The former actress Karin Jan Smithers was born on 3rd July 1949, in North Hollywood, California, USA, and received her first acting offers from Hollywood agents after being featured on a March 1966 cover of “Newsweek” seated on the back of a motorcycle. Karin’s mother was fully supportive of her daughter’s career opportunities, and drove all around Hollywood with the future actress as they searched for the right agent.
Jan was briefly enrolled into the Chouinard Art Institute, now known as the California Institute of the Arts, but dropped out to pursue a TV and movie career.
Apart from acting, Jan also had a short-lived musical career, singing co-lead in Hot Cup of Friends, an early 1970s band featuring Christopher Mancini. Although the band has since faded into obscurity and there are no traces of its discography online, Christopher would go on to have a long and fruitful career as a podcaster, whereas the other band members pursued alternate professions.
Aged 24 years old, Jan earned her first acting credit in an episode of “Love Story”. From then on, she had minor roles in the feature films “Where the Lilies Bloom”, “Where the North Wind Blows”, and “Our Winning Season”. In 1978, it appeared that the actress’s luck was changing for the better, when she was cast as Bailey Quarters in the CBS sitcom “WKRP in Cincinnati”; as a main cast member appearing in 86 episodes – Jan had plenty of screentime and opportunities to wow viewers with her acting skills.
The Hugh Wilson sitcom – following the lives and woes of underpaid staff at a fictional radio station in Cincinnati – was based on his experiences working in advertising sales at a radio station in Atlanta. Jan’s co-stars in the sitcom were Gary Sandy, Howard Hesseman and Gordon Jump amongst others; the show won a Humanitas Prize and was nominated for ten Emmy Awards between 1978 and 1982.
Jan’s character, Bailey, was described as the young ingénue of the radio station who had recently graduated from journalism school. Despite being originally in charge of station traffic and billing, she dreamed of becoming a broadcast executive, and proved herself to be a capable on-air news reporter. Bailey’s character development saw her evolve from an awkward young woman to a self-confident and competent professional. Later, she became romantically involved with Johnny Fever, a veteran disc jockey who began working at WKRP after being fired from a well-known radio station in Los Angeles.
Although many fans of the actress hoped for her to have a brilliant career after “WKRP in Cincinnati” came to an end, their expectations couldn’t be further from the truth. Between 1982 and 1987, the Californian guest-starred in a dozen series, including “Murder, She Wrote”, “The Love Boat”, and “The Fall Guy”, and had a minor part in the feature film “Mr. Nice Guy”, which was her last credited role.
Jan married her longtime sweetheart, Kipp Whitman, in 1971, but the couple divorced just a year later. In the 1980s, she began dating and would subsequently marry the actor James Brolin, winner of two Golden Globes and recipient of a Hollywood Walk of Fame star.
Jan and James married in January 1986; at the time, the actor had recently divorced his first wife of 18 years, Jane Cameron Agee, and was known for his roles in “Gable and Lombard” and the TV shows “Hotel” and “Marcus Welby, M.D.” In 1987, the couple welcomed their first daughter together, Molly Elizabeth Brolin, which was when Jan decided to become a stay-at-home mother and leave Hollywood behind for good.
June 21, 1986: Jan Smithers and James Brolin married in Baddeck, Nova Scotia. The two met on the set of ‘Hotel’ and…
There had been a few rumors of infidelity in Jan and James’s marriage, but the truth behind their 1995 divorce boils down to the actor’s packed schedule putting a strain on their family life. “I had Molly and wanted to be in the country and get away from that world,” Jan explained. “I just wanted a different life, and we ended up getting divorced.”
When Molly was in high school, Jan traveled to India with a charitable group. The people that she met and the hardships they suffered impacted her so much that she went back to the country on several occasions; in the end, she would spend the 16 years visiting India and helping out wherever she could.
Soon, the former actress became immersed in yoga, spirituality and in meditation. With her newfound mindset, she became an outspoken advocate for environmental causes, and spoke of the benefits of solar energy as part of a sub-committee in Washington DC, despite her spiritual teachers advising her to stay out of politics.
In September 2007, it was reported that the former actress had been in a car accident. Jan was apparently driving naked when her car broke down in the middle of the night on a remote highway in California. Upon stopping for help, she waved down a truck driver, but it was too late as his vehicle crashed into her car.
According to a family friend, Jan had been suffering from a mental breakdown following the death of her father. When police were called to the scene of the accident, they found that there was nothing previously wrong with Jan’s car and were puzzled as to why she’d stopped for help. The “WKRP in Cincinnati” star was allegedly confused about why she was driving naked, and remembered nothing about the accident, which left her with a few broken bones and some other minor injuries.
These days, Jan fiercely protects her privacy, and has no public social media accounts. She made a rare appearance at the 2014 reunion of “WKRP in Cincinnati” cast members, which was hosted by Paley Center for Media, but since then she’s nowhere been seen in public. The former actress currently resides in Ojai, California, near her daughter Molly.
Molly is on excellent terms with both her mother and father, as well as with her half-siblings. The skilled metalworker has a brother and sister on her father’s side: Jess and the famous actor Josh Brolin. Her stepmother is the singer Barbra Streisand.