She glances sideways, stealing a reassuring look at the teleprompter, then steadily recites the latest data on coaches, quarterbacks and touchdowns. Her almond-shaped eyes are locked on the camera and the aura of glamor is unmistakable.
Yet there's something slightly out of sypc. The rest of "The NFL Today" team is utterly smooth, almost mechanical: but Jayne Kennedy is still percolating, still reaching, still aware, you can sense, she is the rookie on the team.
Kennedy is the new girl on a tough block the latest face chiseled into our consciousness by television and the media. The block she has chose is the sports division of national television.
Her predecessor, Phyllis George, is a former Miss America, who vaulted the beauty-queen credibility gap to turn her own sports partisanship into an exhuberant television identity. It didn't seem to matter that George couldn't spout sports trivia like Howard Cosell. Her name now appears on "best-liked" polls and she has her own network show.
Kennedy is beautiful too - she was named Miss Ohio in 1970 - and like George is a fan, not an expert. At 26, she has built her reputation as a Dean Martin Ding-a-Ling girl, a stunning face on black magazine covers, and through small roles in six movies. On her "NFL" debut, Kennedy wore a gold "Try God" necklace, a symbol of her beliefs as a born-again Christian.
In the slew of Sundays ahead, the nearly 7 million people who watch "The NFL Today" will decide whether Kennedy is just another pretty face. Because along with the glamor, you need credibility in those macho locker rooms and living rooms.
The first few minutes around Jayne Kennedy unfold like movie scenes marked: "entrance" and "reaction" - perfect touches for her arrival in the big limelight.
She sweeps into the hotel lobby, smiling an unbroken smile of small teeth and managing, at 6 feet, to look both fragile and formidable. In a white ankle-length dress that hugs a lean body, she also looks determinedly pure.
When Kennedy's brisk, floating stride takes her into an office building, a furrow-browed banker in a three-piece suit takes an extra spin in the revolving door, his mouth a small canyon. "I've gotten used to it," says Kennedy tranquilly, as the disorder left in her wake is described.
She has all the attributes that Madison Avenue and Hollywood have promoted in glamorous black women. Her mustard skin has a translucent polish, her long hair a midnight silkliness. Her face is Shrimpton-gaunt, the camera nicely filling out the angular thrust of her chin and the slight point of her nose. Her beauty has broken some color barriers. Her Miss Ohio title was a black first, and she ranked fourth runner-up in the Miss U.S.A. contest, another small step.
Yet her appearance is not imposing. It recedes as she discusses the jolts she suffered along the way.
"One thing Hollywood has taught me is to live with rejection. But I have also learned that rejection has nothing to do with me. It's about business," she says, fingering the wide collar of her dress. "Yes. I wanted this job very much. I think it's one of the most prestigious for a woman in television no entertainment. Her Own League
CBS was looking for a poised, goodlooking woman to do the quick, candid interviews with the NFL's famous jocks, as well as the fast ad-lib with its winning team of Brent Musburger, Iry Cross and Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder.
"We didn't want the hard-core sportswoman, but a feminine combination of sports and entertainment," says Linda Sutter, the associate director of talent at CBS Sports. "On this show the female part is the entertainer. It's helpful if she knows sports. In terms of sports awareness the female athlete is aggressive. What we wanted was a soft person, in the McLuhanesque sense, a soft person, entertainer."
In the preliminary rounds, Sutter interviewed 70 people, mainly actresses and models, some sportscasters. Only 17 made the journey to CBS headquarters for a simulated show with Musburger and a New York Giants' player.
Kennedy, whose Sunday-dinner chores had kept her from watching "NFL" regularly, worked on her commitments for cosmetics lectures and award shows up to the last minute. She wasn't panicked, she says, but nervous enough to cooperate in a scheme her husband, Leon, cooked up. A few nights before her New York audition, the Kennedys attended a sportsmen's ball in Las Vegas and Kennedy lined up some videotape equipment and interviews with Minnesota Fats. Julius Erving and Don King. Kennedy did the interviews at 3 a.m. and tucked them in her suitcase, just in case.
The CBS interviews started at 8 a.m.: Kennedy's turn came at 4 p.m. Musburger opened up:" The only requirement is that you don't root for the Dallas Cowboys," a job at Phyllis George's affection for that particular team. Kennedy retorted that she loved them, and the Washington Redskins, and the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Oakland Raiders. My own League."
Then she chatted, recalling how she first got interested in sports: She was 5, her father was hospitalized, and a Cleveland Browns player, a boyfriend of a relative, bought her a banana ice-cream cone. "When I started interviewing Clyde Powers (a former Giants rookie), I said, 'You can be a fan of mine, all you have to do is buy me banana ice cream,'" Kennedy recalls, laughing.
The "XFL" is the "toughest show in television." Musburger claims, because they do from 7 to 10 different "cut-ins" each Sunday, depending on the sports action in the different time zones. He like her warmth immediately and watched "the athletes open up around her" at the audition. "I felt she was comfortable with them."
The next morning Musburger called the office and said, "If you are asking my opinion, it's Jayne Kennedy or nobody." He knew she would, at least, catch the eye of the show's 63-percent male audience. "NFL," which last year won an Emmy, had an average audience of 6,910,000 adults last season.
