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Loni Anderson: Poster Gal And 'WKRP's Sweetheart, Then And Now

Icons | October 13, 2017

The poster that made Loni Anderson a star, and a later poster of her. Source: eBay

Thanks to her run as Jennifer Marlowe on WKRP In Cincinnati, Loni Anderson emerged as one of the most popular TV actresses and poster models of the late '70s and early '80s. The competition was stiff -- Farrah Fawcett, Heather Thomas, Heather Locklear, Lynda Carter and others were competing for wall space in many a teenage boy's room. With her over-the-top blonde coiffure, flashy smile and toned figure, Anderson was a fan favorite -- and in fact, her posters jump-started her acting career when she needed a boost.

As Jennifer Marlowe, assistant to the station manager on WKRP in Cincinnati, Anderson played the sane one in what was more or less a lunatic asylum of burned-out DJs, feckless newscasters, and creepy business staff. The secret brains behind the operation, Jennifer kept the WKRP ship afloat like Radar O'Reilly did on M*A*S*H -- but, aesthetically, she was nothing like Radar O'Reilly. The male characters on the show, like much of the show's audience, all nurture poorly-concealed crushes on her, which she easily deflected. During the four years WKRP was on the air, Anderson's Jennifer Marlowe character was one of the most recognizable and charismatic on TV.


Loni Anderson Isn't A Natural Blonde

Loni Anderson in a poster photo, and in a still from a 1980 episode of 'Fantasy Island.' Source: reddit

Loni Kaye Anderson was born on August 5, 1946 in St. Paul, Minnesota. Given her poise and beauty, it is no surprise that her mother, Maxine (Kallin) Anderson, was a model. She followed in her mother’s footsteps doing some modeling as well as entering and winning beauty pageants. 

"I started acting when I was 10, doing musical theater," she told Ability Magazine. "Since I was a brunette at that time, I was always cast in all the exotic parts. I played the Native American, the African American, the Italian. Whatever ethnic group was called for, that was me. Hard to believe, isn’t it?"

Loni was named “Valentine Queen” at the high school Valentine’s Day formal dance her senior year. After high school graduation, she went on to attend the University of Minnesota where she studied to become a teacher. 

If She Hadn't Made It As An Actress, Loni Anderson Would Have Been A Schoolteacher

Loni Anderson's head shot as Jennifer Marlowe, and in another well-known bikini poster. Source: Reddit; Reddit

"I was a teacher for about a minute," Anderson recalled. "I’d had my daughter when I was a teenager—I took my daughter to college with me. But the theater is where I belonged; I simply wanted to be an actress my whole life. My parents thought since I was a divorced mother and a teenager, acting probably wasn’t the right choice, so I got a teaching degree. Interestingly enough, my grandmother was a teacher, my sister was a teacher, my daughter was a teacher and is now a superintendent in northern California, and my son-in-law is a high school principal. I am surrounded. I am the odd man out in the family."

Loni Anderson Went 10 Years Without An Acting Job

Loni Anderson in 'Nevada Smith,' 1966. Source: IMDB

Anderson debuted as an actual actress, in 1966, when she was given a small part in the Steve McQueen film Nevada Smith. After appearing in that film, she went years before landing any other acting jobs. About 10 years after that first appearance, Anderson found work appearing in some pretty well know television sitcoms including, S.W.A.T., Phyllis, Police Woman, Harry O and Three’s Company.

Jennifer Marlowe On 'WKRP' Was A Career-Defining Role

Loni Anderson as Jennifer Marlowe. Source: IMDB

With her poster-girl popularity and guest appearances building buzz, Anderson was cast as Jennifer Marlowe for WKRP In Cincinnati, which aired its first episode in 1978. Although Anderson’s acting ability was probably a factor in her being offered the role, the poster pin-up of her in a sexy red swimsuit really sealed the deal. She was absolutely beautiful and she was able to portray sexuality with smarts.

I chose to be blonde for WKRP because the guy who created it, Hugh Wilson, said he wanted somebody who looked like Lana Turner but was the smartest person in the room. Very innovative, by the way, for 1978 when we started the show. On TV nobody sexy was smart, nobody glamorous was smart, especially in comedy. 

