Writer's note: After publication of this story, it was brought to our attention – by Phyllis Smith herself – that the woman in the cheerleading photo below is not "The Office" star. Our mistake didn't turn out to be the worst thing – the affable actress was kind enough to share with us multiple personal photos from her days as an NFL cheerleader as well as when she was a burlesque dancer, strutting the stage with "strategically placed feathers and G-strings with feathers covering our rumps." See the photos -- and read our new interview -- here.
On “The Office,” Dunder Mifflin Sabre customer sales rep Phyllis Lapin seems very motherly with her Christmas sweaters, knitting needles, and awkward comments about sex. But the 61-year-old actress who portrays the saleswoman Phyllis Smith got her start as an NFL cheerleader and burlesque dancer.
This photo of Smith has been trending on Reddit. It features a big-haired Smith during her days as a St. Louis Cardinal cheerleader in the 1970s – long before her “The Office” counterpart was even a thought in her mind. Smith is in her red and white cheering outfit and wearing red lipstick.
[Related: 'The Office' to end after Season 9]
Smith has previously spoken about her rah-rah days. “I was at the height of my glory, because I loved dancing and wearing the boots and the hot pants, the tied up shirts, looking really hot,” she told Slate. “And I was able to dance, I loved football. My dad used to have season tickets, so I was flirting with the guys on the sidelines as much as I could. The organizations make sure that the cheerleaders and the players have minimal contact, but that's what you try to do. It was great, in the '70s.”
That wasn’t Smith’s only interesting job: She was also a burlesque dancer. Taking ballet, tap, jazz, and modern dance since she was 7, she transitioned into burlesque and traveled the country doing shows until her early 30s. But it wasn’t as racy as it may sound. “Not risqué. No stripping, no nudity,” she told Slate. “We had feathers that covered everything.”
When her burlesque career ended, Smith – who also had jobs as a preschool teacher, J.C. Penney warehouse worker, a movie theater ticket taker, and a receptionist for an aerospace defense company – transitioned to the entertainment business, working for casting agencies. She was helping with the casting of “The Office” when the show’s executive producers decided to create a role for her on the show.
“The Office” returns for its ninth and final season on September 20 on NBC.