Craig Bennett is a self-confessed gossip and has been shamelessly noising his way around the showbiz scene for almost 40 years, scoping out scandals and celebrity peccadilloes; dishing, with gusto, on the stars on television, radio, in newspapers, magazines and online.
He has been at the coalface of the wild and outrageous showbiz gossip beat… from humble beginnings as a cadet journalist to rubbing shoulders with an array of Australian and international luminaries.
True Confessions of a Shameless Gossip, his new book, is a champagne, gossip, intrigue and scandal-fuelled trip through an amazing career filled with celebrities and outrageous tales! Read his exclusive extract and check out his new book!
Fran Drescher’s enormous black limo pulled up promptly at midday. Even before sweeping like a one-woman cyclone of sassy celebrity razzle-dazzle into her ex-husband, Peter Marc Jacobson’s stunning Hollywood Hills home, her unmistakable voice and staccato laugh could be heard raucously ringing through the nearby canyons.Yes, Fran Drescher – who kicked off her showbiz career with a snappy one-liner opposite John Travolta in the 1977 hit movie Saturday Night Fever before catapulting to TV sensation as ‘the flashy girl from Flushing’ (Fran Fine in The Nanny)–really speaks that way.
Fran Drescher is one of the most fiercely inspiring people I’ve met. No one picks and dusts themselves off quite like Fran. She is the ultimate survivor turned thriver.
The one-two punch of horror Fran has endured would shock the unshockable. The way she bravely rallied in the wake of an at-gunpoint-rape hell, followed by a cancer misdiagnosis saga is astonishing. Fran was determined to turn her pain into purpose, to publicly power back from an unimaginably dark place and, in so doing, help countless others dealing with similarly traumatic situations.
Many have asked how I came to interview Fran for what would become a world exclusive TV chat for Network 10’s morning show Studio 10.
It was an odyssey that began in early 2016. As one of Studio 10’s showbiz reporters – a role shared with the amazing Angela Bishop – I have the joy of interviewing a smorgasbord of Aussie and international entertainment greats (plus some not-so-greats and, occasionally, some downright awful – panic not, scandal lovers, I name names and tell all).
The Nanny was a ratings juggernaut and Fran was hugely loved, especially in Australia. So much so, in 2009 eccentric entrepreneur Dr Geoffrey Edelsten flew Fran to Melbourne to MC his outrageously over-the-top, multi-million dollar wedding extravaganza to busty blonde bombshell Brynne Gordon. Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander was also jetted in to add bonafide Hollywood A-list star-power to Geoffrey’s kaleidoscope of 500 eclectic guests. Brynne (who’s genuinely gorgeous) later told me she had no idea who most of the guests were, but that Geoffrey wanted an unforgettably splashy, celeb-soaked, headline grabbing wedding – at any cost. Even if he didn’t personally know many of his star guests!
Back to my chat with Fran … I reached out to her charming ex-hubby, Peter Marc Jacobson, who graciously got the ball rolling. It may have taken a year, but in May 2017 I met with Fran and Peter who – despite a tumultuous divorce – are now best friends and genuine soulmates.
Together, they created The Nanny, which was screened in over 80 countries and is still a re-run fave today. In person, Fran is striking, beautiful, naturally funny, razor sharp, deliciously articulate and can be disarmingly no-nonsense. Her intense, deep chocolate eyes say it all. Her life is way more than froth, frivolity and shallow showbiz small talk – Fran has a serious side and, knowing all she’s been through, you respect that. As the cameras rolled we talked candidly about everything, from Fran and Peter’s love story – they were teenage sweethearts who both went to beauty school – to their wedding, which sounded a scream (lamb cutlets were the bridal feast).We talked about their showbiz careers (Peter was an actor before he became a hot-shot TV executive).
Hilarious stories of The Nanny and legendary guest stars like Elizabeth Taylor, Ray Charles, Bette Midler and Elton John were told. Then, the conversation turned serious – to 1985 and their harrowing home invasion-rape nightmare.
Like never before, Fran and Peter opened up, and the pain was evident in their eyes. I sat mesmerised as they relived their unspeakable ordeal. They’d been having a celebratory dinner with a female friend when the front door of their apartment was smashed down.
