Jennifer Elizabeth Marlowe is a character on the television situation comedy WKRP in Cincinnati (1978-82). She was played by actress Loni Anderson, who received two Emmy nominations for playing the character.
A different kind of receptionistEdit
Jennifer is the receptionist at the AM radio station WKRP. She sits at a desk in the lobby, answering the few phone calls the station gets and taking messages. Jennifer is very clear about what her job does and does not entail: she does not take dictation, type letters, or make or get coffee. As she explains in one episode, "I am a receptionist. Receptionists receive. They offer comfort, provide support, answer a few telephone calls. But they do not type, unless it's for a very good cause." When asked if she belongs to a union, she says she is a member of the exclusive "Sisterhood of Blond Receptionists", adding "If you saw our minimum salary, you'd have a heart attack and die."
Her primary job at the station is providing support and comfort for the station's general manager, Arthur Carlson, a befuddled man who depends on Jennifer to shield him from people and situations he wants to avoid. Jennifer uses various tactics, including telling people that he's dead. In the first-season episode "Mama's Review", it is revealed that Jennifer is the highest-paid station employee, with a salary of $24,000 per year (over $80,000 in modern dollars). However, there is never any suggestion of impropriety between the two. In fact one of the running gags of the show is Mr. Carlson's almost child like reliance on Jennifer as a maternal nurturing figure, perhaps due to the fact that Carlson's own mother was anything but nurturing. Mr. Carlson treats Jennifer with great respect and deference and Mr. Carlson's wife Carmen is also shown to be on very friendly terms with her. And although it is never spoken, it is evident that Mrs. Carlson (Mr. Carlson's mother and the owner of the station) considers Jennifer as somewhat of an equal.
Despite her apparent wealth and high-society connections, Jennifer remains at WKRP, unwilling to leave her friends and especially Mr. Carlson, who is almost totally dependent on her; in an episode where she takes the day off and leaves Carlson in charge of the phones, he goes completely to pieces by the end. With her calm, unflappable demeanor and ability to keep her cool in most situations, Jennifer also helps maintain morale among the station's employees; in the episode "Most Improved Station," when the other staff members are bickering uncontrollably, Jennifer brings them back together by explaining the family dynamic at the station and reminding them not to take each other for granted.
Jennifer was famous for being the opposite of the "dumb blonde" stereotype that pervaded television in the late '70s; she is extremely smart and shrewd, and somewhat resentful of the fact that people assume she is dumb based solely on the way she looks. (That is played to humorous effect when Andy convinces the station to fool a "program doctor" by acting 180 degrees of their true personality.) Her strength and self-possession make her seem almost superhumanly competent. Almost, but not quite. In the episode "Ask Jennifer," she takes over as the host of a call-in advice show, using her intelligence and knowledge to give easy, offhand answers to all her callers' questions, but she doesn't think enough about the potential consequences of the advice she gives, and when a woman is beaten up by her controlling husband as a result of taking her advice to stand up to him, a distraught and guilt-ridden Jennifer quits the show.
Her back-story is never fully explained, but can be pieced together from various throwaway references on the show. She comes from a town called Rock Throw, West Virginia; when speaking to her mother on the phone, she slips back into her native Southern accent. She has been on her own since the age of seventeen. She left West Virginia and moved to Cincinnati, where she stumbled into WKRP and got the job as the new receptionist, succeeding Joyce Armor (Rosemary Forsyth), who is introduced in a later episode.
She soon attracted the attention of various wealthy older men. She rarely dates younger men, claiming "I like older men better. They're so mature and kind, and they tire easily." Her dates, most of whom are never seen, shower her with expensive gifts, allowing her to live in a huge penthouse apartment with a piano and a doorbell that plays the song "Fly Me to the Moon." Also through her wealthy boyfriends, she has made friends with a number of wealthy high-society people, including Ronald Reagan; she implies in one episode that the president offered her the job of Secretary of the Treasury, but she turned it down. Her most frequently-mentioned boyfriend is someone referred to only as "The Admiral," who in one episode flies her to Bethlehem for Christmas. The episode "Jennifer and the Will" introduces another: Colonel Buchanan (Pat O'Brien), who dies and makes Jennifer executrix of his will. Though the papers portray Jennifer as a gold-digging floozy, it turns out that Jennifer has asked the Colonel not to leave her any money; he accedes to her request, leaving her only the first dollar he ever made.
