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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Olney-Grown Biz Whiz Takes on 'CSI' Tonight 

Tonight, the girl from Olney who grew up to be a marketing guru goes head-to-head with CBS killer-drama CSI. And most of Mary Lou Quinlan's life her only TV experience came as a 7-year-old member of Brownie Troop 54, when, instead of waving to the cameras, she stewed in her seat over not being picked to be onstage on The Gene London Show. Now she’s the most expressive judge on American Inventor, ABC’s parade of dreamers and schemers, all convinced their huggable Therapy Buddy, anti-flatulence underwear insert, or giant hamster wheel for humans is the Next Big Thing. First, at 8, a one-hour recap recalls the show's 10 worst inventions. Then at 9, Quinlan (who at Cardinal Dougherty High was Maria’s dance-double in West Side Story) takes center-stage, mentoring three of the 12 finalists, as each turns $50,000 and help from pros into much-improved prototypes. There’s the woman with a trilingual tolerance-teaching doll. The teen with a bike designed for handlebar rides. And the man with the gym bag. As in: He stuffed a whole gym in a bag. Each hopes to be the one Quinlan selects to be in the final four, who’ll face off for the $1 million prize.

But, frankly, so far, many viewers have often found the judges at least as entertaining as the obsessively intense contestants, even the ones with edible snow globes or doggie air-conditioners. And, not surprisingly, the emotive women from Philly (born Mary Lou Finlayson, grew up in St. Helena’s parish, graduated St. Joe's in '75, married Joe Quinlan, who wrote for the Bulletin) is the readiest to show and tell how she feels. After all, studying feelings is her business. Her invention was Just Ask a Woman, a marketing firm whose mission is to tell corporations just what women want. Her book of the same name was folllowed by Time Off for Good Behavior, a women's guide to taking productive career breaks.

This wide-eyed redhead’s emotions run the whole range. They don’t park in a corner, the way Paula Abdul’s positivity does on American Idol, always a foil to the insensitivities of Simon Cowell, who dreamed up this show. "I was encouraged by Simon to fully react as a person," she said on the phone. And so she does. The camera even likes to watch Quinlan listen, sympathy rising in those soulful eyes, as saps detail their sacrifices: small fortunes, marriages, employment, even a kidney. You can tell she loves that “yippee!” moment, as she calls it, when a yes from the judges means hope that years of struggle might finally pay off.

Most of Quinlan’s flashes of ire have been directed toward Doug Hall, the pudgy inventor judge whose incessant claims of authority — knows all about falling through ice on frozen lakes? – have made him an easy target. "You don’t get to be the smartest person in the room! Anybody ever told you that?" she ranted on a recent episode. And apparently the animosity isn't just for show. Not going to have dinner with him anytime soon? "Not in his dreams," she said. "... I wish he could invent a way to become more likeable, but he's not that clever." (Check out an earlier item on Hall and Three Stooges Seltzer.)

She's knocked inventions, too. Like the Flatulence Deodorizer. She called it a “fart pad,” then added, “I can’t believe I said that word on TV.”

But there was no topping the topless moment, when an inventrix, poised along a model with a huge red bow on her chest, reached and, drum roll please, yanked a ribbon, instantly causing judges’ jaws to drop. The guys smiled. Not Quinlan. “There they were, those big ones right in my face,” she recounted. “I just thought as a woman, I can’t just sit here.” So, in a room with about 20 men, counting off-camera crew, she jumped from her chair, looked around and called out, "Where’s my coat?" People thought she was walking out. No, she sought the coat to cover the model up. Then she spoke her mind some more. “Show some naked stupid girl and that’s an invention? Grow up, get a job, be proud of yourself, where’s your mother?” she said to the presenter (not Hall). Not another peep, or even a chance to vote, from the testosterone triumvirate.

Meanwhile, back in Philly, Sister Alma Rose Schlosser and a group of fellow nuns were cheering her on, as Quinlan later learned. "I was just proud and happy that she stepped forward for women in the right way," said Schlosser, president for St. Hubert Catholic High School for Girls in the Northeast.

By the way, judging from the promos, that "naughty knot lingerie" is one of the 10 worst that will re-air tonight at 8.

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