‘Being Wendy’ is a delightful children’s book all about a little girl named Wendy who doesn’t fit in with everyone else in her hometown. It’s written by Fran Drescher, who said she based the fable on her childhood growing up in Flushing, Queens.
The sitcom star also has a new show on TV Land called ‘Happily Divorced’ that's also based on Drescher’s personal life. In it she plays a florist named (what else?) Fran, who juggles the dating scene after finding out that her husband of 18 years is gay.
The show is co-produced by Peter Marc Jacobson, Drescher’s ex-husband of 21 years, who is also gay.
FOX411: So why write a children’s book?
Fran Drescher: ‘The Nanny,’ the T.V. series I starred in, seems to be more popular than it’s ever been and it has a huge audience of children that weren’t even alive when I was shooting it. So I wanted to leverage that leadership that I have with that generation by offering them a children’s book that I felt would have an empowering message. Something that I think informs a little bit about the way I grew up and the encouragement I got from my parents. Growing up in a provincial town, but ultimately rising above that and carving my own path and finding myself with all of my diverse interests, and so that’s kind of what ‘Being Wendy’ is all about.
FOX411: Did you really feel very different growing up?
Drescher: Absolutely. I wanted to be a writer, a hairdresser, an actress, a mediator, a journalist. I wanted to do everything and what tends to happen very often in provincial places is that becomes threatening to people and they put you down a little bit like, ‘Oh right you’re going to be a famous actress,’ that sort of thing. I just never felt like I could plant my roots in the place I grew up, although it was a great place to come from, and I outgrew it very quickly.
FOX411: But you grew up in Queens; that's very close to New York City.
Drescher: Did you ever see ‘Saturday Night Fever?’ They lived just across from the Brooklyn Bridge. It was a world away from the sophistication and diversity of Manhattan. Particularly when I was growing up in the 60s, Queens was very much like that as well. It might as well have been in the middle of Nebraska, it was that far removed from being a place that offered diverse people or thinking or culture.
FOX411: Your new show is based on your life. You say you had no idea that your ex-husband was gay. You had a happy marriage and fulfilling love life.
Drescher: We were best friends in high school. We had a happy marriage and we had a very active sex life. Because of my lack of experience with other men I thought he was metrosexual and didn’t look beyond that. Maybe also I didn’t want to look beyond that because at the end of the day I was afraid to be alone and afraid to admit that I’d made a mistake.
At the time I think that kept me in the relationship longer, but quite honestly ‘The Nanny’ was a huge distraction for Peter and me. By then I was already saying to him, ‘If we can’t fix what’s wrong in our relationship I’m going to want a divorce,’ and even though I never did that because he would always convince me that things would change or things happened in our lives that distracted us. Ultimately I did divorce him and it was not because he was gay, because he hadn’t come out, it was because he was way too controlling.
I had a very clichéd midlife crisis and I didn’t know who I was and I had never even bought a chair without saying, ‘What do you think honey?’ so I really felt like although I had great success from T.V. and I had reached a level of wealth that someone from my humble beginnings had never, ever imagined, I was not really happy. So I knew I had to break away from this very suffocating relationship. I had to find my own voice and become centered with who I was outside of the relationship.
He begged me not to leave and he was extremely angry for doing so. For me, who had never put myself over anyone else’s needs especially when it meant hurting someone, it was like walking through fire. He didn’t talk to me, and when the show ended, he moved to New York.
A year after the show ended our manager called and told him, ‘Fran has cancer,’ and he immediately burst into tears and in that moment his anger melted away and all that was left was the love. That was one of the silver linings of the cancer because from that point forward we began to rebuild all we had.
One and a half years after that my book, ‘Cancer Schmancer’ was coming out and I was going on a book tour. At that point he told me that he had been dating men and he didn’t want me to be shocked if for some reason it came out in the press because he was now living as a gay man.
FOX411: Were you shocked?
Drescher: About two thirds of the way through our marriage he started therapy and he realized that he was bisexual but choosing to live his life with me, so I had already known that he had feelings but had never acted upon them, and really didn’t want to lose me. I was still at that place where I didn’t really absorb how that made me feel, only that he must really love me if he’s not only being honest with me but choosing to live his life with me and so we stayed the course.
So when he finally came out it was a huge relief for me because I had harbored so much guilt for having hurt him by abandoning him and divorcing him. I just felt like it took a load off my shoulders. That the divorce he so adamantly didn’t want at the time gave him the opportunity to explore his authentic self. I was a little ahead of him in realizing something was wrong.
FOX411: Are you dating now?
Drescher: I date a few men now. There’s one person I love very much who loves me but we are on a different page in the book of life and he is finding himself. So he can only take our intimacy so far. I understand that because I’ve been there so I say to him, ‘I love you, you love me. Let’s enjoy what we can together and understand I need to be free to continue to be open to meeting other people, maybe as connected as we are but also on the same page in the book of life.' He respects that and that keeps me from feeling trapped. I have the best of all possible worlds. In the past I have been drawn to very complex men that have a kind of dark side like a moth to a flame. Now through therapy I’m actually not drawn to it but repelled by it, and much more open to men who are more joyful or light hearted. That’s the trajectory I’m on now. To find that person and no longer find that kind of person boring.