How a Trip to London Led to Fran Drescher’s Hit The Nanny

Seth Rudetsky   How a Trip to London Led to Fran Drescher’s Hit The Nanny
 
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth prepares for the November 27 Concert for America, learns how The Nanny came to be, and celebrates Seth’s Broadway Diary Volume 3 with Broadway stars!
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Fran Drescher Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Tonight’s the night! Concert For America in Washington, DC at 7:30 PM! So many great performers: Chita Rivera (doing two songs from Chicago!), Andréa Burns (doing the coolest arrangement of “Another Hundred People”), Kerry Butler (direct from the D.C. tryout of Mean Girls), Ernie Sabella (his second appearance!), Judy Kuhn (her third appearance!), Maureen McGovern (doing TWO of her pop hits) and more! Watch the livestream at Facebook.com/ConcertForAmerica/ (7:30 PM ET) and share on your Facebook so more people will watch and donate!

Tonight’s concert benefits five fantastic non-profits: National Immigration Law Center, NAACP, National Coalition Against Domestic Violences, Southern Poverty Law Center, and Sierra Club.

Last week on Seth Speaks I interviewed Peter Marc Jacobson, or Peter Marc as he was known in his acting days. We did a great Off-Broadway musical called Midsummer Nights riiiight when I got out of college in 1989. Anyhoo, on the final night of the show, we had a cast party and we all played “Celebrity.” I was paired with his sassy wife. On the very first turn, she gave clues and I guessed….. and she then immediately turned to the party host and asked if she was allowed to switch team members. Rude yet hilarious!

Anyhoo, his sassy wife was the fabulous Fran Drescher, and Peter told me that back then she kept auditioning for TV shows that didn’t go anywhere or she didn’t get. Finally, she was on a trip overseas and had cashed in her frequent flyer miles to fly first class. Who does she see, but a major bigwig from CBS! She ran to the bathroom, put on makeup and told him that he had to hear the TV show she and her husband were writing for her. Finally, he agreed to a meeting. Then Fran and Peter had to come up with a show! She was visiting a couple in London that had a little girl. While sightseeing, the girl wanted to go home because her feet hurt. Fran told her to step out of her shoes and then put them back on but flatten out the back part so they didn’t hurt her feet. Nice trick! Not since I wrote about my mom “hemming” my pants by folding them under and using masking tape to hold them up. Anyhoo, that whole scenario inspired Fran who called Peter and told him her idea; “What if it’s the Sound of Music but when you open the door…it’s me!” They pitched it and it got picked up! (You know it as The Nanny.)

Even though Peter was an extreme newcomer, he had just sold a pilot on another network so they let him run the show! For you to understand just how quickly it all happened: Peter was taking a script-writing class in L.A. and a few months later his teacher applied for a job writing for Peter! And, P.S., he brought back his original last name and is now Peter Marc Jacobson! Peter said The Nanny is a great example of an actor not conforming to the norm. Everyone kept telling Fran to change…and she would get speech lessons, etc. when, actually, her success wound up being about her being herself!

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Charles Busch and Seth Rudetsky Marc J. Franklin

Still, she got negative feedback, which was oftentimes hilarious; not only does she have that Queens accent and bizarre vocal placement but she always speaks with such slow deliberateness. Peter told us that she had auditioned for a television film before The Nanny and the annoyed feedback about her slow-talking was “The movie is only two hours long!” Hi-larious!

Last Monday I had my book release for Seth’s Broadway Diary Volume 3, which is a compilation of my Playbill columns. Ann Harada, Mario Cantone, Judy Kuhn, and Charles Busch read sections from the book. Here are some of my favorite highlights:
1. I just did a show with Charles Busch in Provincetown and it was so great and so eclectic! He did a dramatic reading combining the posthumously published autobiographies of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Bette Davis recalled that Joan Crawford had three sizes of fake bosoms she wore, and "when we did that final scene on the beach, she wore her biggest one. I had to fall down on top of her and I nearly had the wind knocked out of me! It was like landing on two footballs." He also read from Arlene Dahl's memoir and quoted the part where she asks various movie stars what they like in a woman. The movie stars she looked to for advice? Tony Perkins, Rock Hudson, and Noël Coward! Literally a slew of gay men.

