Coming out, romantic split just a new beginning for celebrity pair Fran Drescher and Peter Marc Jacobsen
The TVLand sitcom Happily Divorced revolves around a couple (Fran and Peter) who divorce when Peter realizes he’s gay. That’s also the real-life story of Fran Drescher and Peter Marc Jacobson. And it’s not a coincidence.
Drescher, an actress immediately identifiable by her nasally Noo Yawk accent, was a huge TV star with The Nanny, which she created with Jacobson. The Nanny was a hit with gays, in part because of its gay-friendly jokes.
“We had one scene where Miss Fine went to the supermarket with the little one.
And she says, ‘If you see a handsome man with a sweater knotted around his neck shopping for pesto, save yourself the pain,’” Drescher recalls.
It’s easy to laugh at the line now; at the time, not so much.
“Unlike on [Happily Divorced], Peter did not want a divorce — I wanted it,” she says. “It was only after that he was free to explore his authentic self. Prior to that he was very much in denial. For me, I felt suffocated in an unhappy marriage.”
“I was devastated,” Jacobson concurs. “[After we split], we didn’t talk for a year.
It wasn’t until she was diagnosed with cancer that the anger went immediately away. That’s when you realize the fragility in life.”
Still, turning those hard experiences into the grist of sitcom humor worked.
“We love to be able to use our lives and find the comedy in it that people relate to,” Drescher says. “We used our great love and affection for each other to reinvent the much happier relationship we have today. It’s kind of therapeutic for us, too, to be able to get it out in a funny way.”
Becoming active in the gay community was somewhat new to both of them.
“It was really, really scary,” says Jacobson. “I moved to New York and started to put my life back together from scratch — everything from buying furniture to planning a party to sleeping with men … though maybe not in that order.”
Drescher, for her part, became an activist for gay rights, choosing marriage equality as a cause in an ACLU campaign.
“The ACLU was hoping I would identify my celebrity with the right to choose, I said, ‘this is important within my community because I have a lot of gay friends. And my husband is gay. So I wanted to bring focus to that,” she says. (Just recently, Drescher was asked by the ACLU to host an event furthering marriage equality.)
“The amazing accomplishments toward equality that the gay community has managed to [forge] in just a few years is really a testament to their tenacity,” she says. “It shows the side of right and good and fair and how ultimately the American story prevails. It’s a work in progress, but at the end of the day we live in a country where this kind of a thing can happen. It’s a very exciting time in the historic arc of the gay community in this country.”
Jacobson agrees with all that — “now that marriage equality is beginning to happen, people are really able to live their lives” he says — but he’s also got other things on his mind.
“Fran started dating a lovely man recently, and I’m so happy for her. But now I wanna meet someone, too!”
There’ll be 3,000 gay men at the Sheraton Saturday, I mention to Jacobson — as good a time as any to start looking.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 1, 2013.