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Ex-Runaway Jackie Fuchs Is Brainy Like a Fox in Walking Away With ‘Jeopardy!’ Glory

When attorney Jackie Fuchs first appeared on “Jeopardy!” Dec. 14, viewers who recognized her from a past life had to wonder if the producers of the show were off their own game, as it were. Was it possible the trivia masters at “Jeopardy!” didn’t even know the night’s ace player was Jackie Fox, bass player for the “all-girl” 1970s band the Runaways?

Host Alex Trebek, whose favorite record apparently is not “Cherry Bomb,” hadn’t registered it, but it was hardly a secret to the producers. They’d agreed with Fuchs’ request to withhold that information until she had a couple of winning nights under her belt and had proven that she was smarter than your average rock star and/or a 5th grader.

“I asked them not to raise it unless I got to a third day, because it’s so easy to have that define who I am,” Fuchs tells Variety. “And I just didn’t want to be that person who goes on TV and says, ‘I was in the Runaways!’ Because it overshadows everything else that I’ve done in my entire life. And I think it also would have overshadowed how well I needed to do to get to game three. I liked the fact that the people who already knew who I was could be in on that knowledge that other people didn’t have, and then people who had been watching me would be able to discover it… At the end of the second show, during the closing credits, when Alex is over talking to the contestants, I told him that I was in a band and that I wanted to talk about it the next day.”

As it turns out, she could have saved that big reveal for yet another night, as she made it to a fourth night, which was broadcast Thursday, before being eliminated, having won just over $87,000 at that point. The producers still had one pretty good piece of trivia to save for her fourth appearance: that, back in 1980, she’d been a contestant on a game show where her knowledge of Dylan Thomas came in a lot less handy: “The Dating Game.”

“Oh, I have no idea,” Fuchs says, asked if she might be the only person in history to compete on both “Jeopardy!” and “The Dating Game.” “That’s a good question.” If she seemed slightly flustered, it’s not because she’s tried to suppress that OG game-show appearance, but “it was the first time I didn’t have some idea of what Alex was going to ask me about, and so I wasn’t ready as I had been on the other three days, and there was this moment where it fell quiet and then I sort of blurted out, ‘Well, it’s still on YouTube.’ And I think 30,000 people or something have watched it in the last 24 hours — it’s crazy.”

Fuchs doesn’t have many direct points of contact with rock ‘n’ roll or other contemporary music anymore, which may help explain why she missed a SZA question. Even things where she did once have some direct connection weren’t her strong suit. She and her fellow contestants all failed to identify the author of the memoir “Anger Is an Energy” — even though Fuchs once danced for a bit with John Lydon, who was then Johnny Rotten, at a foreign nightclub in the late ‘70s. Other questions (or answers) that hit close to home also didn’t give her a leg up.

“There was a question about some place that had been a location for this film ‘K-19: The Widowmaker’ (a 2002 Harrison Ford vehicle). I couldn’t come up with it at all, — even though I was the production lawyer on that picture. So I literally negotiated the location for ‘K-19.’”

Redemption was heavy on Fuchs’ mind. “I was on ‘The Chase’ on the Game Show Network — it’s not on anymore — where it was very rapid-fire questions and you ended up going up against this world quizzing expert who’s smarter than all three contestants combined, and you were just trying to combine forces to see if you could defeat him. And we couldn’t. I did not acquit myself well on that show, but it made me want to get back up and do it again. So I went on ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’ (in 2013) — and I still didn’t acquit myself that well, but it was better. I figured I would try one more time, and this time I was ready.” In both of those earlier cases, she was identified as an ex-Runaway immediately before flaming out, “which is also part of the reason why I didn’t want to lead with that” on “Jeopardy!”

Not surprisingly, “Jeopardy!” is her favorite of the shows she’s been on, not just because of its marquee value, but “because you can get an answer wrong and still win on ‘Jeopardy.’ And it’s fast response, but not the total rapid-fire of that first game show I went on, where it was bam-bam-bam-bam-bam. Also, this tends to have a little more classical learning along with pop culture. Like, one of my categories was ‘4th Century bookstore,’ and it was about literature from the 4th century. There was also ‘People who played super villains on Broadway,’ and I was a hell of a lot more comfortable with the 4th century bookstore category.”

In her non-lawyering hours, Fuchs is part of a pub trivia team, which she considers a “kind of painless way to learn new stuff.” Along with reading the encyclopedia, right? “I don’t read the encyclopedia, but I do read books that interest me. Like everybody else these days, in the era of social media and smartphones, I find it harder to read than it used to be, but I still do. And I’ll watch documentaries on PBS or the History Channel, and I’m just really interested in things. There’s just so much to know. And so I tend to be bad at pop culture because I just don’t find it as interesting as science and history and literature. But I guess I still absorb just enough of it. I try to read the L.A. Times from front page to last page, and that’s really how I stay up-to-date on pop culture to some extent. If I had the time I would read more than one newspaper, but I decided to support local journalism, because I think that’s really important — even though it means my knowledge of Broadway ends up being worse for not having access to east coast news.”

Here’s a trivia question even Fuchs can’t answer: when she last picked up a bass guitar. “I just listen to music and enjoy it as a fan,” she says. “And honestly these days I’m more inclined to listen to classical music and opera than to rock, mostly because rock scares the cat.” She amends that. “Actually, so does opera. The first time I played opera in the house, both of my cats looked for a place to hide. Which I’m sure a lot of rock fans can relate to.”

Fuchs was in the news in 2015 as she spoke up on some more important but less fun topics — rape and consent — as a vocal advocate for victims who might be seen as sharing in blame because they were incapacitated. She was then publicly alleging for the first time having been raped by the Runaways’ founder and manager, Kim Fowley, now deceased. (Fellow former band members Cherie Currie and Joan Jett alternately disputed her account or denied knowledge of it, ensuring further estrangement than had already existed. Earlier, Fuchs had been essentially written out of “The Runaways,” the 2010 musical biopic, following a legal dispute.)

Enjoying more light-hearted media attention now is “kind of weird,” Fuchs says, “but I guess it’s all weird. I’m just not used to thinking of myself as somebody who ought to be in the news for anything. But I definitely prefer being in the news for something that I affirmatively did, as opposed to for something that happened to me. And it’s definitely easier talking about being on ‘Jeopardy’ than it was talking about being raped, for sure.”

Now the “Cherry Bomb” setter-turned-Harvard grad (she attended alongside Barack Obama) turned attorney is making the news for being a smart (ex-) rock star… which the most waggish among us might consider a bit of a man-bites-dog story.

“Hey, Bruce Dickinson can fly 747s,” she counters, sticking up for the rich tradition of brainiacs in rock. “You didn’t know that? He pilots Iron Maiden’s 747 to tour stops. Come on. That’s way more interesting than anything I’ve ever done.”

There’s an outside chance Fuchs will be back on with Trebek in the latter half of next year, if she qualifies as a wild-card contestant for the show’s Tournament of Champions. Asked if she has any other game-show aspirations now that she’s acquitted herself on “Jeopardy!,” the Mount Everest of game shows, Fuchs is happy to retreat to legal minutiae and pub trivia for now.

“Yeah, it is the Mount Everest, the Aconcagua and the Chimborazo all rolled into one,” Fuchs points out. She notices the dead silence on the other end of the line. “I’m going to make you look that up, huh?”

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