An episode that reveals some cracks in Jennifer's "perfect" facade is the episode "Jennifer Falls in Love," where she falls for her first non-elderly boyfriend in years: Steel Hawthorne, a handsome blond repairman. When he asks her for a loan, and then makes a pass at her friend, Bailey Quarters, Jennifer realizes that Steel is simply a gold-digger after her money, and she starts to question her own tendency to accept gifts from wealthy men. However, Mr. Carlson convinces her that she is nothing like Steel after all.
However, Jennifer's relationships with the other female characters on the show display the amount of respect they have for her. Mr. Carlson's wife is very friendly towards Jennifer (with no hint of jealousy or concern over her husband's close platonic relationship with her), while Jennifer's relationship with Bailey is often that of two sisters (with Jennifer the older, more experienced one often watching out for the younger, more naive Bailey). The dynamic between them has been compared to that between Ginger and Mary Ann on Gilligan's Island. And although it is never stated outright, it is clear that Mama Carlson views Jennifer as the only person who is her equal at the station.
For the bulk of the show's run, Jennifer is pursued endlessly by Herb Tarlek, the station's sales manager, who even goes as far as to convince outside parties that he and Jennifer are a couple. Jennifer effortlessly rebuffs Herb's clumsy attempts at flirtation, before finally deciding to call his bluff (in the episode "Put Up or Shut Up") and accepting his offer of a date. Herb is so overwhelmed at even the remotest hint of his fantasies coming true that he begins to hyperventilate during their date, and the two end the night by agreeing to be friends. In spite of Herb's advances, Jennifer tries to help him both personally (when Herb and his wife were separated briefly, Jennifer tried to convince Lucille to take him back) and professionally (when Mr. Carlson was ready to fire Herb over screwing up a $5000 account, Jennifer spoke to the client, who ultimately proved to be sympathetic). Dr. Johnny Fever also often flirts with Jennifer, but in a somewhat more playful fashion; at one point, when her old sweetheart T.J. showed up out of the blue, a panicked Jennifer (thinking her ex was going to hold her to a marriage promise) impulsively kissed Johnny and convinced him to act as though they were married. Jennifer once accompanied Les Nessman as his date to an awards banquet. She also performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on Andy Travis when he was knocked unconscious during a tornado (to which a semi-conscious Andy replied by putting his arm around her, as in a passionate embrace) and had other flirtatious encounters with him, such as telling him "let's see the boy" in the episode "Baby, it's Cold Inside" when she was drinking to keep warm at work.
Other memorable episodes focusing on Jennifer include "I Do...I Do...For Now," where Jennifer's old boyfriend from West Virginia, T.J. (played by Hoyt Axton) Watson, shows up to marry her; "Filthy Pictures," where a sleazy photographer secretly takes nude pictures of Jennifer with the intention of selling them to a girlie magazine (partly a reference to the famous nude photos of Marilyn Monroe), and "Jennifer Moves," where Jennifer moves to the suburbs and discovers that her neighbors are all seriously dysfunctional.
Relationship with Arthur CarlsonEdit
Though Carlson is often seen as being almost completely dependent on Jennifer, she too has her moments where roles between the pair are reciprocated, leading to a relationship where they mutually take care of each other. In "Filthy Pictures", Arthur confesses to Jennifer that he and the airstaff broke into the photography studio to rescue nude photos taken secretly of her for a charity photo shoot. She tells him it was a foolish thing to do, but, touched by her boss' defense of her honor, embraces him.
In "Turkeys Away", Jennifer initially refuses to do typical secretarial tasks such as taking dictation or bringing him coffee (reminding Mr. Carlson that "we have an agreement"). However, upon seeing the disheveled and distressed Mr. Carlson after his promotional stunt has gone horribly wrong, Jennifer gently asks Mr. Carlson if he would like some coffee.
In "Jennifer and the Will", Jennifer is upset and overwhelmed at the publicity against her after Colonel Buchanan dies at the table while the pair is enjoying dinner. In a moment of exhaustion over the situation, and sitting in his chair, she leans on Arthur, who is standing next to her. He accompanies her to the funeral to shelter her from the paparazzi attending the graveside service.
In "Ask Jennifer", after she resigns as "Arlene", she sulks away at her desk, telling Andy and Arthur that she intends to simply sit at her desk and keep her mouth shut. Arthur tells her not to, and when she asks him why, he says it's because he needs her. "I don't want someone to need me," she says. "Oh yes, you do," counters Arthur. She asks the two men to leave her desk for a moment to be alone, to which they agree. As she is on the verge of tears, Arthur comes back to her desk, asking her to come into his office, because he needs her. When she asks why, he says his model train is broken. Happy at the thought of being needed for something she can actually be helpful with, she embraces her boss.