(1957 - )
Fran Drescher is the latest celebrity to show America
just how chic and wearable Old Navy is. Striding gracefully in the stilettos
once filled by soap diva Morgan Fairchild, supermodel Molly Sims and
the late 20th century fashion icon and journalist Carrie Donovan, her
New York-tinged spark, earthy sexiness and youthful presence breathes
life into the already colorful ad spots. But given the extremes she's
endured and the heights she's experienced, this is just icing on a cake
with a most complex recipe.
Although there are many stars in Hollywood, and several in that group
doing inspirational things, Fran Drescher always had a certain resonance
in my life. First and foremost, she was living proof that Jewish girls
could be sexy, glamorous and successful without having to hide their
roots-figuratively or literally. One of her early (and extremely convincing)
turns as publicist Bobbi Flekman in the 1983 mockumentary This Is Spinal
Tap, struck two chords, first during my run as a teen rock journalist
(having set up interviews and backstage passes with many a Bobbi Flekman)
and then as a publicist in Hollywood (having had to become Bobbi Flekman
on a few occasions).
However, there is also the courage she has exuded when she discussed
taking on uterine cancer with a warrior's spirit. She successfully channeled
her pain into a courageous, outspoken message for other women to heed
and comprehend. Even better, she has done it without maudlin tones or
an additional agenda. It truly comes from the heart. Having seen my
mother cope with a gynecological cancer scare along with a complement
of bad medical advice she had to fight her way through, it was easy
to be receptive not only to the message, but the way in which it was
Last fall, Drescher appeared at a glamorous luncheon in a lush Hollywood
Hills home for Step Up Women's Network (http://www.stepupwomensnetwork.org),
a health-oriented women's charity based in New York and Los Angeles.
Although there were luxury items for sale, fabulous edibles from Chaya
(a major and very deserving destination restaurant in L.A.), a Burberry's
fashion show and an entertaining auction conducted by ex-Spice Girl
Geri Haliwell, the afternoon belonged to Drescher. Her choice of words
was pointed, the message was intense, and her anger with the medical
establishment was evident. However, she maintained her definitive sense
of humor and strength.
"I have just begun a new chapter in my life," says Drescher
a few weeks after the luncheon. "I am not trying to ride my past.
Instead, I am open to all possibilities and will cheerfully let fate
carry me in whatever direction, professionally and in other aspects
of my life as well."
In addition to the Old Navy ads, Drescher recently lit up the airwaves
in ABC Family's modern-day fairy tale, Beautiful Girl. Set in Pennsylvania and shot in Toronto, Drescher portrays Amanda Wasserman, a glamorous
career woman and well-intentioned mom to Becca Wasserman (Marissa Jaret
Winokur, who starred in the Broadway production of Hairspray), a talented
music teacher blessed with a loving Jewish family and devoted fiancé
Adam Lopez (Marc Consuelos of All My Children fame and real-life husband
of co-star Kelly Ripa). Since a Hawaiian honeymoon proves to be a bit
costly for a music teacher and an emerging restaurateur, Becca enters
a beauty contest on a lark, hoping to snag the prize of a vacation in
the islands. To everybody's surprise, she wins several rounds, only
to contend with overprotective Amanda, a scheming former high school
rival and her own elevated drive to win at any cost. While Becca comes
away from the experience with a more important personal victory, Drescher
returned to L.A. a winner on many fronts.
"I adore Toronto, and I
really enjoyed the opportunity to visit friends and attend the Toronto
Film Festival," she says. "I also loved playing Amanda because
she has an interesting complexity to her. I also appreciated that the
story spun around a Jewish family portrayed in a way that's not only
realistic, but subtly threaded through the story. However, the time
in Toronto was also a time of spiritual awakening. I was still in the
painful process of getting over an old boyfriend. This man was the one
who helped me get through my cancer experience, making it doubly difficult
to let go. I was wondering what I would do next in my life with my newfound
freedom, when the role of Amanda came along.
"Each day I would go to the set, and each night I would come home
to my hotel room to find a large plate of fruit and a bottle of water
left for me on my desk," she continues. "However, one day
I came home from work to find a fruit plate, but this time, with a single
plum in a shape of a perfect heart. Immediately, I found the sight of
this magnificent plum special, and thought that the gift of this heart-shaped
fruit surely must be divine intervention. It was there for a reason,
and it was up to me to figure out what that message was. I have never
beheld such beauty. It was almost like Greek mythology. I could not
bring myself to eat it. I painted a still life of it and photographed
it. I showed it to many people who visited me and all agreed it was
a most special, magical plum.
