Norma Vally credits her ability to put a hammer to a nail or a wrench to a pipe on one person – her dad.
“I was a tomboy and my father could fix anything,” said the former TV host. “He’d always be fixing things. I would be interested in something and he’d put the tool in my hand and show me how to use it. He was very macho in many ways but he never stereotyped me in that this was boy’s work. I wish he would have lived long enough to see me do these things on national TV.”
She would later use those home repair skills her father taught her to create a television pilot that she tried selling to networks, which focused on women.
“I was told by an agent that he loved the idea but that it’s hard to sell a show,” she said. “They told me, ‘We need to sell you. You have a set of skills and a certain X-factor that is very unique, so I’m going to start pitching you as the talent.’”
Vally, who has lived in Boulder City for the last 11 years, spent the early 2000s in front of the camera as a co-host of the Discovery Channel’s “Rally Round the House” and her own show on Discovery Home Channel’s Emmy-nominated series “Toolbelt Diva.” That show ran from 2004-2008.
“Rally Round the House” shot 56 episodes in California and Georgia before being pulled from the lineup. That opened the door for “Toolbelt Diva,” which featured Vally going into women’s homes and taking them through the process of fixing household items and doing light renovations.
“This hit me right in my heart. It was something I had always wanted to do,” she said. “I shot four seasons of “Toolbelt Diva” and it was an amazing experience.”
When asked what it was like the first time she saw herself on TV, she let out a gasp and said, “It’s very hard to see yourself. Once I put my fear and ego aside, I really watched myself in an out-of-body experience so to speak and thought, ‘I’m really interesting. That’s funny and great information.’ I also thought it was well produced. They captured great moments between the homeowner and myself.”
For “Toolbelt Diva,” talent scouts would go to various communities and express an interest publicly in showcasing women renovating and repairing with oversight from Vally. She said there was never a lack of home projects or repairs to focus on and at the same time, keeping in mind what was feasible or possible in a 22-minute episode. They spent on average two and a half days at each of these homes, which included a trip to Home Depot, one of the sponsors of the show.
“The women, I loved seeing them conquer their fears because most had never picked up a tool before in their lives,” she said. “I had a couple of girls cry because they were so nervous. I’d tell them to follow my voice and do what I told them to do. It was great.
“We had a crew and before filming each show, we’d have a big pre-production meeting and that’s when we’d go over all the details of the shoot and the products we’d need.”
Vally said the timing of a show about women swinging a hammer was perfect and that it may not have taken off had they done it a decade earlier.
“By that time, we started seeing more women on these home makeover shows and HGTV really put its hooks in that niche of programming and obviously they were our competitors,” she said, adding that she was once told she was “too New York” to get a show on that network. “But on Discovery Home Channel, I was their No. 1 show and the one they used when marketing the network.”
Now, 15 years since “Toolbelt Diva” left the airways, Vally said there’s still a lot she misses from being in front of the camera.
“I miss the people I was teaching,” she said. “The first time I recall being recognized was actually by my voice. Someone came running around from the other side of the aisle and said, ‘I thought it was you.’ I feel like the show kind of ran its course. It started to change but people really learned from my show. There was a quote on the back of my first book that said that if Bob Villa and Oprah Winfrey had an offspring, it would be Norma Vally.”
According to her biography, as a guest speaker and do-it-yourself expert she appeared on “Today,” NBC Nightly News, CNN, FOX, MSNBC, Discovery, TLC, HGTV, DIY, and Hallmark. She was featured in numerous national publications such as Glamour, Women’s Health, People, Woman’s Day, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and New York Times. She was also a monthly columnist for the Boulder City Review. In addition, she was a spokesperson for various home improvement companies and wrote three books.
“People to this day write me and ask if I’m ever coming back on the air, that they miss me and learned a lot,” she said. “And I’ve had several mothers of sons thank me for not putting men down while I empowered women. That’s always meant a lot to me.”