Jenny Jones is best known for hosting the nationally syndicated talk show "Jenny Jones,” but “talk show host” is just one of Jones’ many careers which have included waitress, bookkeeper, temp worker, fashion model, caterer, comedian, musician, singer, songwriter, author, and philanthropist.
Born in 1946 to Polish immigrant parents, Jenny grew up in London, Ontario, Canada. Her father, John Stronksi, was a veteran of World War II, having served in the Polish army, and her mother, Sophie, was a dressmaker. After the family immigrated to Canada in 1948, Sophie did alterations at home and they eventually opened a dress shop in downtown London, aptly named Sophie's. Jenny and her older sister helped out in the store while attending Catholic school but the volatile marriage of John & Sophie ended when the girls were ten and twelve, after which mom and daughters moved to Montreal, Quebec. Suddenly on her own and raising two children, Sophie had a difficult time doing dressmaking at home as the girls grew more unhappy and defiant. "My relationship with my mother was painful as far back as I can remember," recalls Jones. "She was cold and distant and even after my success, there was nothing I could to do please her."
Unhappy about her parents' divorce and living with an alcoholic mother, Jenny ran away from home for the first time at age 11. Making her escape with an older girlfriend, she managed to pass for 16 and worked as a waitress for over a month until the girls were finally found by police and returned to Montreal. Soon after, Jenny and her sister started hanging with the wrong crowd and unable to handle her "wild" daughters, Sophie sent the girls back to London to live with their father and his new wife. Facing even more upheaval and a new stepmother, Jenny ran away a second time, this time with her sister, heading back to Montreal, but not to their mother. They contacted some old friends, one of whom alerted their father who brought the girls back to London.
"Divorce is devastating to children," says Jones. "I didn't want to be with either parent and couldn't wait until I was old enough to leave. Show business was my way out." While attending Central High School in London, Jenny's grades declined as she began using alcohol as an escape, waking up several times after blackouts. In her early teens, Jenny signed up with a modeling agency and did some modeling work after school. She learned to play drums and eventually dropped out of school at 17 to play on the road in a band. Her father told her if she left to play in a band, she was no longer welcome at home. It was painful to hear, but it did not suppress her dreams of leaving home and starting a career in show business.
Jenny toured Canada and the U.S. as a drummer in a rock ’n’ roll band. At the age of 19, she decided to move to Los Angeles and drove her Corvair convertible cross-country with no job, only one suitcase, and a set of drums. She sold movie tickets and worked as a hostess at a strip club to make ends meet and soon found a drumming job in a beer bar in Santa Monica, which led to a job with an all-girl band in Las Vegas. By the age of 22, she formed her own all-girl band, The Cover Girls which toured successfully for two years, covering the Nevada circuit, even playing a special engagement in her hometown. Her father came to a show and finally accepted her career in music. By 24, the band had split and Jenny married a fellow musician and settled in Las Vegas, finally off the road. By now an accomplished musician, she was discovered by Wayne Newton, who offered her a job as a backup singer and, within a month, appointed her the arranger for his backup vocals.
While working with Wayne Newton, Jones' first marriage ended and at age 27, she met and married her second husband, a record executive who worked for Wayne's label. She moved back to Los Angeles with her husband and formed her own band, Jenny Jones and Company, which played at local nightclubs like the Lobster House in Marina Del Rey and the Holiday Inn in Pasadena. Being a newly confident singer, she soon hired a drummer and stepped out front as a lead vocalist. It was during her stint as a singer that Jenny began to discover her comedic talent. Between songs, she entertained the crowd with humorous observations and before long, audiences were requesting that she extend her comedy.
At the age of 34, her second marriage ended and Jenny decided to pursue comedy as a full-time career. At night, she played the clubs for free; during the day, she supported herself by working as a caterer, an office manager, and even did temp work for Famous Amos Cookies. She also appeared as a contestant on such game shows as "Press Your Luck," "The Price is Right," and "The Match Game." Her winnings from The Match Game allowed her to quit her day job and pursue comedy full-time, touring the country, honing her skills, taking any job she could get. During those days, she shared the stage with many other working comics including Jerry Seinfeld, Tim Allen, Billy Crystal, Dennis Miller, Garry Shandling, Sinbad, Bob Saget, Brad Garrett, and Larry Miller. "We were all struggling comics back in the day," says Jones, "and the ones who worked hard and worked clean were the ones who made it."
After five years of paying her dues on the comedy circuit, Jenny’s big break came in 1986 when she became the first woman ever to win the "Star Search" Comedy Grand Prize and a check for $100,000. The win, coupled with her talent, led to Jenny sharing billing with the likes of Sammy Davis Jr., Tony Bennett, Dionne Warwick, Glen Campbell, The Pointer Sisters, Smokey Robinson, Kool and the Gang, Kenny Loggins and Gregory Hines, and performing in major venues from Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas to Radio City Music Hall in New York to the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles.
