brand in America today. Tupperware also owns several different cosmetic/skin care companies all over the globe; in Mexico, South America, South Africa, Uruguay, Australia, and Malaysia.
The first half of this book is all about Jackie Brown and her career with Mary Kay. The second half gets more into the foundation of BeautiControl, and the fight between the two companies. Even though Jackie felt deceived and betrayed by Mary Kay, in the end she still had to appreciate what the woman had accomplished. I found her writing about Mary Kay to be completely respectful, and I could tell that she really admired the woman a great deal early on in their relationship.
What Mary Kay did for women and their careers back in that era had never been done before. She was a true trailblazer. But I have to say as an independent consultant with BeautiControl, I am deeply in love with the spa experience we give, our products, everything about my company, and especially our history. I am very proud to be a part of the underdog team.