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Friday, March 1, 2024
March 1, 2024

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‘WKRP’ favorite Anderson stars in Lifetime movie

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MINNEAPOLIS — In “Ladies of the ’80s: A Divas Christmas,” Loni Anderson plays a former soap opera sensation learning to accept that she’s no longer an ingenue. In a pivotal moment, she removes her wig, revealing gray hair to her co-stars.

It’s a scene that had the Minnesota native reminiscing about a similar occasion from her younger days.

As a Twin Cities stage actor in the ’60s, Anderson snagged the part of Billie Dawn in “Born Yesterday” at the one-time Friars Dinner Theatre in Minneapolis — but only after purchasing a $19.95 blond wig to cover her natural brown hair. She didn’t tell the director about the ruse.

“On opening night, I got a standing ovation at the start of the second act,” the 78-year-old actor said during a recent phone interview from her Los Angeles home. “When the show was over, I came backstage and ripped my wig off in front the cast. There was dead silence. I asked the director, ‘Would you have cast me if you knew I wasn’t a blonde? He said, ‘I’d like to think I’m open-minded enough that I would have considered it.’”

Anderson didn’t actually dye her hair until she played brainy beauty Jennifer Marlowe in “WKRP in Cincinnati.” It’s a show that should have the same legacy “The Office” does, but clearing the music rights has kept streaming platforms from picking up the sitcom and introducing it to a new generation.

“It’s too bad,” she said. “I watched a few episodes recently and it’s still relevant. In many ways, it was way ahead of its time.”

“WKRP” showed off Anderson’s impeccable comic timing, also on display in “Divas,” premiering last week on Lifetime. But she struggled to be taken seriously.

“Being pretty and funny wasn’t a thing,” she said. “I didn’t like the way some people treated me, like I didn’t have a brain.”

Anderson might have chosen a different path if her comedic gifts would have been more appreciated when she was starting out.

“I won the talent portion of the Miss Roseville pageant for doing stand-up, although nobody called it that back then,” she said, recalling her 1963 victory. “I did a take-off on something Dorothy Parker wrote. I wanted to be funny. What held me back was that I didn’t look funny.”

These days, Anderson is only interested in material that makes her laugh. Unlike her character in “Divas,” she’s not interested in fame for fame’s sake, which explains why she’s turned down “Dancing with the Stars” several times.

She’s content spending time with her husband, Bob Flick, a founding member of the Brothers Four, whom she met when his folk group performed at a movie premiere in Minneapolis. She was a high school student, hired by a local newspaper to pose for pictures with the visiting musicians.

“He was so cute and we talked on the phone a few times after that. But my dad got in the way,” she said. “I was jailbait.”

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