ST. PETERSBURG — Forbes Riley answers her door in Shore Acres in brightly colored workout clothes, primped hair and flawless makeup.
Like she's in one of her infomercials. The AbSolo, the BeamFit, the Body Wedge.
She leads you to a brown rattan couch in her living room, picture windows facing Tampa Bay, then zips out of the room and pops back in with her latest novelty, the SpinGym (50,000 sold in a month!).
"I love that look on your face," she tells a Times photographer now tugging on the workout device. "You can totally hurt somebody with this. Look at her whole chest — she's beautifully thin. You can see her triceps. Everything is twitching. Completely straight, no bending your arms, and all of a sudden, it's all chest muscles! Can't tell me that's not a piece of exercise equipment! Isn't that wild? It's huge!"
Riley, 49, is at her prime as a pitchwoman and motivational speaker. On Sunday, she was inducted into the 2010 National Fitness Hall of Fame in Addison, Ill., joining the ranks of Jack LaLanne, Richard Simmons and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
She has lived here for two years, mostly in a downtown condo, and now in this four-bedroom rental on Bayshore Boulevard. She and her husband and manager, Tom Riley, 44, who played college football for Notre Dame, moved here to be closer to the Home Shopping Network, where Riley is involved in a whirlwind of shows.
Last fall, the Rileys also purchased a 4,500-square-foot building at 3158 24th Ave N. They are converting that into a production studio for Forbes Riley's projects and the Tampa Bay area's vast pool of infomercial veterans, including Tony Little.
The Rileys say St. Petersburg is home for good. Their 7-year-old twins, daughter Makenna and son Ryker, are enrolled at Shorecrest Preparatory School. Riley likes it here because it's so quiet.
Born Francine Forbes in Brooklyn, N.Y., Riley grew up in Oceanside, on Long Island. She also has a home in California. She took her husband's name 19 years ago, before they were even married, on an image consultant's advice.
The conversation scatters all over the place, usually ending somewhere as soft and squishy as a yoga mat.
A Miss Teenage America pageant finalist, she was a high school whiz, graduating from the University of Rochester early with two degrees. She really wanted to be an actor. Then a lawyer. She did B-movies. In the '90s, she was a recurring talk show host. With infomercials (over 100 hosted) she combined her dreams of stardom and activism.
"I totally settled," she said of her acting dreams, adding of the infomercials: "That's my hobby. Can I make somebody's day? Can I inspire them?"
She counts Mazzaro's and the Saturday Morning Market among her local haunts. More often than not, though, she's in a studio or on a plane.
A quick pitch for her upcoming clothing line for larger women, "Love Your Body," and then it's into the home gym for a demo of the Urban Rebounder workout system.
"If you haven't noticed," Riley says, "I can't sit still."
Reach Luis Perez at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2271.