Following a one-year tour with Engelbert Humperdinck, whose audience was primarily female, Jenny developed a revolutionary comedy show for women only called "Girls’ Night Out." The response to the show was phenomenal, setting new attendance records in theaters and clubs. The success of "Girls’ Night Out," combined with Jenny’s wide appeal to women, sparked national profiles in publications such as Time and People, and on television programs such as "20/20" and "Larry King Live." The "20/20" story caught the attention of numerous television producers, among them a Warner Bros. executive who proposed a daytime series showcasing her unique talent. Jenny relocated to Chicago and "Jenny Jones" went on the air nationally on September 16, 1991, making television history as the #1-selling new first-run talk show.
“Jenny Jones” set a new standard for daytime television as the first talk show to feature hip music acts such as Usher, Nelly, Ludacris, and Three Six Mafia (who made their first television appearance on Jenny’s show). “Jenny” was also the first daytime show to feature outdoor concerts, and its pre-taped vignettes and spoofs were among television’s best. Most notably, Jenny was known as the queen of makeovers – often taking her guests from “Geek to Chic.” Being a musician and songwriter, she also composed the theme music for her show. After more than 2,000 tapings with close to 50,000 guests, Jenny’s talk show completed its successful run in 2003, joining the ranks of only a handful of daytime shows to sustain for over a decade.
In 1992, Jones went public with problems she had had with silicone breast implants, hoping to prevent other women from making the same mistake. Later that year, Jones founded the Image Foundation which provided much needed support and information to thousands of women having similar implant problems. After six surgeries, Jones finally had her own implants removed. She has also provided financial assistance to other women needing explantation surgery.
In 1995, Jones was thrust into a swarm of controversy involving two of her former guests who appeared on a Secret Crush episode. Several days after taping the show, one of the guests was killed by the other, resulting in a trial and ultimate conviction. The victim's family members then filed a lawsuit against the show; however, in the end both Jenny and the show's producers were found not responsible for the tragedy. The fact that the show was vindicated was rarely reported by the media.
A longtime advocate for women's health, Jones has served as honorary chairperson for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation's Chicago Race for the Cure, an annual event that raises awareness and money for breast cancer research. In the summer of 2000, Jenny donated a mobile mammography motor coach to Chicago's Cook County Hospital. The coach provides mammograms to underserved women and promotes breast cancer education at local health fairs and festivals.
Jones also funded her own scholarship program for disadvantaged students and has made substantial donations to Chicago area schools. She dropped out of high school at sixteen; yet despite her tremendous success, she felt it was important to get her high school equivalency later in life. In 1996, Jones aced her GED exam and always encourages young people to invest in their future by completing high school, learning job skills or pursuing college.
Jones has quietly donated millions in the past to various causes. Her generosity spans from surprising family, friends, and co-workers with cars, homes, and trips all over the world, to donating all of her biography and cookbook profits to breast cancer research. A former assistant to Jones, Dana Stephens, states, "Jenny's generosity was legendary among the staffers at her show." At Christmas, Jones routinely lavished her employees with diamond jewelry, vacations, cruises, TVs, computers, and thousands in cash. "But no gift compared to when she paid for my Chicago condo just weeks before my daughter was born," says Stephens. "She gave my brand new family a completely clean, fresh start. That gift leaves me speechless to this day."
Most recently, Jones established "Jenny's Heroes," a program where during 2008, through The Jenny Jones Foundation, she committed a million dollars of her own money to be given to individuals who use it to improve their communities. "What these heroes have accomplished is so much more than I expected and is so rewarding," says Jones, "that I have to continue. Considering the current economic crisis, I can't stop now." In 2009, Jones committed another million dollars for grants to people who submit the best ideas on how they would use the funds to make a difference in others' lives. Thousands of people have applied online and Jones has read every application herself, personally selecting the final recipient of each grant. "There's no better feeling than giving back to everyday people and seeing how much good is being done because of my good fortune," said Jones. At the end of 2011, after giving to one hundred Heroes in all fifty states, Jones concluded the "Jenny's Heroes" program and is pursuing new and creative ways to continue her philanthropy.
Jenny’s biography, Jenny Jones: My Story was published in 1997 with 100% of Jenny’s profits going to breast cancer research. In 2006, her cookbook, Look Good, Feel Great was published and again, Jenny donated 100% of her profits to breast cancer research at City of Hope. With no plans to return to TV, Jenny is currently doing what she loves: cooking and sharing her healthy recipes and food photography with the world at www.JennyCanCook.com. "My goal is to motivate more people to cook at home and make healthy eating a priority," says Jenny. "It's another way I can give back."
Jenny Jones resides in Los Angeles with her companion of over 25 years.