Fran Drescher's fairytale life


The "Nanny" star who survived rape and beat cancer is now making her Broadway debut in "Cinderella."

CBS News

It's a voice that can speak for itself, but there's a real person there, too, and a fine actor. Our Tracy Smith caught up with  Fran Drescher of "The Nanny" on Broadway:

Even on a jam-packed day at New York's Museum of Modern Art, one unique voice can be heard above the clatter:  "I want to show you in here because this room is dedicated to Picasso."

In a world of artistic copycats, Fran Drescher has built a career on her very distinctive voice, and one very distinctive role.

For the millions who watched the series on CBS, Drescher was, and is, "The Nanny." Thanks to syndication, the show hasn't been off the air in 20 years.

What some might not know is that she came up with the concept herself, and she sold it to CBS in a chance meeting on a plane.

"I was on a plane to Europe by myself, and the president of CBS came on the plane with me," she told Smith. "And I just cornered him, because where was he gonna go? Coach? 

Fran Drescher visits her children neighborhood in Queens with Tracy Smith. CBS News

"And he said, 'You know, you are a Russell, because you have the courage of Jane Russell, the comic timing of Rosalind Russell, and the tenacity of a Jack Russell.' And I thought, wow, this guy really knows me!"

And in time, so would the rest of the world. For six seasons, Drescher played the nasal-voiced, working-class girl from New York named Fran. 

It wasn't really much of a stretch.

Francine Joy Drescher was born, and lived most of her young life, in Queens, New York. Much of her old neighborhood is unchanged, including her favorite restaurant, Valentino's Pizza, where she described the happiest childhood imaginable:

"I would lie in my twin bed and listen to the laughter coming from the other side of the wall. My mom would be giggling, my dad would be laughing, and the two of them just were delightfully, joyfully happy with each other."

As a young girl, Drescher dreamed of beauty school, and staying close to home.

Fran Drescher with John Travolta in "Saturday Night Fever" (1977). Paramount Pictures

"I walked to college," she said. "That's how co-dependent I was on my parents! I never wanted to leave."

But life beyond Queens beckoned.  With the encouragement of her high school sweetheart (and future husband) Peter Mark Jacobsen, she started going out on acting auditions.

Her first notable role was as a girl from Queens in 1978's "Saturday Night Fever."

It was a bit part, but it was a start. Drescher's beauty-queen looks and grating voice made her a natural for character work, like in 1984's "This Is Spinal Tap," as a tough-talking music promoter.

The movie parts got Drescher noticed; "The Nanny," in 1993, made her a household name.