SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher is leading the charge

Her portrayal of Fran Fine shot her to fame, but it’s her latest role as president of SAG-AFTRA that put Fran Drescher back in the spotlight.

The 65-year-old actress, writer and producer was elected to lead SAG-AFTRA — the union representing more than 160,000 actors and other media professionals — in September 2021. On July 14, after being unable to negotiate a new contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the union went on strike, demanding better compensation, 2% of streaming revenue, and protections against the misuse of artificial intelligence.

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In a fiery speech at the start of the strike, Drescher declared that if “we don’t stand tall right now, we are all going to be in trouble. We are going to be in jeopardy of being replaced by machines and big business, who cares more about Wall Street than you and your family.” The members of SAG-AFTRA “are the victims here,” she said. “We are being victimized by a very greedy entity. I am shocked by the way the people that we have been in business with are treating us. … How they plead poverty, that they’re losing money left and right when giving hundreds of millions of dollars to their CEOs. Shame on them. They stand on the wrong side of history.”

Her call out energized Hollywood, with Elijah Wood tweeting, “Way to crush it @frandrescher! United we stand” and “The Wire” creator David Simon quipping, “If I hadn’t cut the streaming service, I’d download all seasons of ‘The Nanny.'”

‘A master comedian’

Born in Queens, New York, on Sept. 30, 1957, Drescher became a performer early in life. Not long after graduating from Hillcrest High School, she began booking acting gigs, starting with a role in 1977’s “Saturday Night Fever.” From there, she scored roles in other movies, including 1984’s “This Is Spinal Tap,” and television shows like “Who’s the Boss?” and “Night Court.”

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Drescher and her ex-husband, Peter Marc Jacobson, created the show that catapulted her to stardom: “The Nanny.” Airing on CBS from 1993 to 1999, “The Nanny” followed Fran Fine from Flushing, Queens, as she started a new life as the nanny for the children of a wealthy widower. As Fran Fine, Drescher was over-the-top in everything from her mannerisms to her colorful ensembles, and she earned two Emmy and two Golden Globe nominations for her work.

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Drescher is a “master comedian” and “comedic genius,” writer Saeed Jones told NPR’s “Pop Culture Happy Hour” in 2021. “The Nanny” in many ways was “ahead of its time,” he added, pointing out that in one episode, Fine refused to cross a picket line. “I think this is a praise to the show’s writers and to Fran Drescher herself,” Jones said. “The show really understands class.”

Over the past two decades, Drescher has balanced her acting career with her advocacy for cancer awareness. She was diagnosed with uterine cancer in 2000, and in her second memoir, 2002’s “Cancer Schmancer,” Drescher wrote about being misdiagnosed for years. “One of the most significant things that I learned is that my story was not unique, which was very mind-blowing to me,” Drescher told HealthyWomen in 2020. “I wrote the book so others wouldn’t go through what I did. … It became clear that the book was not the end, but just the beginning of what became a life’s mission.” She went on to launch the nonprofit Cancer Schmancer Movement, with the goal of ensuring cancer is diagnosed in its earliest — and most treatable — stages.

‘A Norma Rae-like ability to inspire’

Drescher was working on taking “The Nanny” to Broadway when her longtime friend Rosie O’Donnell recommended she run for SAG-AFTRA president. Drescher has “a Norma Rae-like ability to inspire,” O’Donnell told The Wall Street Journal. She’s like a stand-up. She can succinctly choose the words that are going to have the most impact in the smallest amount of time.”

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Drescher ran on a platform of “empowering and protecting members,” she told Deadline, and had a narrow victory over Matthew Modine. Once on the job, Drescher told the Journal, she found that “I didn’t really realize how dysfunctional and uber-partisan it all was and how marginalized some members, some groups felt, and underserved in contracts.”

Now, with the strike her main focus, Drescher has made it clear that she is more than Fran Fine. “I’m not ‘The Nanny,'” she told the Journal. “I am an activist on behalf of labor.” Being a celebrity puts her in a “unique situation,” she added, but she is still “a girl from Queens. I am very connected to the provincial world that I grew up in.”

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