For years, Daytime talk shows were dominated by men, such as Merv Griffin, Phil Donahue and Mike Douglas. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that Daytime fans remember so clearly, when Mike Douglas choose the perky, pretty, and darn near perfect, Loni Anderson, as a special week long co-host.
A breakout hit in her Emmy-nominated role as Jennifer Marlowe on the sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati (1978), she would later become a soap-styled fan favorite in mini-movies, who gave the public a fondly nostalgic look back at the glossy platinum-blonde allure she shared with her predecessors, such as Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield and Mamie Van Doren.
We caught up with Miss Anderson at a charity event, benefitting the exotic animals of the Shambala/ROAR Foundation (Shambala.org). She graciously and fondly shared her experiences as a guest host with us.
NATAS: First of all, what were your thought or expectations when they first approached you?
LA: I had been a guest on the Mike Douglas show a few times prior to their request to be a guest host for an entire week. I was very excited. Said, “yes” immediately. Mike was such a great host, a fabulous listener; I knew I’d have a great experience. But a whole week? Wow.
NATAS: Who was on your wish list to have on as guests?
LA: I thought I’d get to pick my own guests but instead, Mike’s staff sat me down and talked to me about my life for about an hour. Where are you from? What do you like, not like? Your influences? Did you ever want to be anything other than an actress? What made up all the parts of your life? So no, they didn’t ask for my wish list. Instead, based upon our conversations, they surprised me with guests who would mean something special to me.
NATAS: Can you share your more memorable moments with the Daytime fans and Academy members?
LA: It’s a long, wonderful list of guests… Mark Harmon, Billy Dee Williams, Martin Landau, Valerie Bertinelli, Bob Mackie, Peter Allen, the whole gang from WKRP and my mom, Maxine Anderson, who showed Mike and me some “stripper moves”, complete with feather boas for the three of us.
Frank Thomas, Disney animator. My second choice for a career would have been to be an animator for Walt Disney. So imagine my delight when Frank Thomas and I actually drew Mickey Mouse together on stage … Lawrence Welk. I grew up in Minnesota where the Polka is in everyone’s DNA, so how cool to dance it with “Mr. Polka” himself! And, about halfway through our number, Mr. Welk whispered, “Hey, you really DO know how to Polka, (and-a-one and a two)…” Betty Ford. I had just recently had a fabulous dancing experience with President Ford at the Indy 500 Ball. We began with a waltz. The waltz became the Lindy Hop. That turned into a cha-cha. Followed by the Charleston. What happened to his supposed reputation as being somewhat clumsy? I was utterly charmed. After telling Mrs. Ford and Mike about dancing with the President, she took a long pause, looked at the audience with a wide-eyed expression, and said, “Are you sure it was MY husband? Gerald Ford?” She got the big laugh of the day … Richard Thomas. I had taken many fencing classes when I was a theater arts major at the University of Minnesota. Who knew that Richard Thomas (“John-Boy”) was an expert at fencing? So Mike and his staff brought out the dueling foils, and we had a little fencing match. He was really good. What a fun guest! … Pat O’Brien. Early on in my stage career in Minnesota I was lucky enough to work with this legend, playing his daughter in a darling comedy called, “Paris Is Out”. He told me I should make the move to Los Angeles to pursue my career. I told him I was nervous about the competition. I said, “there’s a pretty lady under every rock, and a funny lady behind every door”. And he said, “But not so many Pretty / Funny Ladies”. Because of his words I made the move. Thank you Pat.
What a week. I’ll treasure the memory of it forever.
PHOTOS: Courtesy of Loni Anderson – Row 1.) Mike Douglas, Billy Dee Williams, Loni Anderson; My Week With Mike Douglas Show Program; Special Guest Mark Harmon: Special Guests Row 2.) Richard Thomas, Peter Allen & Martin Landau: Row 3.) Guest Hoyt Axton, Loni Anderson at The Shambala Preserve and guest Dena Heck
Unscripted with Loni Anderson: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vN1mryUClUc