• INTERVIEW: A conversation with Icon Loni Anderson

    By Dr. Alan Carlos Hernandez on February 8, 2017

    HOLLYWOOD (Herald de Paris) —  Loni Anderson stars as Frances, the boozy and inappropriately sexy mother of two middle age children, in the new LGBT themes series dubbed, “My Sister is So Gay.”

    The series premiered January 22, 2017 on Tello Films. Season One features a total of six episodes.

    Frances’ gay son Seth (played by Terry Ray), is invaded by his uptight, homophobic sister, Amanda (Wendy Michaels) after she catches her husband with her best friend, Katherine. It just seems she’s way more upset about Katherine cheating on her than her husband. It’s not adding up for Seth, especially when Amanda acts all loopy around his lesbian co-worker, Becca (Debra Wilson). Is his right-winger, homophobic sister gay? And Amanda can’t figure out why Seth’s way younger and very handsome boyfriend is interested in Seth. He seems to have too many secrets. Is he married?

    “My Sister is So Gay is an innovative web series. It has a talented cast and we are so excited to be working with Terry and Wendy. We see their brand of comedy as one that we want to have on our site and plan on other collaborations with them in the future,” says Christin Baker of Tello films.

    The series was written and created by Terry Ray and Wendy Michaels and is distributed by Tello films. The prolific Sam Irvin is the director the project.

    Loni Anderson will always be remembered as Jennifer Marlowe from the hit sitcom WKRP In Cincinnati, a role which garnered her 3 Golden Globe and 2 Prime Time Emmy Award nominations.

    Loni was a regular in 5 more series and has guest starred in numerous other shows and TV movies like the title role in THE JAYNE MANSFIELD STORY. Her films include A NIGHT AT THE ROXBURY and STROKER ACE with Burt Reynolds. Ms. Anderson’s high-profile marriage to Burt made them the Brad & Angelina of the 1980s.

    Anderson says, “If you want to look young next to your kids’, teen pregnancy is the way to go. People don’t talk about it, but I think it’s a selling point.”

    Anderson was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, the daughter of Maxine Hazel (née Kallin) (1924–1985), a model, and Klaydon Carl “Andy” Anderson (1922–1977), an environmental chemist, and grew up in suburban Roseville. As a senior at Alexander Ramsey Senior High School in Roseville. She attended the University of Minnesota. As she says in her autobiography, My Life in High Heels was published in 1997.

    Her acting debut came with a bit part in the 1966 film Nevada Smith, starring Steve McQueen. After that, she went virtually unemployed as an actress for nearly a decade, before she finally began achieving guest roles on episodic television shows in the mid-1970s.

    Anderson’s most famous acting role came as the sultry receptionist Jennifer Marlowe on the sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati (1978–1982). She was offered the role when producers saw the poster of her in a red swimsuit—a pose similar to Farrah Fawcett’s famous 1976 pin-up. The sitcom’s creator, Hugh Wilson, later admitted that Anderson got the part because her body resembled Jayne Mansfield and because she possessed the innocent sexuality of Marilyn Monroe. She starred as blonde bombshell Jayne Mansfield in the CBS made-for-television film The Jayne Mansfield Story (1980).

    Aside from her acting career, Anderson has become known for her colorful personal life, particularly her relationship and marriage to actor Burt Reynolds. They starred in the comedy film Stroker Ace (1983), which was a critical and box office failure. She later appeared as herself in the romantic comedy The Lonely Guy (1984), starring Steve Martin. She voiced Flo, a collie in the animated classic film All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989).

    Herald de Paris’ Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez was honored to speak with the iconic actress.

    AC: You began as a Teacher, what do you remember from that experience and how does that experience inform your work over the years?

    LA: Yes, I did begin as a teacher but to be honest, I did it for my parents. I earned my teaching degree because they didn’t think acting was a good profession to fall back on. I was a teenage mom and they thought I should have something more stable. My student teaching assignment was in a high school. The boys were too close to my age and I was too young for them to take me seriously. They all asked me out on dates and I thought no, no, no. I then I went to a girls’ school hoping I’d have more luck there and that turned out to be an excellent experience. I taught at a finishing school and could use my art background, which is what my degree is in. I also taught fashion design and got to use my math skills. I really did enjoy that part of my teaching.

