In Movies You Can't Remember, You Don't Forget Fran Drescher

updated 11/27/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/27/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

She takes your breath away. Opening the door of her Los Angeles home, Fran Drescher is an extraordinary vision, a creature from a fairy tale. Her skin is porcelain. Her hair is black. Her painted mouth is red. Snow White. And then Drescher opens her mouth. The effect, as one of her friends puts it, is like one of those body-switching movies: body by Elizabeth Taylor, voice by Roseanne Barr.

The only sound more distracting than that nasal whine is the yap-yap-yap of her pint-size Pomeranian, Chester, who's dashing madly around the visitor's feet. "Shhhh!" Drescher orders, padding toward the sparsely furnished living room, plowing full-speed into conversation, sinking into an overstuffed couch, Chester scratching ("He has fleas," she says, cheerfully) and spitting out fur balls by her side. "When I auditioned for Cadillac Ma," Drescher says of the movie she just finished filming, "I knew that the character I was testing for—Robin Williams's girlfriend—always had her little obnoxious dog with her. And I figured no one has a more obnoxious dog than me. So I took him to the screen test. I tested with Chester and Robin, and by the time we left, they were taking measurements of Chester. I'm thinking, 'Oh my God, he'll get the part and I won't.' "

As it turns out, they both got parts, though to hear Drescher describe it, Chester's may be the larger role. No matter. After a screen career that began at 20, with a bit part as the Italian-American Princess who made momentary dance floor moves toward Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, Drescher, 32, suddenly seems responsible for the bright spots in every other movie in town: the Hollywood housewife in The Big Picture; the sexy secretary in It Had to Be You; the nutty single girl in the forthcoming Wedding Band. Though nothing, she assures, as Chester pulls out tufts of fur and sends his fine hair breezing across the room, could match the nude scene of the forthcoming Cadillac Man for the aggravation she suffered, the nerves.

"I'd say to the director, Roger Donaldson, 'But I have this pimple on my face.' I had everybody nuts about when I was going to do it. Then when we finally shot the scene, the room was like 115 degrees, and Robin was so concerned because he was sweating."

But Fran Drescher, it's rapidly becoming clear, is a yenta. And a true yenta, regardless of her own distress, always puts her own problems aside to give someone—actually anyone—motherly advice.

"I told him, 'I don't want you to be the 'slightest bit concerned because you're sweating,' " says Drescher." 'It's okay. We're lovers in bed. Let's sweat together and give this scene the screen magic it deserves.' "

But enough about the movies. "Have you tried our gourmet croutons?" Drescher asks. We're on to the food business now, the "Loaf & Kisses Gourmet Croutons" that Fran and her husband of 11 years, actor Peter Marc, along with actress Debi Monahan, manufacture and sell in gourmet food stores across the country. Started during the writers' strike a year and a half ago, the business took off and this year grossed nearly $500,000. "He's a marvelous actor, Peter," Fran says, and we're off again, chasing another conversational topic.

Her energy, her joy of life, is striking—but it is particularly impressive here. For there is, in Drescher's life, an area of great and private pain: Three years ago Fran Drescher was physically assaulted. It is not a subject she had wished to discuss, but it has resulted in a fear that is never too far from the surface; a fear-that one is never safe in one's home—which Drescher blurts out. "Well, I'll tell you, I was the victim of a violent crime, you know..." she begins.

The conversational joyride is over. Drescher stumbles, uncertain how to proceed. "A physical assault," she says. "Rape."

At the time, she says, she and her husband were living in a high-security building in another neighborhood. A woman friend was visiting. Suddenly two armed men kicked in the door. They bound and gagged Peter and left him lying on the floor. One man raped both women at gunpoint, while the other robbed the apartment. They were later arrested, though not before they had attacked many other women.

"It was very tragic," she says. "It changed our lives. Peter was tied up and blindfolded. It was very intense, though the fact that they were apprehended sort of ended it in my mind."

But surely the event left some scars?

"No one leaves this planet unscathed,' she says. "Everyone has some pain. But we had each other. When push comes to shove in a marriage, you must run toward each other. And also, I'm a very centered person. I think it's because I had a very happy childhood. My parents made me feel I was the most wonderful child on earth. I've been able to get over everything because of that foundation."

She was born in New York City, Sept. 30, 1957, the youngest daughter of Morton and Sylvia, a civilian executive systems analyst for the Navy and a saleswoman. She was just 16, a student at Hillcrest High School in Queens, when she entered the Miss Teen New York contest. She placed second, but that didn't bother her: She called theatrical agents and told them she was first.

The year before, at Hillcrest, she had met the boy who would become her husband. Peter remembers the moment precisely: "She was walking up a stairwell. I thought, 'God, is she beautiful!' I never saw such a beautiful girl before."

He pursued musical comedy, she chased roles in the movies; they both went to cosmetology school to learn how to cut hair, just incase. In 1975, at 18, she got her small role in Saturday Night Fever; in '77 they moved to L.A.; in '78 they got married. Her cameos have since included the gravel-voiced rock-and-roll publicist Bobbi Flekman in This Is Spinal Tap and Mandy Patinkin's adulterous wife in Ragtime. Peter just finished a run off-Broadway and next month joins the cast of the NBC soap Generations.

Friends say they are extraordinarily happy. "Neither has ever been with anybody else," says actor Todd Graff. And they could not be parted by the trauma of an armed attack. "It was a nightmare time for us," Peter says quietly. "The number of women who are victims of rape is absurd. Obscene. I heard of another couple this happened to—the same animal did it—and I heard it wasn't going very well for them because the husband couldn't deal with it. It's hard. You go through hell and then you have to go through the trials. But you can't let that destroy you or your marriage, because then you're giving these people too much power."

Together, they sought counseling. They were further helped by the immediate support of their "best friends," Dan Aykroyd and Donna Dixon, with whom Fran worked in Doctor Detroit. "They came to our rescue," says Drescher. The felons, she continues, had taken their car and "everything in the house they could carry," and the Aykroyds offered a place to stay. "We were like the man who came to dinner," says Drescher. "We moved in with Danny and Donna that night and stayed with them for three months."

She has, she emphasizes, prevailed. "We walked away with our lives," Drescher says. "You have to figure out how to go on with your life." For Drescher, it's with the full-tilt, nonstop enthusiasm of an actress whose roles have only one thing in common. "If I'm playing the part," she says, "it's obviously going to be a strong woman."

—Joyce Wadler, Suzanne Adelson in L.A.

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