Ms. Borgnine was a serial beauty entrepreneur who found success with an exotic skincare line with a backstory. Concerned that the dry desert air was making the Las Vegas showgirls who were her clients look older than their age, she looked for an emollient to correct their skin. As the story goes, she forced actress Merle Oberon to reveal the secret to her dewy complexion, which turned out to be a mask based on an ancient Aztec cactus formula, made by a family in Mexico. Mrs. Borgnine tracked down the family and they agreed to sell her the formula.
But in the fall of 1976, before she had a real business or arranged production and distribution, an item in a syndicated gossip column noticed Mr. Borgnine’s newly dewy complexion and pulled off his wife’s cactus face mask. Within days, the Borgnines reported, they had received hundreds of letters requesting the product and checks totaling $56,000.
“It must have been a slow news day,” Mrs. Borgnine liked to say.
The Borgnines threw the new case together. They called it Tova 9, a play on their last name. mr. Borgnine referred to himself as “guinea pig No. 1” and often recalled his wife persuading him to use her mask.
“So she says to me, ‘Honey, try it.’ I say, “Mumble, grumble.” But I put the stuff on,” he told The Boston Globe in 1978. “So help me Hannah, I like it.”
In an interview, Cristofer Borgnine confirmed that the stories weren’t apocryphal: He recalled coming home regularly to see his father reading the newspaper in the living room, his famous features frozen in a bright pink face mask.
mr. Borgnine would continueo bragging to reporters about his wife’s products: “I shave with it, shower with it, shampoo with it, brush my teeth with it and smooth my skin with it.” The soap lathers well in hard water, he said, and his friend Steve McQueen once took 60 bars on location. Burt Reynolds, an avid catalog shopper, was a customer. Such were Elke Sommer and Charo. (Mrs. Borgnine’s business was always mail order only.) In the early 1980s, she added a Burt Reynolds men’s line, made at his request.