WTF Happened to Fran Drescher?

We take a look at the life and career of Fran Drescher, who was formerly best known as The Nanny but is now the inspirational head of SAG-AFTRA.

This past summer, as Hollywood faced its second major strike, the president of actors union SAG-AFTRA took the podium. She was without makeup, she was raspy and she was pissed. Gone was the ozone-shattering hairspray and the wild prints plucked right from the zoo. Nowhere in earshot was the dog whistle voice and the dolphin laugh. This was Fran Drescher: not the street-smart bimbo of somehow successful sitcoms and expectedly by-the-numbers romances, but the woman who will do anything to show her loyalty and not back down from anything. She had done it throughout her career through battles with industry execs and cancer, and now she was doing it against some of the biggest names in Hollywood.

WTF Happened to…Fran Drescher?

But to truly understand what the fuck happened to Fran Drescher, we go back to the beginning. And the beginning began when she was born on September 30th, 1957 in Queens, New York.

But acting was a passion, and in 1977, she landed a bit part as a dancer in Saturday Night Fever, sharing screen time with John Travolta by asking him, “Are you as good in bed as you are on the dance floor?”. She would later compare her career trajectory of TV to movies–or the attempt of–to his. Next came a role as Alan Freed’s secretary in American Hot Wax (1978), followed by generic TV horror flick Stranger in Our House. Throughout the ‘80s, Drescher would turn up quite a bit on TV staples–SNL; Fame; 9 to 5; Silver Spoons; 227; Who’s the Boss?; Night Court–but she really got a substantial role in 1980’s American Graffiti wannabe The Hollywood Knights. She followed that up with summer camp romp Gorp, 1981’s Ragtime, and 1983’s dismal Doctor Detroit, playing a love interest to Dan Aykroyd.

Without really leaving a mark up to that point, Drescher got the role of PR personnel Bobbi Flekman in Rob Reiner’s This Is Spinal Tap (1984), a role she would actually later reprise in an episode of The Nanny. Drescher made a break for sitcoms, although her first true attempt– 1986’s Charmed Lives–lasted just four episodes. 1988 brought Rock ‘N’ Roll Mom but, undoubtedly more important to her future, a run-in with a Hollywood strike. As the WGA enacted their first since the beginning of the decade, Fran Drescher had no choice but to confront it: by forming a gourmet crouton company! She would do much more in the 2020s…Drescher wrapped up the decade with TV drama Love and Betrayal and the “Weird Al” vehicle UHF, cast because of her soon-to-be-trademark nasally voice and in-your-face New Yawk spirit.

In the early part of the ‘90s, Drescher putted around fare like Wedding Band, Hurricane Sam and Cadillac Man, playing Robin Williams’ mistress. After starring alongside Dennis Farina in We’re Talking Serious Money (1991), Drescher got just the opportunity she needed: a CBS sitcom titled Princesses. But it was wracked by behind-the-scenes problems so bad that the plan was to replace the entire cast. It lasted just eight episodes, with three unaired. But the show gave her the push she needed, and during a chance encounter at the airport with CBS exec Jeff Sagansky, she pitched him for nine straight hours–after slapping on some makeup.

the nanny tv show

Thus, The Nanny came knocking, giving Fran Drescher the sort of vehicle she had been after. Described as an anti-Mary Poppins, Drescher’s Fran Fine inadvertently becomes the titular nanny for a widowed Broadway producer. The culture clash comedy, The Nanny gave Drescher the chance to show just how funny–verbally and physically–she was. It became an enormous hit and made Drescher distinguished, famous and, to some a little annoying (Friends’ obnoxious recurring character Janice was clearly a parody) but that was kinda the point. She was a fish out of water and her volume is stuck at 11 (shout out to Spinal Tap)

Of course, Dresher was highly involved in the writing process of her own hit show and even paid tribute to her family by naming her on air parents Sylvia and Morty after her own mom and dad. Many fell in love with Fran’s character for countless reasons, but the biggest being Drescher’s ability to be an ordinary, down to earth girl who has her own voice no matter who she’s in the room with. She could dress and speak how she wanted and not be afraid of judgement. Fran was someone girl’s at home could look up to for her courage and her ability to show the best parts of growing up as a woman.

