By Neil Woulfe,
Radar Senior News Director
Peter Marc Jacobson has finally come into his own — by coming out.
Jacobson — who was married to his high school sweetheart Fran Drescher for 20 years before publicly coming out in 2010 — is now happily divorced and living life as an openly gay man.
Their relationship hasn’t always been easy, and Jacobson is the first to admit he could be overbearing and controlling during their marriage, especially while they were working together on their hit sitcom, The Nanny, during the 90s. (Jacobson and Drescher co-created the series as a starring vehicle for her.)
After their divorce — which Drescher initiated — Jacobson moved from Los Angeles to New York and found a new life, and in the process, he found himself.
PHOTOS: Peter Marc Jacobson & Fran Drescher – Happily Divorced
After a long year estrangement, a call from Fran’s manager telling him she had cancer changed everything.
Over time, they rebuilt their relationship — as friends.
Now, Jacobson and Drescher have teamed up again on their hit new sitcom — appropriately titled, Happily Divorced — for TV Land.
Today, the charming and boyishly handsome Jacobson is celebrating his 54th birthday, so to mark the occasion, RadarOnline.com recently sat down with Jacobson at the Gendaramie boutique and spa in West Hollywood to talk about his amazing journey taken by this self-proclaimed “Kid from Flushing.”
Radar: You and Fran met when you were 15.
Peter: The first time I saw her I was walking in the stairwell at school. I was going up the steps and she was going down the steps, and I saw this beautiful girl with this big Farrah Fawcett hairdo and these giant high heels and a lot of makeup. I mean I should have know I was gay then, if that’s what I’m looking at! I had the guts to say, “Hello” to her and then she says “Helloooo” in that nasal kind of voice. I thought she was making funny noises. And then I found out that’s really the way she speaks. I was so taken by her — I was thinking, God, she’s so beautiful and yet she’s got this really weird voice. I said that’s so interesting. We used to do all the school shows together, and all the teachers kept telling her you really need to learn how to speak differently, because you’re never going to work … you’re very pretty and you’re talented, but … And I never thought that. I always said, “No, that is what makes her unique, that’s what makes her special.” That’s what makes her stand apart from everybody else. Which in my opinion, is what makes a star.
Radar: When you were both kids, did you both dream of going to Hollywood? Was that part of the attraction to her?
Peter: Yes. When we were rehearsing shows, we would sit in the stairwell, and we’d talk about sitcoms, and I Love Lucy, and our ideas and what we wanted to do. You know, we were 15 years old, so we really had no idea. We had no agent at the time. My mother set us up with a manager she was selling Avon to. I remember Fran booked a national commercial — I think a McDonald’s commercial — and I started to book commercials. I then did some modeling and that kind of stuff for a while. And the two of us were making a little bit of money doing what we loved to do. We were 18 and we’re just getting out of high school. From 15 to 18, we were just like best friends. We started dating around 18. And we’d spent 24 hours together. I would go over to her house, her parents would make dinner, and I’d eat them out of house and home. But I’d wallpaper their walls for them. I would do things for their house for them, and we were just always with each other. Her mother used to look at us when we would sit and watch sitcoms. And we would analyze them, and she’d shake her head and think,”Oh, if only they could make a living doing this.”
I remember we wanted to be actors and her parents and my parents both got together, and they said if you want to be an actor, you’ve got to find something else to do to support yourself, because they were probably thinking, “These kids are crazy.” And so we didn’t know what we wanted to do, so haircutting was the shortest amount of time to go to school and actually get a degree in doing something. She liked to cut hair. I wasn’t that good at cutting hair, but we both went to beauty culture school in Flushing, and we finished the course, but we never took the test because that’s when Fran got her first movie — it was Saturday Night Fever. That was done in New York actually. Then, she got another movie for Paramount called American Hot Wax … I couldn’t go with her at first, and I was so upset because we were inseparable. Just moments apart from each other; we were so co-dependent. I had to do a commercial and they kept postponing the commercial for some reason. I was like, “Forget it, I’m going and when they do it, I’ll come back.” Of course, as soon as I got there, they said, “Come back, you’ve got to do it.” So I went back and did the commercial with Steven Weber, who was then unknown.