"When a wonderful Japanese foot masseur came to my room, he asked
me what I planned to do with it," she continues. "When I told
him I supposed I would have to eat it, but that I couldn't bear to put
a knife to it, he suggested I just lift it to my mouth and take a bite
out of it. I knew he was right but still I couldn't bear the thought
of not having it to gaze at. So instead, I brought it to work during
the day and at night I would put it in the fridge to keep it fresh for
as long as possible. This went on for almost two weeks. Then, on the
last day of my stay in Toronto, the Japanese foot masseur came once
again. He said, 'I was thinking about your plum. Fruit is meant to be
eaten. When it's ripe, take a bite out of it. Don't let it rot.'"
It was the life-affirming, mystery-solving message Drescher had been
waiting for-the perfect metaphor for life. En route to Toronto's Lester
B. Pearson Airport, she opened her purse, lifted her plum out of the
lovely white napkin it looked best in and took a last look. The plum
was as perfect as the day it first arrived in her room. It had only
gotten heavier in its own juice.
"I lifted it up to my mouth and took a bite," she says dreamily.
"I sighed. Ahhhhh. It was as sweet on the inside as it was exquisite
on the outside, as it slid down my throat in one bite. Then my heart-shaped
plum was inside me. "The plum was a powerful sign for me, and at
this time of my life, I have a higher awareness when it comes to signs
and spirituality. If you open your eyes and you see signs everywhere,
you will never feel alone. You will know there's a greater energy out
there helping to guide you, and that life filled with spirituality has
many special rewards."
The new phase of Drescher's acting career, despite her thoughtful, low-key
attitude, is in full flower. Those stylish Old Navy ads, helmed by noted
director Matthew Rolston, have proven to be a most enjoyable way to
reintroduce herself to the public. "They are really wonderful people,"
she beams. "Their products are well-made, affordable and perfect
for every member of the family. [The campaign represents] a wholesome
kind of marketing, and I like everything about it."
In additions to the ads, she has brought some sunshine to several episodes
of CBS-TV's Good Morning, Miami and is optioning a screenplay she hopes
to direct. In live theater, she triumphed in a New York City production
of Exonerated taking a dramatic and provocative turn as Sunny Jacobs,
a woman wrongly convicted of murder who spent 17 years on death row.
On PBS, she served as host to A Chanukah Celebration, a well-received special produced by the Jewish Television
Network. It was filmed in the classic "variety show" format,
with Drescher introducing various acts and explaining the holiday's
origins and traditions.
Even as Drescher eases her way into the future, there are still some
experiences she will always hold dear. She considers them part of a
foundation that will be enhanced as she assumes new acting and professional
challenges. Although everything she touched didn't necessarily turn
into gold, she found that every job had its own gift. For example, her
small role in Saturday Night Fever was not just the perfect feature
film debut in 1977, it enabled her to work with John Travolta, whom
she watched on Welcome Back, Kotter with her parents just a year earlier.
In 1978, American Hot Wax wound up being her ticket to Hollywood. On
the set of Dr. Detroit, she not only met two of her best future friends,
Donna Dixon and Dan Aykroyd, but witnessed their relationship blossom
into one of Hollywood's most enduring marriages. In 1994, Car 54, Where
Are You? introduced her to co-star Rosie O'Donnell, who remains one
of her closest friends. The still talked-about performance as Bobbi
in This Is Spinal Tap enabled her to shape the character out of pure
improvisation and earned Drescher recognition through Esquire magazine's
"Five-Minute Oscar." And then there are the special roles
that were pure gold on both a professional and personal level.
"Fran Fine (of The Nanny) will always have a special place in my
heart," she says. "I loved playing her, and I am proud of
that show, the success (of its original run) and its continued success
worldwide. I also loved playing Mameh in Ragtime opposite Mandy Patinkin
and under the direction of Milos Foreman. Milos enabled me to work within
a dramatic and emotional range that I infrequently get to explore as
an actress. It was a period piece and I got to wear period clothing.
Everything we wore was authentic because Milos really wanted his actors
to feel like their character from the inside out. In portraying Sunny
Jacobs, who was accused of murdering two policemen, my attitude about
capital punishment and all its ramifications changed. Prior to the play,
I had been a victim of a violent crime, so I naturally I identified
with the victim. I could not see the point in keeping alive a person
who was a danger to innocent people. I used to have an ongoing debate
with my ex-boyfriend on this very subject. His position was that violence
begets violence, and it is too easy to make a mistake. Well, he was
right. After doing the play, I did a 180-degree turn in my thinking.