Two men tied Peter up and forced him to watch as Fran and their friend were brutally raped at gunpoint. A decade later, Fran was eventually diagnosed with uterine cancer – but that came after a two- year period of being repeatedly misdiagnosed by eight doctors and mistreated for a pre-menopausal condition she never had.
After much soul searching, Fran told me she felt a strong correlation between suppressing the emotional trauma of her rape hell and her cancer diagnosis. Likewise, the emotional and physical upheaval of the sex-abuse nightmare manifested itself in a surprise for Peter unearthed during therapy: that he’d been internalising feeling about his true self and sexual orientation – he was gay.
Their relationship disintegrated, they divorced but Fran’s cancer battle eventually brought them back together, and closer than ever. Reflecting on those years of tremendous personal torment, Fran said she felt better for all she’s been through, how such a colossal learning experience made her grateful for everything she has. After much therapy, she was finally able to piece her life back together and forge ahead. She summed it up for me this way,‘I’m not glad I had cancer and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but I am better for it. Sometimes the best gifts come in the ugliest packages.’
In 1996, Fran wrote a book called Enter Whining about her roller-coaster life. There was a follow-up memoir, Cancer Schmancer, and she’s since set up a similarly titled advocacy of which she is president and visionary.
My Studio 10 interview with Fran and Peter made entertainment headlines around the world, from The New York Post and the Toronto Sun to the London Daily Mail; from TV shows and magazines as far ranging as People,Vogue, and The National Enquirer to Holland’sTelevizier. Canada’s Entertainment Tonight ran some of the interview.
After what was a 90-minute TV chat, Fran’s limo returned to whoosh her and Peter to a late lunch in Beverly Hills. We posed for a photo and hugged goodbye as the crew packed away cameras and lights.To this day, Fran and Peter are atop my list of awe-inspiring people.
Sometimes, behind those megawatt showbiz smiles and seemingly fabulous lives of fame and fortune are personal upheavals too monstrous to fathom. As Fran noted: gratitude shifts your attitude. Like Fran and Peter, I’m grateful for the fabulous things that have come my way and have been made more resilient and strengthened by those not-so-marvellous moments. One thing is certain, I’m always exhilarated by the myriad extraordinary people I’ve known in and out of my showbiz life. Fran and Peter’s story resonates with me because, in a way, we have shared a similar experience. I was sexually assaulted at knifepoint by a female friend.
You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be stunned and I bet you’ll say ‘That can’t be true!’ But it is! To say it’s been a wild and crazy ride is an understatement: from living in Hollywood and rubbing shoulders with some of the world’s biggest stars, to witnessing the nonsensical carry-on of those with over-the- top egos – overblown legends in their own lunchtimes. I’ve been confidante to a galaxy of showbiz luminaries and heard it all – the good, the bad, the sad, the funny, and the totally outrageous! Like most of us, I’ve been up, I’ve been down, I’ve been backstabbed and bitched about.
As brassy Broadway queen (and divine person) Elaine Stritch so famously sang in Stephen Sondheim’s iconic song, ‘The good times, the bum times, I’ve seen them all and my dear, I’m still here!’ Almost 40 years later, I’m still on showbiz-gossip watch … and having a ball. But it’s time to tell all. Except when I’ve been sworn to secrecy, I’ve never been one to keep things to myself – especially if it’s sumptuously scandalous! And a warning: there are some shocks along the way!
So grab the smelling salts, fasten your seatbelts and enjoy the read! As someone once said, even Shakespeare at his most inventively convoluted couldn’t have imagined stories so wild and bizarre. The great author and visual artist William S Burroughs, even with the help of handfuls of hallucinogens, couldn’t have made this stuff up!
About Craig Bennet
Craig Bennett is a self-confessed gossip tragic who’s been shamelessly nosing his way around the wild and outrageous showbiz scene for almost 40 years, champagne flute in hand, reporting the entertainment news, scoping the scandals and celebrity peccadillos, then dishing the delectable details with cheek and gusto – on television, radio, in newspapers, magazines, and online. Craig is unique in that he not only talks about the stars, he’s also maintained an astonishing friendship with a cavalcade of Aussie and international celebrities.
True Confessions of a Shameless Gossip, is published by New Holland Publishers RRP $29.99. Available from all good book retailers or online at www.newhollandpublishers.com.