She made enough money on American Hot Wax that we could live on for an entire year. Now, in those days, it was $10,000. The two of us lived on $10,000 with the commercials I would do here and there for a year. You know, we didn’t live big … we were able to scrape by. We had a lot of friends that were also actors that we met on auditions — David Caruso, Dennis Quaid, P.J. Soles — we all would hang around together as a little group. None of us had made it. Dennis was just beginning to … he had just did Breaking Away, which just pushed him over. And so, he was sort of was busy working all the time, so he kind of drifted from the group. Me and David and Fran used to hang out with David’s then-girlfriend, and we would do pilots, we would do the odd job, we would do a guest star on the Facts of Life and stuff like that and then a modeling job here and there, as most actors do when they come here. We never had to do anything else. We managed to work just as actors: how, I don’t know. I used to like to write sitcoms. I would write them and try to get them sold, and people used to say, “You’re talented, but you’re not … the form is wrong.” I didn’t even know what they were talking about.
You know, I was 22- or 23-years-old. And I didn’t even want to act anyway. So I was like, “Alright.” But then they wanted to do a spin-off of Who’s The Boss with Fran in it, and Donna Dixon. And I went in and gave some of my ideas, they liked them. So I was going to be the co-creator of the sitcom that was a spin-off of Who’s The Boss. But then I put that away and went back to acting. I wasn’t happy acting. I was very uncomfortable in front of the camera — I never felt comfortable. Fran kept saying, “Why don’t you just go behind the camera, that’s where you’re really good.” I felt like I was kind of giving it up. I felt like I was a failure, and I remember I was shooting a Murphy Brown. All week, I thought I was going to get fired. And when we shot, I thought I was going to forget my lines. And it was like, I remember sitting there waiting to go on, and thinking “Why are you doing this? You are not enjoying any part of it. Not getting the job, not doing the job, any of it.” So that week I said to Fran, “Alright,” because we were fighting a lot. I was just obsessed by, “Did I get the job, did I not get the job?” And she was always able to just throw it away. And I gave it up. I said, “Alright, I’m not going to act anymore, I’ll call my agent …”
Right before I quit, when I was miserable doing this stuff, I sold a pilot to Fox with Dan Ackroyd for him to star in, and that’s the day after I said I wouldn’t act anymore, so I thought maybe [producing and writing] is what I should be doing. In the meanwhile, we did that and then Fran and I sold The Nanny, so two shows were going, and I was doing some Matlock (as an actor) and a modeling gig, and Fran said, “What are you doing? You can’t do both?” And she was right, and I said, “OK, that’s it, I’m done.” And I’m now a producer. Both shows (the Dan Ackroyd pilot and The Nanny) got picked up, but there was a contractual problem with the Dan Ackroyd show, which I was happy about, because I really wanted to do The Nanny with Fran.
And that is how I sort of started my writing career.
Radar: Before we get into The Nanny and Happily Divorced, you were only 21 when you got married; why so young?
Peter: You know, I grew up in Flushing, and in Flushing, it wasn’t so young. You got out of high school, you met a nice girl. It was 1970- whatever it was, and you know, you get a girl. You bought her a big diamond ring and you had a big wedding and then you move to Great Neck. The rest of our plans weren’t that, but that’s all I knew. That’s what all my friends did. I didn’t know about gay, I didn’t know any of that stuff. You know, I knew I had attractions to men and I also had attraction to her. And I was always told by people that I knew, “It’s an easy life, getting married, go that route.” And I did — I didn’t even know there was an alternate — I lived in Flushing, New York, not Greenwich Village, New York.
Radar: It takes a lot of bravery to come out.
Peter: Oh yeah. It is so hard because, especially back then, or if you are in the middle of the country … It really depends on the person and your parents. Some parents are very easy about it. I feel bad for kids when I meet them, and you see they might be gay, but they’re not ready yet … everybody’s on their own journey.
Radar: When did you know you were gay?
Peter: You know, I played all kinds of games in my head. I remember being sexual attracted to women when I was a kid. I would look at Playboys and all that kind of stuff. But, I remember also having kind of bromance crushes on guys … not sexual, but wanting to be their friends. But with women, it was sexual. Then, when I was about 15, I started to be sexually attracted to guys. I tried a couple of things with my friends. They were all straight, you know, that’s what a lot of kids do. Then I met Fran, and I was attracted to her. We started to have a sexual relationship. So I had an outlet to have a sexual relationship. And I loved her and was attracted to her. So what I did was, I kind of suppressed all those feelings — putting them away.
Radar: Did you ever broach that subject with Fran during your marriage?
Peter: Yes, yes.
Radar: That must have been very terrifying.
Peter: Yes; it was very terrifying, because I didn’t know how she was going to react.
Radar: Did she ask you? Did she sense something?
