I have to admit I was surprised when I first read more than a year ago about a movie in the works inspired by the rags-to-riches story of Miracle Mop inventor and TV shopping icon Joy Mangano.
It wasn’t some off-priced indie project. It was a big-budget production directed by David O. Russell and featuring megastars Jennifer Lawrence (in the title role of “Joy”), Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper.
Imagine that: A major motion picture about the inventor of a mop.
“Joy” opened on Christmas Day to rave reviews, early Oscar buzz and a burst of widespread appreciation for Mangano, already considered a star of the brightest magnitude to her many loyal HSN viewers/shoppers the past 15 years.
Hollywood loves stories about strong-willed single moms who overcome rough times with gritty ingenuity. A mop, however, is the unlikeliest of props for such Hollywood inspiration. Yet the Miracle Mop is an aptly named poetic metaphor as the implement that enables the film’s protagonist to clean up her life.
In the process it reminds everyone in the housewares business how innovation within the most basic of products, such as a mop, continues to shepherd the promise of an easier life upon which successful housewares development is based. Despite hurdles raised by the corporatization of housewares retailing (something Mangano herself ultimately capitalized on), the business still offers hope to the entrepreneur with a great new idea, hatched perhaps in an unassuming suburban garage.
The real world might not play out as dramatically as it does on the big screen in “Joy.” Mangano nonetheless stands as a compelling testament of self-made success wrung from inventiveness, persistence and even a bit of good luck and timing.
Her true story wasn’t fabricated overnight on a back lot. It was decades in the making, and it doesn’t stop after the final credits fade to black. That’s when the sequel begins in real life for Mangano.
Credit Mangano for seizing her Tinseltown moment. The expansion of her brand beyond HSN to such national retailers as Macy’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, Target and The Container Store coincided with the release of “Joy.”
Wealth and fame, though, won’t guarantee success. Mangano is like everyone else trying to run a housewares business in a crowded retail theater far removed from the embellished plot twists and rewrites of Hollywood.
Retailing provides plenty of drama and few outtakes these days. The housewares business, though, remains a source of inspiration for many inventive, gritty entrepreneurs. It is a business full of stories, as Joy Mangano proved long before her saga caught the eye of Russell, that don’t require a major motion picture to make someone a star.