The Eyes of Tammy Faye
The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Lions Gate Films
Directed by Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey
Just when everyone thought Tammy Faye Bakker had already used up more than a lifetime's allotment of surprising about-faces, she has returned to the limelight. In January she was feted at the Sundance Film Festival, where The Eyes of Tammy Faye, a documentary about her trials and tribulations, premiered to a wildly enthusiastic reception. The film opened on the coasts in July, generating coverage in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and USA Today.
All of this publicity will undoubtedly help Tammy Faye in her latest business venture: selling bath oils and beauty supplies on the Internet. Even more surprising, it reveals that Tammy Faye, following in the footsteps of Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, and Cher, has become an unofficial icon for homosexual men.
From puppets to PTL
Born Tammy Faye LaValley and raised in a strict Assemblies of God family that, according to her brother, "almost scared her into staying close to God," she learned to avoid worldly sins like makeup and television. She developed a lasting addiction to both after marrying a young preacher named Jim Bakker. Pat Robertson asked the couple if they would perform their popular puppet show on his fledgling Christian Broadcasting Network. They did, sticking around to create and host The 700 Club, the world's first Christian talk show. When Robertson claimed the show for himself, the Bakkers fled to southern California, where they helped Paul Crouch found Trinity Broadcasting Network. But that relationship went sour too.
Setting up shop in an abandoned furniture store in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Bakkers launched their own network, PTL (Praise the Lord), in 1974. Three years later, the Bakkers beamed their winsome message ("God loves you, he really does") around the world by satellite. A year later, they broke ground for Heritage USA, a sprawling religious theme park created to show that "Christianity should be fun." Heritage USA trailed only the two Disney parks in attendance by the early '80s, and it was the vacation industry's undisputed leader in Christian kitsch.
The bottom fell out of the PTL empire amid media reports about Jim's 1980 tryst with Jessica Hahn and Heritage USA's practice of selling $1,000 memberships for lifelong access to hotel rooms that didn't exist. PTL went bankrupt only a few days after the Bakkers made a farewell tour of their parochial paradise in June 1987.
As Jim Bakker went off to serve a 45-year prison sentence (he was released after serving just under six years), his wife experienced despair and drug addiction, and divorced him. The throngs who had once idolized her now turned on her. For years her only claim to fame was a T-shirt featuring a drawing of her face, a Technicolor glob, and a punchline: I RAN INTO TAMMY FAYE AT THE MALL. After her brief period of wedded bliss with second husband and Heritage USA contractor Roe Messner, things got even worse. Messner was sentenced to prison for his own role in the PTL scandals, and Tammy Faye discovered she had cancer (which is now in remission).