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Mario Cantone and Seth Rudetsky Marc J. Franklin

2. Mario Cantone’s segment was hi-larious! I asked him what he watches currently on TV and he, instead, told me what he would never watch: any shows featuring “The Housewives.” “They’re who-o-o-o-o-o-o-ores! The Housewives of Who-o-o-o-o-o-ore-ange County!” He also raged about the teen parents in his own neighborhood. Twice, he’s rescued a baby carriage on Ninth Avenue that was rolling into traffic because the mother wasn’t paying attention. One of the young ladies was standing with her boyfriend and kept apologizing profusely.
“Oh, Tito! I’m so sorry. I’m the worst mother. Tito! I’m so sorry!” Then her eyes widened when she recognized Mario from TV.
“Oh! I remember you…” she said
“You remember me!?!?!” he yelled back. “Remember your child!!!”

He grew up loving musicals but was only interested in seeing the original cast. When he was 12, his sister told him she got them tickets to Chicago.
“And,” she said, excited. “Guess who’s in it?”
“I know who’s in it,” he replied. “Chita Rivera and Gwen Verdon.”
“No!” she said. “Gwen Verdon has been replaced by…Liza Minnelli!”
He glared at her and said, “Then I’m not going!”
Seriously! He refused to see it because it wasn't the original cast. I love it!

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Judy Kuhn and Seth Rudetsky Marc J. Franklin

3. I had theeeeeee best time with Judy Kuhn this week! Naturally, we spoke about Chess, which I was lucky enough to see when I graduated college. Judy thinks the reason the show didn’t work was because the set was so overwhelming and oftentimes didn’t even work. Trevor Nunn wanted the show to be cinematic…meaning he wanted no blackouts and for people to be able to walk down hallways and then enter a room during a scene. Therefore, there were enormous columns onstage that moved all around and could create doors and walls, etc. Well, Judy told us that inside each column was actually a stagehand! He would have a compass (!) so he’d know where he was going and he’d move his column around the stage following cues from his headset. The headset had to be specially made to be able to work inside the columns and, unfortunately, they would often stop working. Judy said that in the middle of scenes people onstage would hear frantic knocking coming from inside a column and then a muffled voice yelling, “John! I’m out!” Someone would then come on the stage and push the column where it was supposed to go. Or sometimes, they’d be doing a scene and there’d just be a random column wandering around the stage, trying to find its place. At one point, Judy was doing a very serious scene with the late, great David Carroll, and out of the corner of her eye, she began to see an enormous column heading straight toward her. She kept signing and when the column got incredibly close, she kept going with her lines but thrust her arm out to the side and stopped it. Judy said that David Carroll was obsessed with the image of little tiny Judy Kuhn stopping a massive column with the flick of her arm. The stagehands were onstage all the time so they felt very connected to the actors. Judy said that for years she would walk through Shubert Alley and someone would run up with a big smile and a Brooklyn accent and say, “Judy! It’s me! Tower three!”

And we reminisced over another story when Judy and I were in Varla Jean Merman’s old dressing room. I took a photo of what remained on his/her counter and sent it to Varla: Cough drops, hairspray, Listerine, Urine Destroyer, and a withered old eyelash. Varla wrote back a frantic message: “That’s not all mine! I never use Listerine.” Brava!

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Ann Harada and Seth Rudetsky Marc J. Franklin

4. I was chatting with Ann Harada about the excuse casting people give when you don’t get a role: “We went a different way.” Usually it means nothing except you didn’t get it. Well, back in the early ’90s, she was living in Chicago and was told that if she flew herself to New York and just read once for The Cosby Mysteries she’d get the part. So, she flew herself, read once, and flew back. She then had this conversation with her agent.
AGENT: “Well, you didn’t get it.”
ANN: “What!?”
AGENT: "They went a different way,"
ANN: “Who got it?”
AGENT “Austin Pendleton.”
Wowza. They actually did go a different way.

You can get all Seth’s Broadway Diaries, Volumes 1, 2 and 3 right here! Bring Broadway to your holidays—as well as three really heavy books.

Now peace out!

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