Friday, January 9, 2009

Loni Anderson's Dark Past

I've been revisiting my childhood admiration of Loni Anderson. Last week I received my copy of My Life in High Heels and was delighted to read this:

"I've always had a fantasy in which I live alone in a perfect Deco apartment, in a high-rise building (maybe it looks like the Chrysler Building in New York City), where the doorman says, "Good Evening, Miss Anderson," as I come through the doors. Everything in my perfect abode is white, with only occasional accents of black or claret-- some interesting sculpture maybe, or plush throw pillows...
And once a week or so I would go to Paris for lunch. In a gorgeous silk georgette dress that I bought in Paris when I was there for lunch last week."

As I've mentioned, when I was a kid, I too had a vision of my fantasy future. And in it I lived in Hollywood, wore only pink, and looked just like Loni. She was my icon of blonde floofy-ness. So imagine my surprise to find that despite her Nordic parents, she used to look like a member of The Supremes.

"Each night, my dad would read fairy stories to Andrea and me at bedtime, and in every single story, the princess was fair-haired. 'Hair of gold, hair of sunlight.' Like Andrea had, and all my cousins. The only ones with dark hair were the stepsisters or the sorceresses or the wicked stepmothers. One night, halfway through a story session, I started to cry.
That's when Dad found Snow White for me. 'With her hair as black as night,' he would read, 'and skin as white as snow, and lips as red as roses.' He began to bring me Snow White books and toys and knickknacks."

And then he presumably went off to ask Mom some tough questions.

When Sex Appeal suddenly came upon her at age fourteen, Loni was confused by the attention:
"Imagine Saturday Night Live's Church Lady locked up in Sophia Loren's body. My looks belied who I really was."

Those exotic looks typecast Loni in such roles as Indian Princess in grade school productions. When she entered the pageant circuit as a teen, she often ran into prejudiced remarks like, "Black women have their own pageant."

At twenty-six, Loni had a breast reduction. "I had been experiencing terrible backaches and shoulder aches. With a little rib cage and almost no hips and these amazingly disproportionate breasts, I looked like those granny cartoons in playboy, with her boobs to her knees."
She remained enthusiastic about plastic surgery in general, declaring, "I hope I live long enough to have everything lifted."

A dark cloud seemed to descend upon Loni's sunny life when Burt Reynolds came into the picture. She tells quite a few harrowing tales of his addiction, affairs, and violent, jealous rages. Perhaps most disturbing of all is a section in which she tells us that Mr. Sex Symbol was really quite the prude. Burt got angry when Loni walked past a hotel window, wrapped in a big towel. He called her immodest and demanded she always wear a nightgown to bed from then on:
"If you're completely naked," he said, "it's not mysterious, it's not sexy. I don't ever want to see you naked again."

But! She's Loni Anderson! He should be punished for that remark. I don't want to end on a low note, so let's take a look at Loni's views on beauty and style:

"I know some people don't approve of the way I look. There's a theory that if you're a serious woman, then dressing up-- the glamour stuff, the gowns, the sling pumps, the hair and makeup--shouldn't be an important part of your life. But there are so many different parts of being a woman, and they should all be appreciated and celebrated. After all, little girls like to play dress up-- they don't play dress down.
I think the cosmetics industry, the clothing industry, and the whole supermodel craze wouldn't be at such a fever pitch if most women didn't feel exactly the same way. A lot of them apologize for it and that's too bad. Haven't we at last, as women, come to place where we can do and be and wear what suits us, without apology?"

Well said. You should be able to look however you want to look, but I've got to say one thing. Even though you're one of my most admired bottle blondes... Far be it for me to begrudge anyone a bit of hair bleach, but Loni: that dark hair really suited you.