Getting inside the skin of Sunny made me realize that justice is blind,
racist and unfair to the poor. There are so many problems within the
judicial system, that we have to keep people guilty of even the most
heinous crimes alive because of the innocent people like the Sunny Jacobs
of the world."
Shortly after the run of Exonerated, Drescher met Jacobs, who shared
with Fran her own inspiring story of survival as a wrongly convicted
victim of the system. When Jacobs was forced into solitary confinement
for five years, she turned to yoga and turned her cell into a sanctuary.
This ultimately saved Jacobs' life, and enabled her to reach others.
She now lives in Ireland, owns a beautiful home, teaches yoga and lives
with a man who himself was exonerated from a sentence for a crime he
did not commit.
Even with breaks from acting, Drescher never really went away, in part,
because she not only has many stories to tell, but has a strong belief
that all women should exchange stories in order to empower themselves
and each other. Both her books, Enter Whining and Cancer Schmancer,
not surprisingly, were New York Times best sellers.
"With Cancer Schmancer, it wasn't just about recounting my tale
of surviving and healing," she details. "The reader will ideally
become better informed as a medical consumer/patient, as well as learn
the early warning signs and the tests that are available. I learned
that even when dealing with a disease like cancer, there are always
positives to experience side by side with the negatives. I'm not glad
I had cancer, but I am better for it, thus confirming my belief that
some of life's greatest gifts come in the ugliest of packages."
Drescher is now hard at work on her next book. Though she is not yet
ready to discuss it in detail, she is hoping it will touch people and
encourage dialogue on important topics the way her other books did.
She is deservedly proud of the fact that people from all walks of life
approach her every day and tell their stories of triumph over the odds.
Many of them, in turn, tell her that they were able to persevere because
she had told her personal story in such a public way.
"[When it comes to personal and health issues] we all should open
up and exchange stories," Drescher declares. "It's one of
the only ways we will become empowered as women. "Recently, at
a benefit for Rosie O'Donnell's children's charity (the For All Kids
Foundation), a 28-year-old wife and mother approached me to thank me
for saving her life. This woman went on to explain that shortly after
reading Cancer Schmancer, she recalled how she felt something in her
breast. Though her doctor told her she was too young for a mammogram,
the book prompted her to demand she receive one. It turned out she indeed
had cancer. The woman needed a mastectomy and post-op treatment, all
of which might have been detected too late had she not read Cancer Schmancer.
"Although the profile for women who get uterine cancer is usually
either obese or postmenopausal, in reality, one in four victims are
young and thin like I am, proving there are exceptions to every rule,"
she adds. "See your doctor and request the cancer screening tests
available so you can rule out cancer before being treated for a more
benign illness. Knowledge is power! Unfortunately, doctors are often
encouraged by insurance companies to choose the least-expensive route
of diagnostic testing. That's why so many women find out they have gynecologic
cancer in the late stages. In the case of ovarian cancer, women are
very often misdiagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome because the early
symptoms are so similar. This means up to 80% of all women with ovarian
cancer will not be diagnosed until the late stages of the disease and
70% of that group will die. We need to take control of our bodies and
become greater partners with our physicians. In the end, the best gift
you can give your family and the ones you love is a long and healthy
On top of all she's accomplished in 2003, she was last year's recipient
of the Ribbon of Hope Award, bestowed by the National Coalition for
Cancer Survivorship. With a clean bill of health and much to live for
this year, Drescher affirms she wants to spend much of it elevating
women's healthcare issues to a greater and more political level. She
supports Senator Joseph
Lieberman's proposal for a national healthcare program called Medichoice,
which will offer a choice of health plans affordable to every American
of any economic level through privatized insurance, as well as a program
called Medikids, which would guarantee that every child born will leave
the hospital with a birth certificate and healthcare coverage. She also
has plans to produce and direct a three-tier public service announcement
program generating awareness for cervical, ovarian and uterine cancers
on behalf of the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation.
"Let the river carry you," she advises. "We are all like
little droplets of water that make up a whole, flowing river. As long
as we allow ourselves to be carried, life can be so much easier, as
well as surprising."
Sources: Article written by Elyse Glickman, courtesy of Lifestyles Magazine