Long before Kourtney Kardashian said her vows in a Dolce & Gabbana mini dress this past weekend, there was another petite raven-haired American influencer who put the Italian luxury brand on the map for an entire generation. Indeed, Fran Drescher’s alter ego, ‘the flashy girl from Flushing’ Fran Fine, captured hearts, raised eyebrows, and launched countless fashion trends as she helmed The Nanny. It’s safe to say we are all still obsessed with her quintessential go-big-or-go-home 1990s style, but beyond her character’s wardrobe, the 64-year-old creator of the show instilled no shortage of important lessons in her audience. And now, a new charitable children’s book, titled N Is For Nanny, will ensure her messages prevail. Here’s how the project, which is on sale now with proceeds benefiting Drescher’s Cancer Schmancer foundation, came to be.
Tell us about the backstory to N Is For Nanny.
We have a support group of followers for Cancer Schmancer. They started out as enthusiastic fans of Fran Drescher and Fran Fine. People who have illnesses, or who have family members suffering, were drawn to my foundation because they were already fans of mine. I am a trusted brand, so when I say, ‘I am a survivor’ or ‘This is what I’m doing and I want you to hear me out,’ it gets people’s attention because over the years they’ve come to know and trust me. The Nanny is wildly successful in Australia. The woman who wrote this book has had her own health issues, and it was my positivity and empowerment that I pass on to my followers and supporters that really got her attention and shifted the way she was feeling about herself and living her life, in spite of any health issues.
Cancer Schmancer is about detoxing the home and making sure everyone is healthy—including the family pet. That’s what we do. We pivot the way our supporters think about their lives and whether they are contributing to their own disease, or working towards optimal health. She wanted to do more than support us, and she said I have an idea of doing a children’s book. We were very touched. They underwrote the expenses, so 100% of the proceeds will go to Cancer Schmancer, which is just so generous.
You’ve over 750,000 followers on Instagram alone. What are your thoughts on social media, do you like sharing your life in this way?
You know, I really have no issue with it—except that it’s time consuming! It’s part of the reason why The Nanny is appreciated multi-generationally: the millennials who were the children watching and loving it were the pioneers of social media and as they got older, they began to appreciate it through a whole different lens. They hear the humor differently. They appreciate the gay humor. They see the clothes differently. Everything that went over their heads as children! These people began to generate a lot of internal conversation on social media which created a buzz, they started introducing it to their young children, and now you have Gen Z watching it on YouTube or on Instagram or TikTok. It’s really because of the electronics explosion and social media that this series, which was already classic TV, has transcended.
The account dedicated to profiling your outfits from the show is a favorite. How does that make you feel that the looks still resonate so much?
The character is cool. She’s irreverent, she’s her own person, and she doesn’t apologize for who she is. The clothes are off the scale, and still not dated. People are still wearing the clothes now that Fran wore. The designers that were coming up during the ’90s, like Moschino and Dolce & Gabbana, they’re bigger than ever now. Moschino even did a show where their whole collection was inspired by The Nanny and Fran Fine. When you do something that’s genuinely funny and you give people eye candy…it very subtly keeps reminding you that it’s about something. The global message was that it doesn’t matter what you look and sound like, it’s what’s in your heart that counts.
The storylines were always pushing the envelope at the time too.
We were the first show in the 1990s to have an interracial relationship, with Ray Charles and Grandma Yetta. I felt like the show was too white. We brought in Whoopi, Coolio, and Bryant Gumbel. Then there’s the whole gay side. There were a lot of shows that made gay people the brunt of the joke. But we always elevated the gay community. From a social standpoint, we did an episode where Fran wouldn’t cross a picket line, and where she wouldn’t wear a fur coat even though she inherited it. Over and over again, the network asked us to do a Christmas special, which was very common, so we took the family to a kibbutz in Israel and had them speaking Yiddish. It was just all groundbreaking.
Beyond Cancer Schmancer, what causes are particularly important to you these days?
Environmental causes. I’m the SAG-AFTRA national president. I started a green council, which is an amalgamation of different entertainment entities. We’ve pivoted all entities within it to ban single use plastic both on camera and behind the scenes. The entertainment industry is the largest influencer. We have a responsibility to the planet and we have to make an impact for the greater good by normalizing eco responsibility. We are the Jedis! That’s important to me. I’ve also started a National Committee for Sexual Harassment protection. This covers the full spectrum, from Harvey Weinstein or Roger Ailes type predators all the way down to a wolf whistle on the set. Up and down the ladder, people’s safety and comfort zones must be honored. An elevation of consciousness must be brought into the zeitgeist and remain in the conversation.
What do you think Fran Fine would be speaking out about?
She would be speaking out against legislating a woman’s body, which is also very important to me. For all these decades that they’ve been trying to legislate a woman’s body, which is a notoriously slippery slope towards violence against women, they could have created a female-friendly society where a woman feels supported cradle to grave and encouraged to have a baby because she knows she’s not going to be stuck between a rock and a hard place. That option was never taken, sadly. It would have seen a greater impact on the numbers than anything, but instead it has become this terrible fight to take away a woman’s control over her own body. Fran would be right there. She’d be on social media and marching with women at the Women’s March and all over America. She always stood on the side of what’s correct.
What’s keeping you motivated these days?
I consider myself a Buddhist. This gives me a daily opportunity to be a better person; to digest this beautiful world that we’re in on a journey of self refinement. It gives me a positive attitude to see everything as an opportunity, and that does help me do the balancing act of everything [I have going on]. I am not always perfect, but I’m mindful and I talk myself through it, observe it, and then cut myself some slack and say, ‘Listen it ain’t over ’til you are. You’re not going to know everything. The next opportunity will come up and you’ll do it better next time. This was your learning opportunity.’ That’s a helpful way for me to move through life.
What are you most proud of?
My parents are still living. I love my gay ex-husband Peter and we’re very creative together. I love my service dog who protects me and takes care of me. I rescued her and she rescued me! We’re really a dynamic duo. I couldn’t be more grateful. I’m blessed because I’m the president of SAG-AFTRA, the largest entertainment union in the word. It’s demanding, but I’m very good at it. I can leverage my past success in DC for legislative issues that we’ve been trying to accomplish for decades. I’m going to make great inroads. So, it’s a fruitful time, and I also think about retiring eventually! I don’t want every decision that I make to be determined by what my commitments are. [Right now] I can’t just jump on a plane to Paris because I have to go back to LA to speak at a plastic pollution coalition event. I’m happy to do it, but I look forward to doing whatever I want. And that day, God willing, will come, but in this day I’m empowered, I have a voice, I have something to say, and I have things to accomplish. I’m just trying to balance it all, so I don’t get drained.
I’ve one more question I always wanted to know the answer to…did you get to keep looks from the show?
First of all, a lot of it doesn’t fit me anymore! I don’t love wearing sleeveless anymore. That was all 30 years ago—I would never wear hot pants now either! I never knew when I was younger why people changed their style, but you just naturally do it as your body changes and you find out what expresses who you are now. I still always like to look sexy and sophisticated but never ridiculous… I never want to look like I’m wearing last year’s mistake. I’m still kind of a fashion influencer. I do have the thigh-high boots and I have some coats I wore back then, but for the most part, not too much. Those pieces, sadly, were not recognized as being something that should be archived. When they got rid of their wardrobe costume department, SONY sold things out and people started collecting them. So they’re out there!
[Editor’s note: Reruns of The Nanny are available on HBO Max and Cozi TV.]