Fran Drescher Thinks We Have Everything About Aging Wrong

Photo credit: Christian Witkin/Trunk Archive
Photo credit: Christian Witkin/Trunk Archive

For all the money they spend on original programming, the folks behind streaming services are realizing nostalgia sells. Classic shows, like The Golden Girls and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, are finding new audiences on these platforms, and as of last month, you could add The Nanny to that list. The sitcom, about a “flashy girl from Flushing” who becomes the caretaker to a wealthy Broadway producer’s introverted children, is experiencing a resurrection of its own on HBO Max—and it delights the series' co-creator and star, Fran Drescher. “The Nanny is an anomaly,” Drescher tells Oprah Daily, of the program which originally aired on CBS from '93 to '99. “It’s like a modern-day Cinderella story and Fran Fine had this immaturity that made kids love her as much as adults.”

And as much fun as it’s been to rediscover Fran Fine, it’s been even more enjoyable to rediscover Fran Drescher. The 63-year-old actress, comedian, and writer is endearingly candid, with plenty to say about authenticity (“If I’m not true to my word, who the hell am I?”), consumerism (“You have a lot of power with your purchase”), and perseverance. “The president of CBS once said to me, ‘Fran, you’re a Russell: You have the courage of Jane Russell, the comic timing of Rosalind Russell, and the tenacity of a Jack Russell.’”

That tenacity may have even saved her life. After years of feeling like something wasn't quite right—and being brushed off by eight different doctors as simply perimenopausal—Drescher was diagnosed with gynecologic cancer. The experience inspired her to start a charity called Cancer Schmancer, which aims to empower women with knowledge about prevention and early detection of the disease.

And now, as the new face of Laura Geller Beauty, a home shopping mainstay that recently announced it would exclusively use models over the age of 40 on air and in brand creative, Drescher wants to help shift the conversation around aging. “This emphasis on youth is counterintuitive to the natural journey of life on this planet,” she says. “It's just one of the many stupid things that we humans do. Westerners, I should say, because there are many Eastern cultures that have high regard and respect for the mature person.”

This is the Tao of Drescher.

The Nanny is hot right now—what makes that show so enduring?

Well, all those kids from the '90s that were watching it are now grownups experiencing it in a whole new way. They're getting some of the adult humor and double entendre that they missed before. The costumes are amazing. The sexual tension between Fran and Mr. Sheffield is provocative and enjoyable. It still holds up. And since it’s streaming and not syndication, it’s really the first time I’ve even seen the original cut of the show without it being edited for commercials.

Photo credit: Christian Witkin/Trunk Archive
Photo credit: Christian Witkin/Trunk Archive

Yours was one of the few portrayals of a Jewish woman on network TV and you've said that some advertisers balked at that. How important was it for you to push back?

Neil Simon always said, "Write about what you know." I took that very much to heart. I remember when Peter [Nanny co-creator Peter Marc Jacobsen] and I got the green light to make a pilot, we were so excited. And even though we knew this was our big break and we weren't really in a position to argue the point, we told CBS that Fran Fine had to be Jewish. And I didn't know this at the time, but The Nanny featured the first openly Jewish character in a lead role on primetime since Molly Goldberg did it in 1948.

And we really went out on a limb, because we spoke Yiddish on the show. We went to temple. We had a bris. We went to a kibbutz. I dated a cantor. We did it all. And ironically, in spite of the network's concerns that maybe only New York and Miami would pick up on it, it was really the Sunbelt and the Midwest that gravitated to the show instantly and turned it into a hit.

And maybe it wouldn’t have been such a success if you hadn’t stuck to your guns.

Look, what I do is very rich in specificity and detail. I'm not Italian. I could play Italian; I did in Saturday Night Fever and have at other times in my career. But that's different, because it's not week in and week out. I needed to play something very close to the rich and wonderful characters I grew up with: My mother, my grandmother, the people from my neighborhood in Queens.

There's an Instagram account called @whatfranwore that features classic Nanny looks. How involved were you in creating Fran Fine's style?

Peter and I knew we wanted the character to be a clotheshorse. We wanted her to look sexy without being slutty, because she did take care of children, after all. And we would have a three-hour wardrobe session with the costume designer, try everything on, take pictures, and narrow it down. And an outfit would rarely be perfect straight off the rack. Most of the time, we made our own adjustments. It was a very collaborative art form. And we had that circular staircase to show off the clothes.

We knew what we were doing. We knew we wanted to show off the clothes. And they still hold up. It doesn't look dated. You don't know whether you're looking at an outfit from the '60s or the '90s.

You had so many amazing guest stars—Bette Midler, Patti LaBelle, Cloris Leachman—can you recall a memorable experience with any of them?

I remember Elizabeth Taylor was very gracious. She sat on the couch in the living room and offered to take pictures with everyone. I remember Renee Taylor [the actress who played Fran Fine’s mother] wanted one for her piano. And Liz's people said, "You're welcome to it, but you have to pay for the retouching." It was going to be about $350. And she said, "Okay, I'll pay for the airbrushing, but whatever you give Liz, give me too."

How did the partnership with Laura Geller Beauty come about?

It’s a funny story: I'm with my parents in Florida, surfing the TV channels, and I see something on QVC that says the Laura Geller Show. And I was completely drawn in. Before I had a chance to look into it as a customer, my manager called and said, "We have interest in you being the new Laura Geller girl."

It was meant to be!

That’s the kind of stuff that happens in life and I always respond because I know that the universe is pointing me in a direction. So, I told them to send me some stuff, because I have to believe what I'm saying. I have to really like the product. I asked a lot of questions. Does it have potentially toxic ingredients like lead in it? Do you test on animals? I talk to women about these things because women are the largest consumers on the planet. What we buy becomes not only our vote, but our protest. It’s important we use our hard-earned dollars to make mindful decisions.

How would you like to see the conversation around aging evolve?

You can't overestimate what life experience brings to a person's aura. This needs to be prized, not admonished. I don't think that the maturing woman should be underestimated or marginalized. We have to embrace the new level of beauty, confidence, sensuality, and inner poise that comes with age.

How do you want to reemerge from the last year?

We have to start realizing that how we live equals how we feel. We must start looking at our lifestyle and stop looking for a magic pill that's going to take away the symptoms. What you are doing, what you are buying, what you are eating, all of your personal care items, everything you clean and garden with—it’s either going to be in support of your body, your immune system, and the planet, or against it.

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