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Digital Subscriptions > Newsweek International > 27th May 2016 > THEN&NOW

THEN&NOW

THEY WERE THE FACES AND VOICES OF A GENERATION...AND ARE AGAIN, AS THEY LOOK BACK 50 YEARS LATER AT THEIR LIVES, THEIR TRIUMPHS AND THEIR FEARS.

IT TOOK THE ASSISTANCE of half a dozen people and months of dead ends to track down Jan Smithers, by far the most famous of the six teenagers Newsweek profiled in 1966. After appearing on the cover of Newsweek’s teen issue—blond, sun-kissed, seated on a motorcycle and flashing a killer smile—Smithers received calls from “many, many” Hollywood agents hoping to represent her. Today, she’s most known for playing Bailey Quarters on WKRP in Cincinnati, which aired from 1978 to 1982. She was also married to actor James Brolin for nine years.

Today, however, she lives in Southern California and avoids the spotlight. (Her most recent IMDb entry, for Mr. Nice Guy, is from 1987.) “People don’t even know I’m an actor! If I ever let them know, they’re so surprised,” she says. “I’m very private about my personal life.” Asked if her life unfolded how she imagined it would, she bursts out laughing. “No! Because of Newsweek magazine, I didn’t have a chance to imagine how it would come out!”

Before Newsweek came into her life, Smithers was just a 16-year-old Valley girl. She grew up in a modest middle-class family in Los Angeles. Her father was a lawyer, her mother a homemaker, and she had three sisters, though the eldest died in a car accident at 21. Smithers was shy, liked art and was lukewarm on school. “Sometimes, when I’m sitting in my room, I just feel like screaming and pounding my pillow,” she told Newsweek. “I’m so confused about this whole world and everything that’s happening.”

LEADING LADY: Her picture on the cover of Newsweek led to a storybook success, but Smithers says she only found true happiness after giving her life to her child, her causes and her swami.
CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: JULIAN WASSER FOR NEWSWEEK; SONY PICTURES TELEVISION/SHOUT! FACTORY; ELISSA SYLVIA MIRZAEI FOR NEWSWEEK

She attended Taft High School, and one day a guy she knew asked her to go surfing with him. “I thought, No, I couldn’t! I can’t play hooky!” But he talked her into it. The beach was empty, and Smithers remembers sitting on the sand watching him surf, wondering what her mother would say when she got home. Suddenly, she spotted two men dressed in black walking toward her. “They looked like little pencils walking down the beach. One had long hair and cameras around his neck. They walked right up to me and said, ‘We’re doing an article on teens across the country, and we’re looking for a girl from California. We’re wondering if you’d be interested in doing the article.’”

Smithers said yes. After the article came out, her mother took her to meet agents in Hollywood. “I remember driving in the car with her. My mom was looking for a real person to represent me.” Smithers did commercials while finishing her last two years of high school.

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The Teenagers - Ask a bedraggled parent “What do teens think?” and you just might get, “They think?” But what they know and feel and do is vitally important. After all, they are the future. Just maybe not yours.
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