    Everything changed and I knew I wanted to be an actress the minute I got cast in an Equity show then joined the union after that, I never taught again. I found that when you are teaching someone how to find their creativity, it helps you find your own creativity as well.

    AC: What attracted you to acting?

    LA: From the earliest time I can remember, there wasn’t anything I wanted to do other than acting. As a child I acted out anything I ever saw in television or in movies in my bedroom. I’d lock myself away and recited dialog in the mirror. I was always acting and started getting the neighborhood kids together and putting on shows. I would be the director, producer, writer, singer, dancer–I’d do everything and get all the other kids to join me. We’d charge a nickel for our parents to come and see us perform in the garage. I was kind of bossy because I oversaw everything and loved doing that. I remember in first grade I convinced my teacher that we had to put on a play. I bugged her so much she just let me do it and to allow me to be in charge. I cast all my friends and we did some fairy tale thing.

    My first audition was when I was 10 years old for my first musical and I played a native American princess because I had black hair. Bow Bright was her name. The play was called ‘The Pioneer Papoose’ and I still remember the lyrics to my song about the kind of brave I wanted to meet: “One with courage for the fray, my brave must love both dance and song and dress in feathers gay.”

    AC: As an aspiring actor, you made a conscious decision to go blonde what fueled that decision? How did the external change effect your career at the time, some people considered the move, genius?

    LA: As a college sophomore I was very excited to be cast with the seniors in a professional repertory theater called The Show Boat in Minneapolis. I did a show as myself a brunette, and then I did a new play by Romeo Muller who wrote “Frosty the Snowman”, the animated special that we see every year. He wrote a show called “The Great Getaway”. I was cast as the dumb blonde and wore a wig this was my first foray into doing a dumb blonde voice I’d created. That voice landed me several commercials which was the true beginning of my professional acting career. “Born Yesterday” was my first Equity show. Producers couldn’t find an Equity actress in the Twin Cities area to play Billie Dawn so they opened it up to anyone.

    Getting the role meant you would get your Equity card. I thought, this was my perfect in–so I bought a cheap blonde wig, went to audition, did my dumb blonde voice and got the part. I never took my wig off in rehearsals because I was so sure I’d be fired.

    On opening night, I got a standing ovation at the beginning of the 2nd act, so I naively thought I’ll never have to worry about anything again. I felt so secure and full of myself that at the end of the show, backstage as the director was congratulating me, I took my wig off and it shocked everyone. So I asked the director if he would have cast me if I had given the same audition, but had come in without the blonde wig? He told me that he is not sure that he would have. It was a real life lesson to learn that when you go in for a casting call, don’t expect everyone to be so imaginative that they will automatically see you as the character. From then on, just presenting myself at an audition was an acting job too. You have to be remembered because there could be 60 blondes and how are you going to make yourself stand out?

    AC: How do you react when it is said that you are considered by many a postmodern Jane Mansfield, Marlin Monroe type?

    LA: After that experience I was still playing blondes, but I wasn’t ready to go blonde just yet. In Chicago I was doing some commercials and I think I was doing the musical “Can-Can” in a theater. I went into the bar on Monday night where all the theater people go to hang out when their shows are dark. People kept saying that I did that blonde thing so well, I decided to do an experiment. One Monday night I went in the bar with my own dark hair. Everyone was very respectful. I joined in all the conversations and people asked me questions–it was a regular night out with the theater crowd.

    The next Monday I went to the bar in a blonde wig and no one talked to me or asked me one intelligent thing. I was sitting at a table and about an hour into the evening I had 8 drinks from all these guys at the bar and at least one woman lined up. The executive board of Hiram Walker distillery was having a meeting in one of the rooms connected to this place and they invited me to join them for dinner.

    I learned that blondes have a different thing happening. “Blonde” makes a lot of men a little crazy. For a while after that I still held back on going blonde because I thought, no one will take me seriously. But I kept my blonde experimentations in my back pocket, this was around 1974.

    A few years later in 1978, being blonde for WKRP was a big decision. It was only because of Hugh Wilson, the show’s creator, we talked about my character looking like Lana Turner but also being the smartest person in the room, that convinced me to truly commit to being blonde. It was a collaborative effort between Hugh and I. I was very much against Jennifer just being a blonde window dressing. I know my character’s intelligence is why Jennifer Marlowe became such an iconic figure. No one was doing that. Glamorous blondes were not the smartest person in the room. And the only blondes that were allowed to be funny before our show had to play dumb. That’s why Jennifer was so innovative.

