Exclusive: ‘The Office’ star Phyllis Smith sets us straight about her NFL cheerleader and burlesque-dancer past
In "The Office," Phyllis Smith is endlessly amusing as Dunder Mifflin Sabre sales rep Phyllis Lapin-Vance, who is sweet with a sassy side. In the years the show has been on the air, we've grown used to seeing her character in cardigan sets and carrying knitting needles, so when we discovered a photo -- purportedly of Smith -- from her days as an NFL cheerleader, we were all over it. Our original story, which you can read here, detailed her yearlong cheering gig with the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1970s. The accompanying photo showed a pretty young woman in red-and-white cheer gear -- and really awesome helmet hair, popular in that era. The only problem? While Smith was a cheerleader, the photo -- which is all over the Internet -- isn't of her, and she called us out on it.
Color us embarrassed!
Smith, who is hard at work of Season 9 of the show, is a great sport, though, and called us up to discuss this case of mistaken identity, which has been following her for some time. (Just do an image search for "Phyllis Smith cheerleader" and you'll see what we mean.) The 61-year-old actress, who hails from St. Louis and started dancing at the age of 7, provided us with real photos of her from her time in burlesque dancing, which she did for seven years after she hung up her pompoms. We have never been so happy to be wrong, because not only are these photos even better, but also we were able to chitchat with the affable actress.
First, let me apologize for our mistake.
Oh, that's OK -- this is the third time this picture surfaced, and I don't even know who that woman is. I don't think that we even cheered together. She must have been a different year than me.
What did you think when you saw our story saying that woman was you? "Those dummies …"
Well, the article was accurate, but I went, "Here we go again!" with the photo. The first time it happened, I was being interviewed for "Bad Teacher" -- you know, the film with Cameron Diaz -- and the gentleman [interviewing me] was so happy and proud because he found a picture of me as a cheerleader. We were on camera and I didn't want to embarrass him, but I couldn't own it either because it's just not me. I said, "Oh, that's a lovely photo, but it's not of me." And then during a second interview that I did in St. Louis, [the reporter] showed it to me before we went on air, so I was able to stop that before it hit the airwaves.
Was that even the uniform that you wore back then -- a red V-neck sweater with white stripes along the neckline and a white skirt?
No, we had midriff blouses tied up in the front, hot pants, and white boots up to our knees. The year I cheered was the second or third year after cheerleaders were first coming into being -- the beginning of cheerleading days. I think the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders had been around one year; then we came in around the second year. It was when the Cardinals were still in St. Louis, which is where I am from.