Jennifer was an original TV character: a glamorous, drop-dead gorgeous
girl with smarts. Behind the platinum blonde hair and the hourglass figure
was an extremely intelligent and caring woman with a sharp wit.
One of the most famous blonde bombshells in TV history, Loni, in
reality was a brunette who dyed her hair for "WKRP."
Loni told Ability magazine that before the series started, as a brunette, "I
was always cast in all the exotic parts. I played the Native American, the
Italian... whatever ethnic group was called for, that was me."
She went blonde because series creator Hugh Wilson told her that he
"wanted somebody who looked like Lana Turner but was the smartest
person in the room."
"It was very innovative at the time," she told www.popentertainment.com. "No glamorous women had been funny. Pretty women had been funny, but not glamorous women. Most glamorous blonde-bombshell kind of women had been ditzy. Women [viewers] really were impacted the most by the character -- knowing that you could be glamorous in the workplace and still be the smartest person in the room."
When Loni auditioned for the Jennifer Marlowe role she assumed that she would play a sterotypical dumb blonde, so she walked in with the mindset that she didn't
want the job, yet she hoped to impress Wilson and MTM head Grant Tinker enough to consider her for future jobs.
"I went in with my little soapbox to give my little speech about how I didn't like the idea of ever being a dumb blonde or window dressing. I was a serious brunette actress,” she said. Wilson and Tinker were impressed and she got the job.
“WKRP” featured a cast of diversified characters who worked at a struggling radio station which had changed its format to rock music. Wilson based the show on his experiences of working for Top 40 radio stations.
A victim of poor ratings, “WKRP” was pulled midway through its first season and it appeared to be finished. Surprisingly, CBS brought the show back in 1979, scheduling it after the monster hit “M*A*S*H,” and the ratings improved.
It ran for four seasons (90 episodes) and received 10 Emmy nominations, including three for Outstanding Comedy Series. “WKRP” became a bigger hit in syndication; Tinker called it the biggest moneymaker in MTM Productions history.
Jennifer also cared about her WKRP co-workers. She accompanied nerdy newsman Les Nessman as his date to an awards banquet; she nurtured her boss as though he were her adolescent son; and she counseled shy, young reporter Bailey Quarters (Jan Smithers).like a big sister.
She handled every situation with unflappable calm, including the advances of sleazy salesman Herb Tarlek (Frank Bonner), who relentlessly sexually harassed her. When DJ Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman) sidled into the reception area to flirt with Jennifer, instead of shooting him down, she simply turned up the radio sound to make him aware that the air was dead.
Hesseman spoke of Loni's character to People magazine in 1979, “On WKRP she doesn't use sex to get people to do what she wants. Rather, she lets people volunteer to do what she wants because of what they fantasize about her. Come to think of it, she does that in real life, too.”
A St. Paul, Minnesota native, Loni graduated from the University of Minnesota with an education degree and “was a teacher for about a minute.”
She had unsuccessfully auditioned for the Suzanne Somers role in “Three's Company” a year before “WKRP.” Loni did guess star in one episode of the show, and ironically, she released a swimsuit poster that sold more than Suzanne's poster.
“I wanted to do it before all the cheesecake falls apart,” she said in 1979.
After “WKRP,” Loni made the film “Stroker Ace” with then-husband Burt Reynolds, and she portrayed actress Jayne Mansfield in a made-for-TV movie. She published her autobiography, “My Life in High Heels,” in 1997.
Classic TV Beauties 1970s Countdown
LONI ANDERDON as Jennifer Marlowe in "WKRP in Cincinnati"
Although the ensemble concept was a key factor of the show's appeal, Loni broke out of the pack to become a huge star and sex symbol. Jennifer was unlike any other receptionist. The highest-paid employee at the station, her main job was to sit in the reception area and look pretty. She did not take dictation and did not make or get coffee for her boss, Arthur Carlson (Gordon Jump).
Jennifer famously told her co-workers that she was a member of the “International Society of Blonde Receptionists.” “If you saw our minimum salary, you'd have a heart attack and die."
Jennifer was attracted to older, wealthy men because “they're so mature and kind, and they tire easily.” Her admirers lavished expensive gifts on her, allowing her to live in an expensive penthouse apartment. But Jennifer was no gold digger; she cared about the men she dated.