An iconic yet unknown model from the 1970s catches our attention.
I wouldn’t usually take much notice of a bit-part actor on an old TV show unless they had gone on to bigger and better things – and even then, it would only be to point out to Mrs R. “oh look, it’s whatsisname before he was famous”. But wading through the Columbo back catalogue (of which more soon), I was struck by the woman playing a receptionist in the episode A Deadly State of Mind (that’s the one where George Hamilton hypnotises his girlfriend into jumping out of her window and plunging several stories), because she was so ludicrously glamorous – I mean, this woman looked like a model, not a bit-part player sat behind a desk, and yet she had such a fleeting part, it was hard to imagine that she actually was someone. I was immediately driven to look her up, in case she was Morgan Fairchild or similar in an early part. Her name didn’t appear on the show credits, but IMDb informs me that she was Kathy Spiers, whose acting career seems to have consisted of this 1975 show and an episode of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In in 1972, where she plays ‘reporter in steam room/reporter in a nudist camp’ – two (or possibly three) acting parts over three years, without a character who has a name. Not a glittering career.
But Kathy Spiers was not someone who was pursuing an acting career with any seriousness. Instead, she had a pretty successful career as a model. Born Kathy Hansen (her surname came through marriage, at the age of seventeen), she was what we would now call a supermodel – back then, just a regular model and cover girl, recognisable but not famous in any real sense – no one would know her name. She allegedly landed a Cosmopolitan cover shoot on her first day as a model, and a TV commercial on her second, and her career continued that way for several years – the Columbo and Laugh-In work came about because the producers simply approached the model agency (Wilhelmina Models) for a pretty girl to be a glorified extra, and she was sent along.
As a model, Spiers almost seems to be the 1970s personified. Big hair, smouldering eyes and a pouting glamour that would be found on cover girls and porn stars alike (I’ll admit, it was the suspicion that this might be a porn star that inspired my search to begin with, but for the record, we’re not for a moment suggesting that she ever went down that route). It’s that sort of uber-sexy look that the decade specialised in, and you can see her gazing sexily, defiantly out from many a Cosmopolitan cover, as well as other magazines and ads of the era. She’s a remarkable, extraordinary presence on those covers – no wonder I was so struck by her.
Kathy Spiers was a regular face on the newsstands and in commercials until the late Seventies. What happened after that is anyone’s guess – there is scant information about her life. Divorced by 27, she may have remarried and retired, as many a model and actress did at that time. We’d be fascinated to know, as Kathy has become something of an obsession since we saw her in that Columbo episode. There’s a Kathy Spiers on Twitter, who has tweeted just once since 2015, and it seems rude to ask her; there’s a film producer with the same name who is definitely not her. If anyone knows – indeed, if you are Kathy Spiers – please get in touch…