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Trailblazer Actress And Sportscaster Jayne Kennedy, Then And Now

Icons | April 7, 2019

Jayne Kennedy poses for a portrait in circa 1985 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Donaldson Collection/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Throughout the 1970s, the model, actress and sportscaster Jayne Kennedy was one of the most culturally influential women in the country. Not only was she the most prominent African-American woman on television, but she was one of the only female television announcers who worked in the world of sports. Rising up through the beauty pageant scene, young model Jayne Kennedy achieved visibility as Miss Ohio, went on to appear on TV shows including Laugh-In and the Dean Martin Show, and became a fixture on The NFL Today. Aside from her on-camera work, Kennedy was and still is an advocate for numerous charities.

Just as Kennedy’s career was taking off, a sex tape of her and her ex-husband was leaked, effectively ending her broadcast television work. Even though she faced numerous setbacks and isn’t as popular today as she should be, Kennedy is truly one of the most inspirational women of the '70s and early '80s. 

She Was The First Black Miss Ohio And First Black Celebrity To Be On The Cover Of Playboy

Jayne Kennedy. Source: Pinterest

For the entirety of Kennedy’s on-screen career, she also worked as a model, and as a pageant contestant. In 1970, she broke new ground when she became the first black Miss Ohio. She then went on to be one of 15 semi-finalists in the 1970 Miss USA Pageant.

Eleven years after her trailblazing win as Miss Ohio, she became the first black actress to appear on the cover of Playboy magazine. This was obviously an important step forward for the magazine at the time, and in Kennedy’s spread, she opted to remain mostly clothed, choosing to keep a chaste air around her persona. 

Kennedy Began Her Television Career On ‘Laugh-In’

Jayne Kennedy as a member of the Dingaling Sisters in the early 1970s on the Dean Martin Show; on the cover of Jet in 1973, and in 'The Muthers' (1976). Source: x2, IMDB

After growing up in Washington, D.C., and finishing high school in Ohio, the then Jayne Harrison married Leon Isaac Kennedy in 1971 and moved to Los Angeles in search of a career in the entertainment industry. It didn’t take long for Kennedy to get cast in Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In as a backup dancer for the series. After working on Laugh-In, Kennedy became a traveling member of Bob Hope’s traveling USO show.

Kennedy danced on Hope’s World Christmas Tour, traveling across Asia and even performing in Cuba. After the USO tour, she worked as one of the Ding-a-Ling sisters on The Dean Martin Show, replacing his previous group, The Golddiggers. 

She Won An Emmy Award For Her Sports Coverage


Kennedy continued to break ground in 1978 when she joined The NFL Today program on CBS as the first female correspondent for a national sports program. While presenting for CBS she won an Emmy award for her work reporting on the Rose Bowl Parade in 1977. She later received another Emmy nomination for her coverage of the South Korean soldiers in the DMZ.

Kennedy says that her love of sports comes from growing up in Ohio, where everyone was wild about the Browns. She said:

We grew up in Cleveland Browns territory when Jim Brown was playing. So it was really hard to grow up in Cleveland, Ohio at that time and not be a Browns’ fan. You would walk down the street and people would have their front doors painted brown. Jim Brown was idolized in the city and everybody loved him. My dad played baseball on his company team and on our church team, so we would go with him to all his games… Other than that, there really wasn’t anything to do. I played basketball and volleyball, but just for our school team and never played other schools. But I was always highly competitive.

Someone Stole Her Sex Tape

Jayne Kennedy and Cindy Morgan on 'CHiPs' (1981); Jayne Kennedy; the poster for 'Body And Soul' (1981). Source: IMDB; Pinterest; IMDB

Following the divorce from her first husband in 1982, Kennedy’s life was rocked when a personal sex tape featuring the two of them was stolen from their home and leaked to the media. While something like that isn’t as damning in the 21st century, in the early ‘80s it was bad enough to unfairly stain her reputation.

Kennedy attempted to recover from the fallout by starring in a series of workout videos, but roles failed to manifest following the surreptitious release of the video. In 2013 Leon Kennedy, her ex-husband, filed a $1 million lawsuit against Ebony Magazine. He claimed that the publication listed him as the culprit behind the release of the sex tape. 

A Uterine Disorder Sidelined Her Career


While filming the workout series Love Your Body in the early ‘80s, Kennedy found herself in sudden debilitating pain. While at a Coca-Cola convention to promote the series she collapsed backstage and had to be taken to the ER. She told USA Today

Finally my doctor said, 'I'm going to have you tested for endometriosis. Don't worry about it, you probably don't have it but let's run the test anyway.’ We did an ultrasound and he said, 'Yup, you have it.' That was the first time I heard of endometriosis.

Even though the pain of endometriosis disappeared during her first pregnancy the pain returned and Kennedy required three laparoscopic surgeries in order to remove tissue in her uterus. 

After Her Illness She Decided To Raise A Family


After the unauthorized release of the sex tape featuring Kennedy and her former husband, and the horrible disease that she was afflicted with, she pulled back from putting herself through the physical rigors that come with performing and moved away from on-camera work to focus on her family. Kennedy explained:

I put off having a family because I knew that I wanted to be there for my family and I was traveling a lot. At that time, the industry was not ready to allow pregnant women the opportunity to still be on camera or on the silver screen. Today it’s a completely different story, but back then, I would have lost my contract. I would have never been hired again because people were just not ready for that at that particular time.

In 2017 Kennedy celebrated her 65th birthday with her friends and family at Lafayette Square in Los Angeles, CA. 

Tags: Childhood Crushes | Jayne Kennedy | Ladies | NFL | Then And Now

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Jacob Shelton


Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.