Robbin Mele Gaudieri, who, as Robbin Bain, embodied traditional women’s roles as the winner of a beauty contest designed to promote beer in 1959 and later as the “Today Girl,” handling fashion and beauty segments, on the popular NBC-TV morning show, died on Oct. 21 in Southampton, N.Y., on Long Island. She was 87.
Her daughter Lara McLanahan said the cause was breast cancer.
In 1959, she was elected Miss Rheingold, representing what was then the most popular beer in the New York region and was also sold in Pennsylvania and throughout New England. She defeated five other finalists in an election that the brewer said attracted 24 million votes.
As Miss Rheingold, she received $50,000 (about $530,000 in today’s dollars) and spent a year making appearances in the United States and Europe. She also starred in newspaper ads in which she was seen in a kitchen during a party, outdoors at a barbecue and in front of a Christmas tree, among other places.
An ad that ran early in her reign said, “You’ll soon be seeing Robbin Bain almost everywhere you look, such an attractive reminder of the popular beer she represents — Rheingold Extra Dry!”
In 2000, she recalled the qualities that were sought in a Miss Rheingold.
“It was not a body thing,” she told The Daily News of New York. “Personality and wholesomeness were very important. You had to look very approachable to the guys sitting at the bar or going to the supermarket.”
Barbara Jane Bain was born on Aug. 10, 1936, in Flushing, Queens, and raised in Bronxville, N.Y., in Westchester County. Her father, James, was an executive with Mack Trucks. Her mother, Margaret (Davison) Bain, was a homemaker.
Pursuing a career as a model, Barbara appeared in ads for Helena Rubinstein and Revlon. She was also one of four women, called “Portrettes,” who introduced Jackie Gleason on his television variety show, “The Jackie Gleason Show,” in 1956 and 1957. The next year, she graduated with an associate degree from Bradford Junior College (which later became Bradford College) in Haverhill, Mass., where she studied psychology, art and theater.
Early in her career, she changed her first name to Robbin to avoid confusion with the actress Barbara Bain.
Ms. Bain was famous enough in 1961 to be a panelist on “To Tell the Truth,” a game show whose object was to figure out which of three people claiming to be the same person was the real one. In one episode she was so good at it in each segment that another panelist, Betty White, playfully said, “I think Robbin’s disgusting.” In response, Ms. Bain lightly punched Ms. White on the shoulder.
In late August 1961, Ms. Bain joined NBC as the “Today Girl,” working alongside the host John Chancellor and the news anchor Frank Blair. It was a stereotypical female role that had previously been filled by the actresses Estelle Parsons, Lee Meriwether and Florence Henderson; Robert Bendick, the “Today” show’s producer at the time, outlined it in 1959.
“A girl is essential to the show,” he told The Associated Press. “You need a woman’s face to brighten up things. And you also need a woman for some types of features — fashions, beauty and talking to certain guests.”
Before becoming a major force in television news, Barbara Walters was a “Today Girl.” In her autobiography, “Audition: A Memoir” (2008), she likened the role to pouring tea and wrote that it had been “Neanderthal” for women to be consigned to covering “features geared for women.”
But Ms. Bain said she loved it. “I was the only woman with the exception of the makeup woman on the set,” she said during a reunion of “Today Girls” on “Today” in 2012. And, Ms. McLanahan noted: “The role did transition to co-host. She always felt that she was groundbreaking in that sense.”
Ms. Bain left “Today” after only two months; the press speculated that she didn’t like the hours, but in fact she was pregnant with her first daughter, Dina.
“I ruined her career,” her daughter, now known as Dina Nemeth, joked in a phone interview.
Ms. Bain later became an interior designer.
In addition to her daughters, Ms. Bain is survived by her husband, Alexander Guadieri; a stepson, Alexandre Guadieri; and six grandchildren. Her marriage to Arno Schefler ended in divorce. Her second husband, Edward Mele, died in 2003.