There is an episode of the classic ’90s sitcom “The Nanny” where protagonist Fran Fine exclaims in her nasal New York tone that it’s so “classy” when celebrities “don’t go around hocking” their books on every TV appearance they get.
Not a moment later, the fictional Fran Fine, portrayed by Fran Drescher, announces there is a fabulous new book she is reading and angles a copy of “Enter Whining” by Fran Drescher toward the camera with a total and hilarious lack of subtlety. “It just came out on audio cassette!” she smugly declares.
When I discovered “The Nanny” was added to HBO Max in April, I promptly signed up for a free Hulu trial — so I could then add on a free HBO Max trial. While “The Nanny” was something I had only caught in bits and pieces on “Nick at Nite” as a child, I committed myself to watching the six-season series from start to finish.
In “The Nanny,” Fran Fine is the show’s “flashy girl from Flushing,” navigating clashes of class and culture in New York while working as a nanny for the three children of the wealthy English producer Maxwell Sheffield, dubbed “most eligible widower.” Fran Fine is as charismatic as she is zany, a peculiar but charming mix of Maria von Trapp, Eliza Doolittle and Lucille Ball all rolled into one, directly inspired by the life of the actress who played her, Fran Drescher.
Considering Fine’s charming and hilarious persona on screen, I was curious as to whether Drescher herself possessed the same brand of dazzling and borderline garish flair that makes Fran Fine so enchanting, and if so, to what extent.
Coming upon the episode where Drescher promotes her memoir in “The Nanny,” I knew it would be the only thing that would interrupt my viewing binge. Published in 1996, “Enter Whining” explores the parallels between Fran Fine and Fran Drescher, especially discussing Drescher’s fish-out-of-water feeling among the Hollywood upper crust during her career as an actress.
Drescher calls her upbringing a humble one, replete with school theater productions, shifts at Chicken Jamboree and lots of laughs with her parents, who lovingly proclaimed, “We don’t have a lot of money, but we’re very rich anyway.” For much of her life it seems Drescher never stopped feeling like the little girl from Queens, even when she began hobnobbing with the big names she had previously seen on the movie posters of her youth.
In her memoir, Drescher recalls an interaction with ’80s movie stars Warren Beatty and Isabelle Adjani during the making of the movie “Ishtar,” contrasting the couple’s glamour and effortless appeal with the “provincial, awkward, unsophisticated Flushing shlub” she believed herself to be. Drescher feared this inner persona would ultimately be revealed to her peers, exposing her as a fraud in the professional and social circles of Los Angeles that she was becoming increasingly involved in.
Discussing her insecurities in the book casually and comedically, Drescher couches them in the same sense of self-deprecating humor she employs on “The Nanny.” But Drescher’s feelings of inadequacy are serious and universal. Drescher clearly wrote “Enter Whining” to entertain, and while I can laugh at times at Drescher’s narrative voice, I also wish I could reach into the pages and reassure her of her own merits at others.
It is apparent that Drescher took her insecurities and core parts of identity, like her Jewish background and Flushing roots, and simultaneously mixed them together to the delight of her audience. Where there weren’t parts for “a pretty, Jewish girl” with “a voice that could call the cows home,” Drescher made one in Fran Fine.
Drescher’s story is inspiring not because it involves uncritically accepting oneself, flaws and all. Rather, her narrative reconsiders what truly constitutes a flaw, turning perceived shortcomings into assets and getting others to see them that way too.
You can bet dozens of individuals advised Drescher to drop her nasal New York voice if she ever wanted to find success as an actress. But since the character of Fran Fine, plenty of critics have praised the characteristic caw that built her career and still exudes pure Fran on- and off-screen.
True to the theme song of “The Nanny,” in “Enter Whining,” Drescher tells us that she’s got style, she’s got flair and she’s there.