Some Fans Tuned In Just To Watch Loni Anderson

Loni Anderson, Gary Sandy, and Jan Smithers in 'WKRP in Cincinnati.' Source: IMDB

WKRP in Cincinnati was a sitcom about a fictitious radio station being run by a somewhat inept office staff. The station manager, who was fondly referred to as, “Big Guy,” had his hands full trying to keep his radio station running while attempting to keep them in line. Somehow or another, there was always a crisis afoot. Along with Loni Anderson as Jennifer Marlowe, station secretary, the cast consisted of Arthur Carlson (Gordon Jump), station manager; Andy Travis (Gary Sandy), program director; Dr. Johnny Fever (Howard Hessman), D.J.; Venus Flytrap (Tim Reid) D.J.; Herb Tarlek (Frank Bonner), advertising account executive; Les Nessman (Richard Sanders), news reporter; Bailey Quarters (Jan Smithers), billing agent and somewhat of a girl-Friday. 

'WKRP In Cincinnati' Was Canceled In 1982

'WKRP In Cincinnati.' Source: IMDB

While the entire cast was entertaining, many viewers tuned in to see that beautiful, blond bombshell portrayed by Anderson. She was the station secretary and despite the fact that she should have been busier than a one-armed paper-hanger, she rarely seemed busy or ever break a sweat. The entire office could be in an uproar over the latest catastrophe and Jennifer Marlowe sat at her desk calmly, not involving herself. She did her best to keep her boss, Mr. Carlson, happy but everyone else was on their own. Jennifer Marlowe was known for her (tasteful) tight, form-fitting outfits complete with the proper amount of cleavage.

The sitcom, during its 4-year run, did not make the best ratings. Despite that fact, there seemed to be a loyal viewership compiled mostly of teenagers (go figure), young adults and real-life radio station employees. Anderson was most definitely the main attraction and probably accounted for the show lasting as long as it did.  

Loni Anderson's Movie Career Never Quite Got Off The Ground

Loni Anderson and Burt Reynolds. Source: IMDB

When the show ended in 1982, Anderson’s career cooled off. She dabbled in some other notable roles but never gained the success she had with WKRP in Cincinnati. One of the later roles she played was, Pembrook Feeny, in Stroker Ace, opposite Burt Reynolds. This movie all but bombed. Anderson also briefly appeared on the sitcom, Evening Shade, again, opposite Burt Reynolds but was soon replaced.

'Partners In Crime' Was A Dream Team-Up For Fans

Lynda Carter and Loni Anderson in publicity photos for 'Partners In Crime.' Source: Reddit

Fans of TV bombshells seemed to have had their prayers answered when Anderson returned to the small screen alongside Lynda Carter (famous as the titular star of Wonder Woman) in a 1984 detective series called Patners In Crime. Although it was a pairing of two of TV's most beloved actresses of the late '70s, the series was not a ratings success, and was canceled after 13 episodes.

Loni And Burt's Hollywood Romance Gave Way To A Long, Ugly Divorce Saga

The tabloid story of Loni and Burt. Source: People.com

Burt Reynolds and Loni Anderson met in 1981, dated throughout the '80s, and tied the knot in 1988. Together they adopted a son, Quinton, and their life as a Hollywood power couple seemed to be idyllic. But the marriage fell apart fairly quickly, and in 1993 they divorced -- and so began one of the longest and most contentious post-marital battles Hollywood has ever seen. The nitty gritty was covered extensively by the tabloid press.

Loni Anderson Was A Monroe Or Mansfield For The '80s

Loni Anderson. Source: Reddit

Loni Anderson was one of those actresses that men loved and women envied. She was a buxom platinum-blond with the magnetism of Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield -- and she actually played the latter in the 1980 TV movie The Jayne Mansfield Story. Being beautiful was most definitely a double-edged sword because she was not regarded for her talent as much as her looks. Moreover, like many celebrities, she was often fodder for tabloid trash magazines. Given her talent and looks, Anderson’s career was modest; but she is certainly one of those actresses we will never forget! 

Loni Anderson Returned To Sitcom Acting

Loni Anderson with her 'My Sister Is So Gay' co-stars, 2016. Source: IMDB

After many years out of the business, Loni Anderson returned to sitcoms in 2016, appearing in My Sister Is So Gay, a web series on Tello TV. Now in her 70s, Anderson is still playing a blonde bombshell, although one whose style is the polar opposite of the cool, collected Jennifer Marlowe. "I carry the ice bucket and all the makings for a martini in my purse," she said of her character, in an interview with Huffington Post. "I’m promiscuous and wear tiny little mini-skirts and have plunging necklines and animal prints."

Tags: 1970s Hair Styles | Ladies | Loni Anderson | The 1980s | What They Are Known For

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Rebeka Knott

Writer

Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.