Absolutely Not-Plain Jayne
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because the ’70s had a lot of great things going for it — and Jayne Kennedy was one of the best. Aww, yeah.
CEO and co-founder of OZY
For plenty of boys in the 1970s, Farrah Fawcett was the headline act. The former Texas cheerleader burst on the scene — first in commercials and then a hit television show, becoming what plenty called the all-American pinup girl. But while many eyes in America were on Fawcett, she didn’t grab all of America: An equally gorgeous but very different star captivated another part of the country.
Her name: Jayne Kennedy.
To some (including me), Jayne Kennedy was the black Farrah. If you were a straight, young black guy in the 1970s and ’80s, there’s no way you didn’t know who Jayne Kennedy was. But don’t take my word for it, take Pharrell’s: She was everyone’s imaginary girlfriend.
Kennedy’s self-assured style, quick wit and easy laugh made her an audience favorite. Not to mention her stunning looks.
A former Miss Ohio, the 5-foot 10-inch model and former Cleveland-area cheerleader broke into the American consciousness, presenting another picture of the girl next door.
Kennedy had a lot of firsts: the first black woman to be on the cover of Playboy, to win Miss Ohio — and to be an NBC sportscaster (in fact, she was one of the first women to do so, period). She brought her pep and beauty pageant poise to the leading pregame warm-up, NFL Today, for two short years, 1978 and ’79. And she captured imaginations — especially those of young black male America – standing alongside TV legends Brent Musburger, Jimmy the Greek, Irv Cross and others. Kennedy’s self-assured style, quick wit and easy laugh made her an audience favorite. Not to mention her stunning pre-Halle Berry looks, which almost won her the Miss USA crown in 1970.
Even years later, Essence magazine named her one of the top 30 most beautiful black women ever.
She became ensnared in one of America’s first X-rated scandals, and her hard-earned all-American image never recovered.
She translated some of that raw pizazz onto screen – in Starsky & Hutch on television; in movies: Ms. 45, Covergirls and, in an art-imitates-life role as a sports reporter, in Body and Soul — which won the NAACP’s 1981 image award and was written by and co-starred her first husband, Leon Isaac Kennedy.
But like Fawcett, Kennedy’s star faded early. She lost her spot on CBS’s NFL Today for taping a show with rival NBC and was then trailed by bad luck. There was the film about Dorothy Dandridge that never materialized (it was later made with, you guessed it, Halle Berry); a role she nearly nabbed as one of Charlie’s Angels but got passed over; and the chance to play a black Wonder Woman, but that, too, got nixed. Crossing into her 30s, Kennedy flailed while trying to shift from pageant and sportscasting success to movies.
Just one year after filming steamy scenes for Body and Soul, Kennedy and her husband divorced — around the same time that a sex tape the couple had made was stolen from their home. Long before Kim Kardashian and Pamela Anderson, the girl from the Cleveland suburbs became ensnared in one of America’s first X-rated scandals.
The former Coca-Cola model’s hard-earned all-American image never recovered. She went on to star in 1980s workout videos over the next decade (à la Jane Fonda only without la Fonda or her megasuccess). And Quentin Tarantino never showed up to offer Kennedy a John Travolta or Pam Grier-style comeback.
So what happens to groundbreakers when they get older? At 61, Kennedy lives in California, is married to actor Bill Overton, and together they have four children. She’s busy teaching her kids to drive and dropping them off at college, appearing very occasionally on Christian TV. With her nearly 6-foot frame, she’s kicked down a whole lot of doors and now seems content to devote herself to empowering her daughters and young women everywhere.
Oh, and she’s been working on her autobiography. Bet it’ll be a humdinger.
And we say to her: We still miss you.
CEO and co-founder of OZY