Skip to content

Loni Anderson Says This Host Manhandled Her: It Would "Never Happen Today"

The actor's 1980 Tonight Show appearance is difficult to watch.

In recent years, there has been a major reckoning when it comes to the way women in Hollywood have been treated with many women sharing stories about sexism, abuse, and more that span decades. In a new interview with Page Six, actor Loni Anderson opened up about her experience as a woman in Hollywood, including the fact that she took self-defense classes to protect herself after hearing traumatic stories from other women. Anderson also told a story about being touched without her consent by Tonight Show host Johnny Carson during an appearance on the show. Read on to see what the WKRP in Cincinnati star had to say.

RELATED: Loni Anderson Played Jennifer on WKRP in Cincinnati. See Her Now at 76.

Anderson learned self-defense after hearing "horror stories" from her peers.

Loni Anderson at a screening of "Eternals" at the 2021 Asian World Film Festival
Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

In her interview with Page Six, Anderson said that she decided to learn self-defense after hearing stories from other women at auditions. "You'd go for an interview, there would be 20 girls in the outer office, and you'd get talking," she said. "And they all had horror stories, so I wanted to prepare myself."

Anderson explained, "I was prepared. I went to self-defense classes, I had my speech ready, I was just ready."

Her Tonight Show appearance is uncomfortable.

Bill Underwood, Loni Anderson, and Johnny Carson on "The Tonight Show" in 1980

Anderson said that she never had to use her self-defense skills, but did bring up something that happened when she was on The Tonight Show that would "never happen today." While Anderson did not go into details, Page Six included a clip of the actor on the show in 1980.

After Anderson is interviewed, Carson brings out his second guest, who happened to be a self-defense expert named Bill Underwood. At one point, Carson says, "Suppose I was going to attack Loni—which has entered my mind several times during the evening—is there some way she could defend herself?" Underwood then shows Carson and Loni a self-defense move. Carson asks Anderson to try it and gets in position behind her at which point he hold his arms tightly around her waist and starts kissing and licking her shoulders to uproarious laughter from the audience.

For more celebrity news delivered right to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Anderson stood up against sexism with her most famous role.

Loni Anderson at Barbara Eden and "I Dream of Jeannie" honored at The Hollywood Museum in 2019
Eugene Powers / Shutterstock

Anderson did not just learn to physically protect herself, she also took a stand against sexism when it came to her biggest TV role. In an 2019 interview with Studio 10, Anderson explained that she originally turned down the character of Jennifer on WKRP in Cincinnati but was able to shape the part into one she was more comfortable with.

"I liked the show, but I didn't like the role and so I refused," she said. But, after standing on her "little soap box" and explaining that she didn't want to just play "window dressing," the character was changed. "I went in and met with [series creator] Hugh Wilson, who said let's make her look like Lana Turner and be the smartest person in the room."

She also made sure she was paid fairly.

Loni Anderson at a book signing of "Dear Bob" Bob Hope Tribute Lobby Series at The Hollywood Museum in 2021
Eugene Powers / Shutterstock

In the Page Six interview, Anderson also spoke about making sure she got the pay raise she wanted, even though she knew the request could be the "the kiss of death."

"I did it in a sneaky way," Anderson told Page Six. "Howard Hesseman was also very popular on the show [as DJ Dr. Johnny Fever]. I went to him and said, 'Let's negotiate together, let's be a team,' and that's what we did." She continued, "Of course, they threaten you all the way through negotiations and tell you that you're totally replaceable and it's a tough fight. Terrible things were thrown back and forth." But, eventually, Hesseman and Anderson both got their raises.

RELATED: Jan Smithers Played Bailey on WKRP in Cincinnati. See Her Today at 72.

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
Filed Under