SPOTLIGHT September 2023: Fran Drescher, Actor, Author, SAG-AFTRA Activist

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She may have perfected the role of glamorous ditz, but Fran Drescher is actually a warrior. Known best for perennial favourite The Nanny, Drescher captured the attention of TV viewers for years and became fixed in the public consciousness as funny, fearless and feminist. In the last few months, Drescher has recaptured the spotlight in her role as President of SAG-AFTRA, a union leadership position to which she was elected in 2021. Initially, some doubted her ability to represent the massive 160,000-strong union membership —yes, a woman underestimated.

When did that ever happen before?

Everything changed in July when the members of SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) joined the Writers’ Guild of America and went on strike in Hollywood. Drescher announced the strike to the membership, giving an electrifying speech that went viral and won her huge respect (and headlines) everywhere. The labour issues center on streaming and residuals and the growing use of Artificial Intelligence in entertainment. Negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), representing the studios, broke down so a strike was called; this combined walkout of both performers and writers hasn’t happened since 1960.


The renewed interest in Drescher over her passionate labor stance reveals, not surprisingly, a long personal history of leadership and advocacy. The actress with the exaggerated Noo Yawk accent and special gift for physical comedy has survived sexual assault and cancer and has worked tirelessly to help others experiencing similar trauma. She is an outspoken supporter of the LGBTQIA+ community and advocated for same-sex marriage before it became law in the U.S. A vegan, Drescher is also involved in animal welfare and environmental causes.

She is the author of Enter Whining, a 1995 memoir that includes details of her 1985 rape at gunpoint during a violent home invasion. She wrote Cancer Schmancer (2002), a book about her journey with uterine cancer. Drescher founded a non-profit, Cancer Schmancer, in 2007, and was appointed a U.S. public diplomacy envoy for women’s health; she is often a keynote speaker on the subject of cancer prevention and she helped get Congress to pass the Gynecologic Cancer Education and Awareness Act (Johanna’s Law). She also worked on getting the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which combats domestic violence, passed.

Last year, Drescher and Australian author Rebecca Kelly published N is for Nanny, a book capturing highlights of the TV series — with all proceeds earmarked for Cancer Schmancer.


Drescher & Jacobson
Francine Joy Drescher, 65, was born in Flushing, New York to Sylvia and Morty Drescher; she has one sister, Nadine. Drescher attended Hillcrest High School in New York, where she met her future husband, Peter Marc Jacobson. They were 21 when they married and they stayed married for 19 years, divorcing after he came out as gay. They remain close friends and collaborators.

Drescher’s first movie was a small part (with one line) in Saturday Night Fever (1977), and throughout the following decade she had minor roles in several films, including American Hot Wax, Gorp and Ragtime. She then endeared herself to a generation of publicists after playing Bobbi Flekman in This Is Spinal Tap.

After various not-very-memorable parts in film and TV in the 1980s, she created The Nanny in the early ‘90s with Jacobson — and became a household name. According to a recent Vanity Fair story on Drescher, CBS initially had wanted her nanny character to be Italian, but Drescher stood firm that the nanny had to be Jewish, and played by a Jewish actor — with an authentic New York Queens’ accent. That was groundbreaking for network TV at the time.

She and Jacobson worked together again on the series Happily Divorced, and Drescher has also appeared in many movies and on such series as Living with Fran, Indebted and Gravesend. She voices Eunice in the Hotel Transylvania animated features — most recently, Hotel Transylvania 4: Transformania.


Fans of Drescher’s ‘90s hit series are well aware that The Nanny lives on through TV syndication. The show originally ran for six seasons, from 1993 until 1999, but it is still seen regularly via cable and streaming. The Nanny has run in more than 90 countries around the world and is shown in some 30 languages; it earned Drescher two Emmy and two Golden Globe nominations. Drescher and then-husband Jacobson created the hit show about Fran Fine, a Jewish fashionista from Queens, New York who winds up taking over a posh household in her role as caretaker to the children of a British Broadway producer (Charles Shaughnessy).

The actress has speculated that the generation that grew up watching nanny Fran on TV is also the generation that first embraced social media — and thus found a way to help keep the show alive for three decades. As the 30th anniversary of The Nanny approaches this fall, there are several nanny projects in the works, including a Broadway musical, a movie and a series reboot. Drescher and Jacobson created the stage production, which will be directed by Marc Bruni (who did Beautiful: The Carole King Musical) and features songs from Emmy and Golden Globe winner Rachel Bloom.

Drescher said recently she was in initial talks with Sony about a Nanny movie that would pick up where the TV show left off. There has also been discussion with Sony about a potential reboot of the series, although whether that means a whole new cast or the original actors (or a bit of both) has not been specified.


After noting, “We are being victimized by a very greedy entity,” Drescher’s viral union speech offered a smackdown to the AMPTP and a high-five to SAG-AFTRA members: “We stand in solidarity in unprecedented unity, our union and our sister unions, and the unions around the world are standing by us as well as other labor unions. Because at some point, the jig is up. You cannot keep being dwindled and marginalized, and disrespected and dishonored. This is a moment of history that is a moment of truth. If we don’t stand tall right now, we are all going to be in trouble.”


Drescher’s personal motto is, “Turn your pain into purpose.” She has used setbacks and trauma in her own life to advocate for others, and has proved herself to be a formidable leader during the labor unrest that has brought U.S. film and TV to a standstill. As Drescher recently told Time Magazine about the strike, she is standing up for the little guy; in fact, she has always done so. The ever-widening gap between rich and poor did not spare Hollywood’s major industry, and workers are fighting for their livelihood over a changing entertainment landscape that has the potential to use talent and then discard it. The issues involved will eventually change nearly every industry, so Drescher’s leadership is crucial far beyond SAG-AFTRA. “Everybody stands to benefit from our success,” Drescher said, “because everybody is in jeopardy of being replaced by AI, or being undercut or underpaid.” — Liz Braun

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Liz Braun

Liz Braun has contributed entertainment stories in print and on radio and TV in Canada for 30 years. She served as film critic for the Toronto Sun and for the Postmedia chain of newspapers.