In the golden era of television, when sitcoms were the heart and soul of entertainment, “WKRP in Cincinnati” stood out, not just for its comedic brilliance but also for its memorable characters.
Among them was the poised and talented Jan Smithers, who portrayed the beloved Bailey Quarters. As the years rolled on and the curtains fell on the show, many fans were left wondering: What ever happened to Jan Smithers?
This article delves into the life, career, and whereabouts of the actress who once graced our screens with her undeniable charm and talent. Join us as we uncover the journey of WKRP’s shining star.
Born on July 3, 1949, as Karin Jan Smithers, she was raised in Woodland Hills, just north of Los Angeles.
Jan was one of four daughters in a typical middle-class family from San Fernando Valley. Her father practiced law, while her mother took care of the household.
Smithers attended Taft High School in her younger years. Despite being a shy girl, she harbored a deep passion for art.
Her early life was marked by the tragic death of her eldest sister in a car accident.
Early Roles and Discovery
Jan’s entry into the world of fame was nothing short of serendipitous. On a day she decided to skip school, she was at a California beach with a friend when two men approached her.
They claimed to be from Newsweek magazine and wanted to take her photo for a story about typical American teenagers in the 1960s.
Jan, with her natural charm, was photographed on the back of a motorcycle, donning an orange sweater and white jeans.
This photograph not only made it to the cover of Newsweek’s March issue but also became her ticket to Hollywood.
The magazine circulated in the entertainment industry, and Jan’s captivating look caught many eyes.
Following this unexpected break, Jan’s parents’ phone was incessantly ringing with agents wanting to represent her.
She began her career in modeling, appearing in print ads for cars and motorcycles.
One notable ad was for the National Auto Dealers Association, which ran in the March ’67 edition of Hot Rod Magazine.
Jan’s transition to acting was smooth. She made her television debut in a 1973 episode of the anthology series “Love Story,” which also featured stars like Janet Lee and Kurt Russell.
Smithers ventured into acting. In 1974, she starred in the film “Where the Lilies Bloom,” which narrated the tale of a poor sharecropping family. Her performance as the family’s eldest daughter garnered positive reviews.
However, it was her portrayal of Bailey Quarters on “WKRP in Cincinnati” from 1978 to 1982 that truly captured the audience’s attention.
WKRP in Cincinnati
“WKRP in Cincinnati” aired from 1978 to 1982. Set in Cincinnati, Ohio, the show revolves around the day-to-day operations of a fictional radio station named WKRP.
The series delves into the challenges and comedic situations faced by the station’s staff as they attempt to transition from an easy-listening format to rock and roll.
Jan Smithers portrayed the character Bailey Quarters, a role that became one of the standout performances of the series.
Bailey starts as a somewhat shy, reserved assistant to the program director, Andy Travis. As the series progresses, her character evolves, showcasing her intelligence, competence, and determination.
Her character represented the changing roles of women in the workplace during the late 1970s, as Bailey navigated a traditionally male-dominated industry with grace and tenacity.
Smithers was a mainstay on “WKRP in Cincinnati” throughout its entire run. The show aired for four seasons, comprising a total of 86 episodes, and Smithers was present in all of them.
Life After WKRP
After her iconic role as Bailey Quarters in “WKRP in Cincinnati,” Jan Smithers continued to make her mark in television.
She took on various roles in series such as “The Love Boat” from 1982 to 1984, where she portrayed multiple characters. Smithers also appeared in “Finder of Lost Loves” and “Legmen” in 1984, “The Fall Guy” in 1983, and had roles in “Comedy Factory,” “Murder, She Wrote,” “Cover Up,” and “The New Mike Hammer” in 1985.
Why did Jan Smithers Quit Acting?
Her appearence in the TV series “Hotel” from 1984 to 1986 was particularly significant, not just for her role as Janice Copeland/Lacey Grant but also because it was during this time that she met actor James Brolin, leading to their marriage. Jan Smithers’ last credited role was in “Mr. Nice Guy” in 1987, after which she gradually retreated from the Hollywood scene.
The two married and had a daughter named Molly. While their marriage didn’t stand the test of time, Smithers has always emphasized the joy of motherhood.
She felt a deep calling towards it and chose to step away from acting to focus entirely on raising Molly.
What is Jan Smithers Doing Now?
Smithers’ life took a transformative turn when she visited India with a charitable group.
Deeply moved by her experiences, she made 16 subsequent trips to the country, embracing meditation and spiritual practices.
She speaks passionately about figures like Swami Muktananda, Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma the Hugging Saint), and environmentalist Vandana Shiva.
Smithers believes in the power of love and inner peace as solutions to global challenges.
These trips introduced her to yoga and meditation, practices she continues to this day.
Advocacy and Views
Smithers has used her platform to champion causes close to her heart, including anti-nuclear energy campaigns. She once spoke in a Washington subcommittee, emphasizing her strong opposition to nuclear energy.
On contemporary issues, Smithers expresses surprise at the high percentage of teens today who believe racial discrimination will persist.
She advocates for inner peace as a solution to discrimination and violence. However, she expresses concern about the economic challenges facing young people, particularly the burden of student loans preventing them from homeownership.