When Kennedy returned to her home in Pasadena and waited, the CBS brass reviewed the auditions. "I had never seen her before," said Frank Smith, president of CBS Sports. "When I looked at her resume and saw she had been a beauty queen. I was sorry to see it. I have a feeling that women who have been beauty queens will always be criticized. But she's going to be big." Moving On
All her life Jayne Kennedy had her looks going for her. But, earlier on, she decided she wouldn't sail through life just being pretty.
"What I did was probably true of all girls. I idolized the girls on the cheerleading squad, decided they were the 'in' groups and decided to be one," says Kennedy. At the request of a photographer, she was sitting in the corridor of CBS sports beneath a football poster. If she had been sitting on her front lawn, she couldn't have been more comfortable and chatty.
Life in Wickliffe, Ohio. (pop. 21,000), was smooth. Her parents taught their six children to aim high, give God most of the credit, suffer disappointments silently and avoid maliciousness. Kennedy is the complete consumer of that philosophy.
"Children have to be taught not to let things go to their heads," says Virginia Harrison. Kennedy's mother. "When people would say the girls are pretty, I would say they are nice." She would curl her daughter's long hair to look like Shirley Temple's, and recalls talk of movie stars. "But after she was 10, she never mentioned that as an ambition for years." Janye's father, Herbert Harrison, is a machinist at a truck factory.
Kennedy's looks and drive won her popularity. She made the cheerleaders, the National Honor Society, the State Junior Olympics and was three times president of her class. Only homecoming queen eluded her. In 1969, at the annual conclave of Girls State in Washington, D.C., she became the first black vice president.
After the Miss Ohio contest, some people were jealous and tore down a sign the twon had erected. "We got some phone calls because, after a couple of newspaper articles, some blacks thought she was bragging. I think they were down on her for trying to get ahead," remembers her mother. Kennedy shrugged. "It's very difficult for me to get mad. I don't try to change people's opinions by getting offended. I thought about it and said 'on well' and moved on."
She met Leon Issac Kennedy, a popular deejay known as "Leon the lover." He invited her on his show. She had wanted to meet him and he had had an eye on her. "When she walked into the room, she brought a certain grace. The room was full of pretty girls from our teens board but she was different." It was her sweetness that attracted and frightened him, Kennedy says, "and I decided she needed a protector."
Up until this time, her protector was her father, who was 6 feet-3 inches, 240 pounds, and used to tell her dates how he shot a squirrel right between the eyes. "He would say, 'Bring her home at 1 a.m.' and I got her there at 12," says Kennedy.
Kennedy was persuasive, convincing Jayne, who was 18 and demonstrating make-up in a department store, that Hollywood was their ticket to success. Slightly over a year after their first meeting, the Kennedys married and moved to Los Angeles. She quickly became a star attraction in a circle of friends that includes Muhammad Ali, O.J. Simpson, Rev. lke, and her teen-age idol, Jim Brown. A Sewing 'Ding-a-Ling'
Professional success took longer. But when Jayne Kennedy walked onto the "Tonight" show as a product girl and got the traditional leer from Johnny Carson, the doors of Hollywood stopped creaking. Next was a tour as singer and dancer with bob Hope in Southeast Asia, followed by two years with the television and road show of Dean Martin as a "Ding-a-Ling" girl. "We all got tired on the road and Jayne would sew. She even rented a machine once," says Lindsay Bloom, another dancer.
Once, when the Ding-a-Lings were performing at a private club in Texas, the officers wouldn't let Kennedy's sister sit in the front. They said blacks had to sit in the back of the audience. We all agreed not to go on," remembers Bloom. "And Jayne's anger was very quiet. Finally the club people changed their minds."
Her film credits include "Group Marriage," "The Muthers," and "Big Time," as well as cameo appearances in "Let's Do it Again" and "Lady Sings the Blues." In "Let's," she walks across a lot, causing Bill Cosby to drive his forklift truck into a wall. During this time Leon Kennedy changed the emphasis of his career from music and disco-related businesses to producing and acting. The Kennedys just finished the movie "Death Force" together.
In Pasadena, the Kennedys live away from the glitter, but their names appear occasionally in gossip columns. When Ali gave them both tickets to his bout in Manila, the gossips had a field day. The Kennedys were at ringside in New Orleans last week and Ali gave her an exclusive interview afterwards.
Both Kennedys feel comfortable with her image as a sex symbol.She has appeared on the cover of Players, a black version of Playboy, but she refused to pose nude. "I just wouldn't do that," she says.
As an actress, she has received some setbacks. She had good shots at roles as Ali's wife in his biagraphical film. "The Greatest," as Richard Burton's co-star in "The Klansman," and "a brief second" of consideration as Farrah Fawcett-Major's replacement in "Charlie's Angels."
"you can't get hurt at every rejection: then you couldn't be in entertainment," says Kennedy slowly. Her biggest acting assignment so far, a 90-minute television movie, "Cover Girls," was wiped out in the ratings.
Charles FitzSimons, the producer of the pilot, as well as "Wonder Woman," predicts a great future for her. "She hasn't had a break yet, but she can be a big star because she goes beyond race. She's universal and that's an asset in this business."
Kennedy mulls that over. "I like it when someone says you are intelligent or pretty. But universal is a quality most people in Hollywood don't want to see in blacks. That's an appreciation of my talent," says Kennedy. "I did an episode of 'Police Woman' last year and I played an inmate, wore no make-up and had my hair pulled in a pony tail. And the producer said 'I like you because you want to work, you want to be good.'
"And that's the nicest thing anyone could say."