    AC: On WKRP you broke the stereotypes regarding the Classic Dumb Blonde character, how much input do you have into this ground-breaking casting?

    LA: Hugh Wilson was very open to the cast. We all had meetings about where we wanted to see our characters go or if we had something we wanted our characters to say. I was never disappointed in what they gave Jennifer–everything was there. I just wish we could have kept going because I felt so fulfilled by that character. When I was fortunate enough to get nominated for Emmys and Golden Globe Awards for the role of Jennifer Marlowe, I knew I must always thank the writers in any acceptance speech I might be lucky enough to give, because as good as you may think you are as an actress, without their words you couldn’t possibly be that person.

    AC: Tell us about the production company you owned, what type of projected did you do, what are the pluses and minuses of being a CEO?

    LA: Having my own production company was fun because I had input and some say about the roles and which way they were going. I had enough power to speak up about who l would like to work with. There were times I had to go head to head with the network on a casting decision. I remember on a TV movie called “Stranded”, which was a comedy about two people stranded on a desert island, the actors had to be funny and romantic which required mega chemistry and a spark or it wouldn’t work. The network was determined to cast an actor who will remain nameless, but he was really, really hot on TV at the time. I said, “I know he’s handsome and could be a perfectly nice guy, but he’s not funny.” But they were so set on casting him that I said, “Here’s the deal. Why don’t we bring him in to read with me. I will read with as many guys as you want me to read with and you tell me what you see.” They brought him in and said “No! We can’t watch the two of you together for two hours. This guy has no chemistry whatsoever and no sense of humor”. (Lovely actor that he was.) Therefore Perry King was cast and it was the number one TV movie of the year. So that’s what you get to do as a producer–I like that.

    AC: How has the TV business changed for women over the years and do you think you had something to do with the way the industry views extremely attractive women?

    LA: I have to say there are certainly more shows with women in leads now, but it’s still not enough. We know that ten guys are cast for every one woman, so women are still fighting the good fight. But I think it truly has moved forward. We have more interesting parts to play and woman carry more movies and TV series now, but we still have a ways to go. I think attractive women are taken much more seriously.

    This new generation of actors are more chameleon-like. They can have any color hair they want from one project to the next. That seems to be much more accepted than it was several years ago when you had an image you were expected to maintain. Now that has gone by the wayside. Today’s actresses can have a different image for every role they do–even in their private lives. At an award show one year they can be a redhead and the next year a blonde and the next year a brunette. That seems to be okay with the audience–they accept it. In my generation the audience liked their icons to have a consistent image. I remember once asking the wonderful Grant Tinker if I could do a role in black hair and he said, “Are you crazy? I didn’t cast you to have black hair, I cast YOU, Loni Anderson, you’re blonde.” That’s changed and I think that’s a good thing.

    AC: Do you think you were stereotyped in a negative way that limited opportunity?

    LA: Luckily because of Hugh Wilson and I, creating blonde Jennifer as smartest person I think I avoided being caught up in that stereotype. Earlier I mentioned creating my blonde voice when I first wore a blonde wig. After I actually went blonde I never did that voice again. I so didn’t want to be stereotyped that I never let anyone know I could do that. Perhaps I was stereotyped as a sex symbol for a while, but I’ve eventually moved away from that. I’ve played evil characters and some characters that are plainly dressed–I haven’t played everything ultra-glamorous over the years. But because I didn’t do the dumb stereotype, I have to admit that now I’m desperate to do it. Isn’t that funny?

    Now that I have nothing to prove I think–wouldn’t people be so surprised to see me do that. During the 4th season of WKRP one day when we were a little bored running the same scene over and over for camera blocking etc., I decided I would do my entire dialog in my dumb voice which no one had ever heard before. As I was fooling around with Jennifer, people gathered from all over the building and rushed to the set. Hugh Wilson, our creator said, “Where did that voice come from?!” He loved it so much he wrote an entire episode where he invented an excuse for the cast to play the complete opposite of what our characters were–he wrote the episode just so I could do my dumb blonde voice.

    AC: Tell us about your latest project My Sister is so Gay, is seems that you are working against the type of character we are accustomed to seeing you do?

