A buxom, be-dimpled, pert-nosed knockout, Loni Anderson took an assured place on one of the television sex symbol pedestals during the late 1970s and early 1980s. A breakout hit in her Emmy-nominated role as Jennifer Marlowe on the sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati (1978), she later became a soap-styled fixture in mini-movies. All eyes were peeled on this worthy pin-up who helped to bring back the glossy platinum-blonde allure of Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield and Mamie Van Doren. A stylish, highly appealing actress whose hourglass figure and piled-on, bleached-blonde mane belied an enviable I.Q., Loni strove for much more as she tried to parlay her newly found fame into a viable dramatic career. She met with a measured degree of success as she recreated the lives of such artificial sex sirens as Mansfield and Thelma Todd on television, but got bogged down in television-movie re-tellings of famous movie classics (Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), Sorry, Wrong Number (1948), Leave Her to Heaven (1945)) that could not help but pale in comparison. This attempt at seriousness was further hampered by messy tabloid headlines in her private life.
Loni Kaye Anderson was born with very dark (jet black) hair on August 5, 1945 in St. Paul, Minnesota. An art student at the University of Minnesota, she entered (and won) beauty contests on the sly (including a Miss Minnesota runner-up placing in 1964). Married and divorced before she reached the age of 21, Loni took on a teaching position to support herself and baby daughter (Deidre) while completing college. Developing an interest in acting, she went the route many aspiring thespians do — apprenticing in local commercials and theater shows. Still dark-haired, she played in several early 1970s productions such as “Born Yesterday” (as Billie Dawn), “Send Me No Flowers”, “Can-Can” and “The Star-Spangled Girl”. She even played “Tzeitel” in “Fiddler on the Roof” and appeared in a production of “The Threepenny Opera”.
Re-married in 1973 (to another actor, Ross Bickell), the couple decided to move away from Minnesota to Los Angeles in 1975 and actively pursue film and television work. Pounding the proverbial pavement, she eventually went blonde and this, plus her gorgeous looks, helped her to secure minor but sexy roles on such series as S.W.A.T. (1975), Police Woman (1974), Barnaby Jones (1973), Three’s Company (1976) and The Bob Newhart Show (1972). By the time she nabbed the role of Jennifer Marlowe on “WKRP in Cincinnati” (and, with it, two Emmy nominations), she had grown quite admirably as an actress.
She and Howard Hesseman became the breakaway stars of the sitcom and Loni skyrocketed to sexy status. On the other hand, her instant fame led to the breakup of her second marriage in 1981. Loni found hit-and-miss success outside the parameters of her comedy series. She was front-and-center in a number of television-movies, notably playing tragic Hollywood sex sirens Jayne Mansfield in The Jayne Mansfield Story (1980), opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger as her muscle-bound husband Mickey Hargitay, and Thelma Todd, in White Hot: The Mysterious Murder of Thelma Todd (1991), whose untimely death in 1935 is still questioned. Loni also appeared lusciously alongside Bob Hope, brightening up several of his classic television specials. On the minus side, she fizzled in her teaming up with equally sexy Wonder Woman (1975) star Lynda Carter in the tepid, short-lived series Partners in Crime (1984) and then played a former Las Vegas showgirl who inherits a bundle in the sitcom misfire Easy Street (1986). She also was given a chance to work in feature films such as Stroker Ace (1983). While her performance in that film was panned, it did have her meeting and co-starring opposite mega star Burt Reynolds.
Appearing in routine, mini-movie soap operas (via her own production company), if anything, kept Loni in the public eye as a serious-minded actress, but it was an uphill battle to rise above her manufactured image as a fantasy bombshell. Not helping things was her high-profile marriage to Reynolds in 1988, which began blissfully enough (and produced adopted son Quinton), then dissolved quickly into a nasty divorce that damaged the reputations of both stars. In recent years, Loni has shown incredible perseverance. As always, the stalwart beauty continues to play up the glam but has since downplayed the dramatics. She seems more focused these days on having innocuous fun, playing a number of hearty vixens in sitcoms and series guest spots. Over time, she has enjoyed such lightweight sitcoms as Nurses (1991), The Mullets (2003) and as Tori Spelling’s materialistic mother in So Notorious (2006), which did not get the seal of approval from Tori’s real-life mother.
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