Peter: After we were involved in a break-in where Fran was raped, and somebody held a gun to my head, and her friend was raped, which was a very traumatic time in our lives. Right after that, I went into therapy. I had all these things on my mind. As soon as I saw the therapist, I blurted everything out. I have these fantasies. I think of these things. And Fran was in the room. I felt, I guess, that it was a safe place. But I love her, and I don’t want to do them, I just think about them, to which the therapist said, “A lot of men have fantasies,” and things like that, so that made me feel better like I’m “normal.”
Radar: It makes sense that such a traumatic event would cause you to re-evaluate your life.
Peter: Right, exactly. I always felt very guilty even thinking about a guy. It really made me feel awful. I would get angry and I would take it out on her by being cranky, mean, very moody and controlling because I wasn’t focusing in on my own stuff. I would focus on what she should do.
Radar: Once you say that out loud — that you are gay — you can’t take it back, can you?
Peter: You know, once you say it, it’s out there and I had finally admitted to myself through therapy because all the therapists I had seen said I’m not gay. I thought maybe I’m bisexual. I couldn’t even admit to that. But finally I thought, maybe I am bisexual, but I don’t choose to act on it because I’m in love with her. That makes sense in my head. It has always got to make sense in my head, and I didn’t put the feelings with it. I was likening it to like an old car with a leaky oil tank that you’d put towels in, but eventually it seeps out. I played all these games in my head to try to erase who I was.
Radar: Did you and Fran ever revisit the conversation of your sexuality outside the therapist’s office?
Peter: I was being very honest with her and I said that I didn’t want to act on it. So she felt like “All right. Well, you know.” She was dealing with it also. We met when we were 15. We had never been alone. Her biggest fear was being alone. So she figured, “Let’s try to work it out.” She was being honest. She had her own dysfunction in our relationship. Then when The Nanny happened, I became even more controlling.
Radar: How did working together on The Nanny change the dynamic between you and Fran?
Peter: It happened so fast. Everything started happening and the show started becoming a hit, and the publicity, and it was like there was no time to do anything but the show. I remember after the first couple of weeks of shooting, we’d lay in bed and just lay there on the weekends for two days without moving, because we were so tired. We weren’t used to doing something like that, so we weren’t dealing with it. We had a very healthy sex life, so that was never a problem. So it wasn’t like I was off having affairs with men and stuff like that. I was always with her.
And so we had a lot of sex … the marriage could have worked out, but it didn’t, because then, I became like Svengali. “Don’t eat this, you’ve got to wear this, you’ve got to look like that, don’t say that.” And then she became very famous. She thought that was what was going to make her happy. She was famous, she was acting, she had her own show, and she said, “You know, I’m not happy.” We were fighting a lot, and she said, “I want a separation,” and I didn’t want one.
Radar: So you separated halfway through The Nanny, yet you were still working together on the show.
Peter: Right — and directing it. And I said, “Oh. Please don’t do this.” You know, I don’t want to do this and I don’t want to do it in front of the world. And The Nanny was at the height of its’ success.
Radar: How did you direct somebody you’re in the process of breaking up with?
Peter: I think that gave me an ability to still control her. I still could make it what I wanted it to be, and it gave me an excuse to be with her, because I didn’t want it to end. She was the one that wanted it to end … not me.”
Radar: What was your relationship like at work?
Peter: We got along very well at work. We never fought. It was tense, but we never missed a day at work, never over budget. We were very professional. We weren’t living together. When we would wrap on Friday night, she would walk out that way, I would walk out that way and we wouldn’t see each other until Monday. It was a really, really tough time. I didn’t want the marriage to end because I loved her, her family was my family, I’m an orphan. I don’t have any family. And I was very scared because it also meant I had to deal with all that stuff that I’d been hiding. So the day that The Nanny ended I packed my bags and went to the wrap party. The next morning, I got on a plane and moved to New York and decided I was going to try to figure out who I was. Now at this point I started to date a couple of women, but I wasn’t feeling it. And I [thought], “You gotta start figuring out if you’re gay or straight, or what you are, but you’re attracted to men, you’re not obviously sleeping with women.”
Radar: How old were you at this point?
Peter: Thirty-eight, I think. I wasn’t a baby at 38.
Radar: What was your coming out experience like?
Peter: I remember, I went to my first bar that my friend took me to. I had never been to a gay bar or any of those things. I went in and the first thing someone said was “Yo daddy” and I’m looking at my friend and my friend says, “No, no that’s good.” I thought, “How could that be good? I mean he’s calling me his father.” He tried to explain it to me and it’s like “OK, I said I’m already a daddy. I haven’t gone right through chickenhood.”