    LA: I loved everything about “My Sister Is So Gay” from the day co-creator / writer Terry Ray called me about the role. I loved our history together. We were all friends of the great Charles Nelson Reilly. Terry and Wendy Michaels were former acting students of Charles’ and we all adored him. Terry and I had worked together on the sitcom “The Mullets”. I was so flattered that Terry would think of me for his show, but then when I read the spectacular script with this character that I’d been dying to play.

    This character is a promiscuous and perpetually tipsy, totally involved, outrageous mother who adores her children, accepts them for who there are, but is way too much in their faces–it was like all I had always wanted just fell in my lap.

    It was all because of Terry Ray and Wendy Michaels. I wouldn’t have cared if they’d said we’re filming in Terry’s apartment–which is good, because that’s exactly what we did! My accepting the role had nothing to do with any financial deal. It reminded me of when I was young and you just wanted to do something because it was wonderful.

    AC: What is it about this project that brought you back to TV?

    LA: I don’t feel like I’ve ever been away from TV. I’ve been on stage lately. I’ve done an episode here and there of things and have been busy with charity work, but I am truly spoiled by the fabulous writers and opportunities that I’ve had over the years. So when you get to be an old broad you think–why would I leave the house for something that is less effective or more diluted than what I’ve done before? I’d rather enjoy the heights and fabulous moments and scripts that came my way in the past instead of taking something that is just ho-hum. To me something like that is not worth the trouble. I want to go where the people are great and the script is great–wherever that is, that’s where I want to be. Those things will continually bring me back to TV or movies or stage or wherever because the truth is, I love to act.

    AC: The cast of WKRP was legendary, tell us about the cast you worked with on My Sister?

    LA: We all loved one another on WKRP. We were like a family. The show wasn’t built around a star, we all started together. We had that same family feeling on “My Sister Is So Gay.” It’s an extraordinary thing and you have to appreciate it when it comes along. We’ve all worked in situations where we’re fighting personalities to make a good project and that just makes it more difficult. I so appreciate when the cast is like family and everyone is pulling together to make a solid show while at the same time–truly liking one another. That’s a joy. That’s when we get the best of the best from everyone involved.

    AC: Looking back on your career, anyone you wanted to work with that you didn’t have the opportunity?

    LA: A very- very good friend of mine who was retired when I knew him, but working with him would have been the most exciting thing that ever could have happened to me–and that was Cary Grant. He was a good friend and we socialized together, but every time I looked at him across the dinner table I’d think–”Oh darn it, why weren’t we working in the same era, why did he have to retire?” He was just perfection to me. I went gaga over him all the time.

    Burt Reynolds afforded me the opportunity to socialize with the most extraordinary generation. Burt is 10 years older than I am and he dated Dinah Shore who was 20 years older than him. Dinah brought that incredible era of people into his life, so when we were together those were his friends, and he brought them into my life. I had all these incredible people; Fred Astaire, Bette Davis, Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant. We were all socializing and I was the kid. They called me the baby because I was like 30 or 40 years younger than them and new to Hollywood. So thank you Burt, because I ended up with such an incredible group of friends.

    AC: Any stories you wanted to tell but couldn’t get to screen?

    LA: I would love to play a bag lady. I think it would be just fabulous and I’d be surprising to people. Being funny is my favorite thing to do. So I want to continue to be make audiences laugh. I have a couple specific projects but I don’t want to give them away. Can’t have anyone stealing my ideas–I’m joking, but I’m not. So there! Now a days rebooting seems to be the name of the game. People are rebooting everything. There are many shows I’ve done that I would love to reboot and WKRP is on the top of the list. So we’ll see where all of these things go.

    AC: What are some of the things you hope to accomplish?

    LA: What I hope to accomplish in the future is again, to make people laugh. I think laughter extends your life. I think you should belly laugh every day. There is nothing healthier. Studies have been made that prove laughter truly helps people live better and longer. I want to be part of that. I want to be involved in comedy forever.

    AC: When it is all said and done, what would you like your legacy to be, how would you like History to remember you?

    LA: I hope my legacy will be that I’ve inspired women to be strong and confident regardless of their physical appearance. And hopefully that attractive women aren’t afraid to proudly show that they are also intelligent. As women progress in this industry I hope that I will be remembered for being a part of that evolution.


    Another very informative intetverview,really enjoyed it . tku .Dr.alan Carlos Hernandez.

    Leave a comment