Fran Drescher wanders into her favorite little French restaurant, a hard-to-reach hideaway off Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles, sporting a tasteful Jean Paul Gaultier suit—tan, tailored, and playfully backless. At 51, the iconoclastic Queens über-JAP of The Nanny fame appears, quite honestly, at least a decade younger; eight years postcancer, she is clearly thriving.
Over one shoulder, she carries a leather purse. In her hand is a suitcase or a makeup kit of some sort. Shown to a quiet table, she sets the case between us, unzips the flap…and introduces Esther, a small teddy bear of a dog with a little pink tongue.
Drescher is considerably more worldly than her somewhat grating (somewhat?) television persona might suggest. She speaks on many topics—the prospect of a new sitcom starring her and pal Rosie O’Donnell; her appointment as an American Public Diplomacy Envoy by the U.S. State Department; and her organization, Cancer Schmancer, which fights for early diagnosis of all women’s cancers.
“It took me two years and eight doctors to get a proper diagnosis for my uterine cancer. Doctor number one said I was too young. And me, like a schmuck, I’m not asking what my age had to do with it. I was just thrilled to be too young for anything.
“But I wasn’t getting better; I kept getting worse. So I kept asking. I like to feel like I’m in control. I don’t give anyone power of attorney over my money; I’m certainly not going to do it over my body.
“STAGE ONE IS THE CURE. IF YOU ARE DIAGNOSED WITH CANCER IN STAGE ONE, YOU WILL MOST LIKELY LIVE.
“There’s a silver lining to being a cancer survivor. People said to me, ‘Are you freaked out that you’re turning 50?’ Hell, no. I’m thrilled to be turning 50.
“You know, I was a victim of a violent crime years ago, at age 27. When you’ve been raped at gunpoint, the barrel pushed into your temple, you know that at any given moment you could get sideswiped; life as you know it can be over in a flash.
“I’m an overachiever. I don’t like to do anything half-assed. If I put myself into something, I gotta win. If I do something, I want to do it well. That drives me on every level—I want people to know that the Fran Brand is a trusted brand. If I put my name on something, it’s gonna be quality.
“YES, MY ORGANIZATION IS CALLED CANCER SCHMANCER. WHAT ELSE WOULD IT BE CALLED?
“What we’re trying to do is reach the widest range of women. They will be educated on what the earliest warning whispers are of gynecologic cancers and what tests are available. We’re actually starting a revolution to change the way we think about ourselves and our bodies, and to change the way society thinks about us, and to change the way government thinks about us.
“I always was very entrepreneurial. I started a hair salon in my bedroom when I was still a teenager. I did haircuts for five dollars apiece. Later I always thought that if for some reason the acting didn’t work out, [ex-husband] Peter and I would become the Beverly and Vidal Sassoon of our generation.
“As romantic a notion as it sounds to fall in love with your high-school sweetheart, I really wouldn’t recommend it, because you’re not really formed as a person, and you don’t really know who you’re supposed to be—or destined to be, I should say—as an adult. I remember when we were first separated. I was trying to buy a rocking chair for my apartment. I had such anxiety. It was the first little apartment that I ever had by myself, because I moved out of my parents’ home and in with him. He’s the only person I’d ever lived with.
“People say Esther sounds just like me. Of course, this is the pot calling the kettle black, but she does have a funny speaking voice.
“No, no, no. I’m not in a relationship right now. I am single. I do date. I do welcome being fixed up. Hint, hint. Dating is hard for a woman who is famous and very successful. Many men are intimidated. So, you know, it’s a little challenging, but I am what I am, so there’s nothing I can do about it, just hope for the best.
“Yesterday my candidate for CEO of Cancer Schmancer accepted my proposal to take over the day-to-day ‘Did you do this? Did you do that?’ And my new executive assistant started yesterday. So yesterday I started a new chapter in the Book of Fran. Fran is going to get a television series, she’s gonna help cure cancer, she’s going to find love. It’s a thrilling chapter. I’m looking forward to every part of it.”
San Diego writer Mike Sager wrote the novel Deviant Behavior (Grove Press, 2008).
Additional photo credits...Hair: Robert Steinken, Cloutier Agency; makeup: Gregory Arlt, EA Management; stylist: Tod Hallman