I met these two guys in New York who became my king of guide to the gay world. They were very kind. They were very nice guys. They never asked questions. They never forced me out. They never even asked (if he was gay). They knew, but they were like very gentle. I was feeling safe. At this point, you know, I had a lot of press about myself, so I didn’t want any of this to come out in the press. I was very paranoid: I just didn’t want anybody recognizing me. I hadn’t spoken to Fran in a year. The day I left, when I said, “Wrap!” — that’s the last thing, I think, we said to each other. And I moved to New York and never spoke to her again.
Radar: But then you received a phone call that changed everything.
Peter: And that was her manager saying Fran had cancer. Immediately, all the bad stuff went away, and I just said, “Oh God.” I started to cry and how bad is it? What is it? She said they are going to operate and she will know tomorrow.
Radar: Did Fran ask the manager to call? Did the manager take it upon herself?
Peter: I think the manager took it upon herself. I’m not sure. I don’t know. I should ask that. Maybe she did say, “Tell him.” I’ll find that out. I said, if she wants me to come out, take care of her. I know she is seeing somebody. That’s okay. If she never wants to speak to me again, that’s OK. But whatever she wants, tell her I love her and I’m there and I am praying for her. She appreciated that. She said she can’t talk now because she has got to concentrate on her illness. I get it and I understand it. I’m here. I waited by the phone and found out that they got it all and she was OK. I was casting a movie a couple of months later, and she said, “Why don’t you come over to the house and we’ll talk?” So I went to her house — seeing pictures of her and her boyfriend, who I knew.
Radar: That must have been very odd.
Peter: Yes, yes. It was a very kind of gentle way of seeing each other and we started to form a friendship. I was still living in New York. Little by little, the friendship grew and we became closer and closer, and now we are closer than we ever were and in fact, we went on a vacation to Paris a couple of years ago. And while we were there we fell right back into our old husband and wife ways. And we said, “This would be a funny movie” — and that was the beginning of Happily Divorced.
Radar: How is it different working with each other this time around?
Peter: I don’t have the control issues that I did. I don’t fight: if she wants something this way, and it could work that way too, let’s see it. We go home to different places. I always wanted her to be there, know where she was, know what she was doing, all this stuff. If she says she’s going out with the girls now, it’s like fine, go have a good time. I have my job to do, you have your job to do. You know, if I behaved that way on The Nanny, we’d probably still be together, and I never would have dealt with it. But it’s good that I did, because I think eventually you, hopefully, become your authentic self. It’s made me a much calmer person. It’s made me a lot more sympathetic. Kinder. We have a great relationship. We are going to go to Paris in two weeks to sell [Happily Divorced] overseas, and she said “Why won’t we go on vacation since we’re there already?” and I said, “Oh, okay.” We are going to London, to Provence.
Radar: At times in Happily Divorced, Fran’s character brings up to him how marrying a gay guy ‘ruined’ her life, and although it’s done with a comedic sense, it seems there’s an underlining current of anger when she says it.
Peter: I’m sure. She was angry. I’m sure. But by the time she really found out about it, she was already dating a guy 16-years younger than me who was very handsome and in love with him, so it sort of took the curse off and she was like “Be who you are, do your thing, I have a 30-year-old boyfriend!” And I was like “Oh, OK.” So I don’t think she was ever really angry.
Radar: So at this time in your life, you’re “happily divorced” — would you also say you’re also just plain happy?
Peter: Yes, I am happy. I feel at peace being my authentic self. I have reached the age where I don’t care what others think of me and hope that we all can find a place where we truly can accept our differences and celebrate them and respect them and never take the rights away from anyone. Because that is a slippery slope.
Radar: Finally, how do you plan to celebrate your birthday today?
Peter: Today on my 45th birthday — No I am 54 (laughs) — and Fran is throwing me a birthday party with some of my close personal friends. A mix of gay, straight, you name it. All wonderful people who make life interesting and I am blessed to have them as my friends.
You can currently watch reruns from the first season of Happily Divorced on TVLAND.
The second season of Happily Divorced premieres March 2012.
To watch exclusive interviews with the cast of Happily Divorced, click here.
Like Happily Divorced On Facebook.
Follow Peter On Twitter.
For information about Fran’s cancer charity, Cancer Schmancer, go to http://www.cancerschmancer.org.