Dakota Datebook

Rosie the Avon Lady

Friday, May 28, 2004

Eighteen years ago tonight, a 90 year-old Avon lady appeared on NBC’s Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. She was Rosie Gries of Goodrich, North Dakota, and she called it the second biggest highlight of her life. Her best biggest highlight was when she got to travel free of charge to the national Avon convention in Morton Grove, IL.

Rosie made her first sale in 1938 when she sold a 10-cent tube of hand cream. She had been selling Avon cosmetics for 48 years. She brought her sales pitch with her to the show, but when she got Johnny to buy out her entire stock for $100, she was unruffled. She said, “I’ve had bigger doings than that.”

Rosie was cool and collected before the audience of 465 people. The Fargo Forum reported that she said, “I wasn’t nervous. Not a Speck. It was just like talkin’ to my cousin,” she said. “I made up my mind that he’s just a human. Singing at a church for a wedding is worse than that.”

During the show, Carson rolled a film clip of Rosie driving on her sales route. Carson asked about her car, which was a 1950 Chevy with a “slow vehicle” warning sign tacked onto the rear. The 90 year-old said that the car was “slow but sure,” and that she bought it for $150 that she earned from her sales. She also told Carson that her job helped her remodel her home, add steel siding, install running water and also build a garage.

Carson asked, of course, about North Dakota’s weather. She acknowledged that it gets cold, but told him it warms up in the summer. She had lived in the state since 1905 and told him, “I like my state, North Dakota. The state that feeds you, you should stick up for.”

Gries gave Carson several presents while she was there: a North Dakota map, a letter from Governor George Sinner and a cap direct from Goodrich. And when Carson gave back all of her Avon products after the show, she made him keep a bottle of cologne.

Rosie’s daughter, her daughter-in-law and her granddaughter were in the audience that night. “They were clapping every other word,” Rosie said. She thought that her appearance was a success.

When asked if she hated to go home, she implied she wasn’t all that impressed with Hollywood glamour, and that even if she didn’t have to catch a plane back the next day, she wouldn’t want to stick around. “No, no, no, no. I don’t want to,” she said. “I want to go home and sell Avon. My (latest) shipment is waiting.”

Rosie made the news again ten years later. On her 100th birthday, she said, “I feel like I did when I was 16. I don’t feel my age. I can’t believe it.” She was now Avon’s oldest salesperson and had, by then, hired a driver to take her on her twice-a-month rounds. She also couldn’t see or hear as well as she once had. But, she was determined to sell Avon “as long as I can walk.”

She not only did that… she went back to the Tonight Show, this time with host Jay Leno. It was June 28th, 1996, and Leno’s other guests were Richard Lewis and Dennis Rodman.

Wouldn’t you love to know what she discussed with Rodman back stage? Or what she sold him?

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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