The show would hit peak ratings in 1995, also scoring Drescher two Emmy and Golden Globe nods apiece. One year prior, “The Strike” aired, showing Fran–and, yes, Fran–as someone who refuses to cross a picket line…

There were small bits during the show’s run (1994’s Car 54, Where Are You?, 1996’s Jack, lending a shoulder to Robin Williams yet again), but it was also meant to put her onto the big screen. And so she did…although it earned her a Razzie nod. A twist on The King and I, 1997’s The Beautician and the Beast gave Drescher her first starring movie role–and a fitting one, considering her cosmetology background. Joy Miller was molded to fit Drescher’s brand, similar to that of The Nanny (Joy is even Fran Fine’s middle name) and which had become popular, but the movie did poorly, opening at #3 and facing critical ire. Face it: Fran Drescher is just not meant to lead the silver screen, especially if people can get virtually the same character for free on Wednesday nights.

In 1999, The Nanny went off the air and she began picking up the pieces, appearing in movies, uh, Picking Up the Pieces (not even making the poster) and Kid Quick (both 2000).

But she would be hit with another slug soon after, diagnosed with uterine cancer in 2000, something she detailed heavily in her 2002 memoir “Cancer Schmancer”. In 2007, she launched a movement of the same name designed to help diagnose women by Stage 1. The next year, she was named a Public Diplomacy Envoy for Women’s Health Issues by the Bush administration, traveling the world to bring awareness to women’s health concerns.

2003 brought TV movie Beautiful Girl (playing a mother of an overweight with pageant aspirations) and another go at TV, doing a three-episode stint on NBC’s Good Morning, Miami. 2005’s Santa Slay gave her a terrific death, but she was more interested in reemerging in a lead TV role, landing Living with Fran on The WB as an interior designer and single mom. Like Princesses, there were behind-the-scenes issues, which does make it seem like Drescher is part of a diva problem at times–after all, she did get her pomeranian a spot on The Nanny (Chester Drescher even has his own IMDb); this time around, though, firings resulted in her being bumped to executive producer and give the show a clear vision. Regardless, it lasted just two seasons.

Following 2006’s go as a surgeonfish in Shark Bait (no, not Shark Tale), Drescher took a five-year break from movies, instead turning up for a “Treehouse of Horror” (perfectly cast as a female golem), one-offs on viewer favorites (Law & Order: Criminal Intent), kid programming (Seemore’s Playhouse), HBO fare (Entourage), and short-lived improv shows (Thank God You’re Here). She also launched a theater career with Camelot (2008), returning to the stage in 2010 with Love, Loss, and What I Wore and a Broadway debut in 2013’s Cinderella.

Drescher gave the talk show hosting gig a shot in 2010, but dreadful ratings caused it to end after three weeks. Movies like Mindwash and The Jake Sessions (both 2011) left no mark, but that same year she did land TV Land sitcom Happily Divorced – which she made along side her ex husband.

2012 brought Hotel Transylvania, where she play a Bride of Frankenstein type character. Her career from there carried more one-offs (Broad City, Alone Together, Welcome to the Wayne), leads in lesser movies (2018’s The CreateSS), maternal roles (2019’s After Class), another failed sitcom (NBC’s Indebted, 2020), and TV movies (Secrets of the Morning).

Fran Drescher

But her most important role was coming, as in 2021 Fran Drescher was elected the president of SAG-AFTRA. In July 2023, Drescher spearheaded a historic strike over minimum pay, health coverage, residuals in the streaming age, and artificial intelligence. And based on every press conference, media appearance and social media post, Fran Drescher has positioned herself as something far from what we’ve explicitly seen but has still backboned her career. The voice is there but she is not a whimsical doof with an underline of sense. She is stern and pissed off and loyal, at the center not because she’s the loudest but because she cares the most. Looking after the well being and taking care of rich people… like a Nanny!

Fran has since taken on many titles; Cancer survivor, president of the SAG-AFTRA union, and hilarious beautiful clown. She is continuously passionate and is active in fighting for what she believes in. As the striking Hollywood writers try their best to create strong female characters, they should probably take notes and pay attention to Fran. So nobody should give a fuck about what the fuck happened to Fran Dresher, cuz she is doing just fine.

About the Author

2018 Articles Published

Mathew is an East Coast-based writer and film aficionado who has been working with periodically since 2006. When he’s not writing, you can find him on Letterboxd or at a local brewery. If he had the time, he would host the most exhaustive The Wonder Years rewatch podcast in the universe.