By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The latest proposal -- for a crew to trail behind her as she travels around the country just being Tammy Faye -- is more to her liking. By the way, in case you didn't know, she invented reality TV.
"PTL was the first reality show," she says. "It was! We never used a script and everything was off the cuff and it was just people tuning in to watch the lives of Jim and Tammy every day. (Actually, the endless hucksterism that dominated The PTL Clubputs it more in the category of the first infomercial, but let's not quibble.)
"I really feel for Anna Nicole," says Tammy Faye after a lull in the conversation. Apparently, Tammy Faye, who had her own season of stumbling around, glassy-eyed on The PTL Club before kicking her addiction to the prescription anxiety medication Ativan, is totally creeped out by The Anna Nicole Show. "My heart goes out to her. When I watch her, I cry. She seems so lost and desperate. I just want to put my arms around her and say, 'It's going to be okay, Anna Nicole.'"
Anything you'd like to say to the folks at E!, Tammy Faye? "I think they're just making fun of her, and that's really wrong! I think they should just help her. Get her off her drugs," says Tammy Faye. "Don't make her destroy her life for a house. Buy her a house. Soon I think the American people are going to rise up and say, 'C'mon, give the girl a break!'"
Or perhaps Anna Nicole will meet her own version of filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, who, two years ago, sweet-talked Tammy Faye into letting them direct The Eyes of Tammy Faye, a feature-length documentary. In it, they traced Tammy Faye's hardscrabble roots and offered up a sympathetic portrait of a short, flamboyant gal with a loony fashion sense, a can-do spirit and a campy way of belting out religious songs who hooked up with not one but two men who spent time in the hoosegow. (Second husband, Roe Messner -- more dashing than the squishy Jim Bakker -- spent 27 months in a federal work prison after being indicted in 1995 for federal bankruptcy fraud.) With a big, dramatic past like that, it's no wonder that in the wake of the documentary's release Tammy Faye has seen a resurgence of interest from the gay community. Still, it appears that some of her fans don't always remember that, in the end, she's a 60-year-old Christian lady.
"I've seen things I thought my eyes would never see!" Tammy Faye almost brags. Like what?, I ask, perhaps a bit too eagerly. "I'm not going to talk about it," she shoots back, with a tight smile. "I want my life to be a hospital, not a courtroom. I will not judge. I have been judged so harshly by people who didn't even know me. I think that all gay people are asking is, 'Give us a chance to prove ourselves, that we're wonderful people, that we're good people.' And they are." Tears spill down her cheeks. "They've been very kind to me."
And she's been kind to her old enemies. Tammy Faye was on a morning radio talk show sometime back, and Jessica Hahn called in unprompted to apologize for sleeping with Jim Bakker while he was still married to Tammy Faye. Tammy Faye reassured her, "Jessica, it's okay. It takes two to tango. If one refuses, there's no tango." Then they both cried. Closure!
These days, Tammy Faye, just like her daughter, Tammy Sue Bakker, 32, and her son, Jay Bakker, 26, makes part of her living by preaching at churches and being compensated with something called a "love offering," which, as racy as it sounds, is House of Worship talk for "whatever you can afford to pay me." About a year and a half ago, her manager, Joe Spotts, suggested that Tammy Faye pull together a one-woman show and hit the small-theater circuit. Just like she did back in her PTL days, Tammy Faye improvises the whole thing. It sounds crazily anything-can-happen. "I call it gospel cabaret!" she says, meaning that she wanders around an ersatz bedroom set warbling whatever tune pops into her head, sharing makeup tips, then maybe she'll tell a few tales about slop buckets, her squabbling parents and her poverty-stricken youth. When someone from the audience yells out a question, Tammy Faye is only too happy to stop whatever she is doing onstage to give an answer.
"Sometimes, they'll call out, 'We love you, Tammy Faye. We love you,' and I get to crying. For some reason, that always shocks me, their kindness, that they even want to come and see me." Fresh teardrops start to fall. "It's such a compliment. So I try to give my all to every person that's there, I really do."
Tammy Faye Bakker Messner appears at the Downtown Palace Theater on Saturday, October 19 (see Spoken Word Pick of the Week in the Calendar section).