Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Born Today In 1942, Unlikely Gay Icon Tammy Faye Bakker Messner

Tamara Faye "Tammy" LaValley Bakker Messner was born today, March 7, in 1942.  She was a Christian singer, evangelist, entrepreneur, author, talk show host, television personality, and an LGBT ally.

She was married from 1961 to 1992 to televangelist, and later convicted felon, Jim Bakker. She co-hosted with him on The PTL Club (1976–1987). 

The eldest of eight children, Tammy Faye was born Tamara Faye LaValley in International Falls, Minnesota, to Pentecostal preachers. Her parents were married in 1941. Shortly after she was born, a painful divorce soured her mother against other ministers, alienating her from the church.

AP photo
In 1960 she met Jim Bakker when they were students at North Central Bible College in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Tammy Faye worked in a boutique for a time while Jim found work in a restaurant inside a department store in Minneapolis. They were married on April 1, 1961. The following year, they moved to South Carolina, where they began their ministry.

Their marriage produced two children, Tammy Sue (Sissy) Bakker Chapman (born 1970) and Jamie Charles (Jay) Bakker (born 1975).

Jim and Tammy Bakker had been involved with television from the time of their departure from Minneapolis until they moved to the Charlotte area via Portsmouth, Virginia, where they were founding members of The 700 Club. While in Portsmouth, they were hosts of the popular children's show "Jim and Tammy." They then created a puppet ministry for children on Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) from 1964 to 1973. Jim and Tammy founded The PTL Club (Praise The Lord) in the mid-1970s.

During the PTL shows, she provided a sentimental touch to stories and loved to sing. In a move that sharply distinguished her from other televangelists, she showed a more tolerant attitude regarding homosexuality, and she featured people suffering from AIDS on PTL, urging her viewers to follow Christ and show sympathy and pray for the sick.

The Bakkers' control of PTL collapsed in 1987 after revelations that $287,000 had been paid from the organization to buy the silence of Jessica Hahn, who claims Jim Bakker raped her. In his 1997 book, I Was Wrong, Bakker disputed Hahn's account, claiming that he was "set up" and that the sex was consensual.

Tammy stood by Bakker through the scandal, including several instances when she cried on camera. In 1989 Bakker was sentenced to 45 years in prison on 24 fraud and conspiracy counts.

In 1992, while Bakker was still in prison, she filed for divorce, saying in a letter to the New Covenant Church in Orlando, Florida:  "For years I have been pretending that everything is all right, when in fact I hurt all the time...I cannot pretend anymore."

On October 3, 1993, she married property developer Roe Messner in Rancho Mirage, California, after Messner divorced his own wife. They moved to the Charlotte suburb of Matthews, North Carolina. 

Messner, who had a contracting business, Messner Enterprises, in Andover, Kansas had built much of Heritage USA as well as numerous other large churches and had been a family friend to the Bakkers throughout the PTL years.

Messner was the one who produced the money for the $265,000 payment to Hahn, later billing PTL for work never completed on the Jerusalem Amphitheater at Heritage USA. In the Bakkers' fraud trial, Messner testified for Bakker's defense saying that Falwell had sent Messner to the Bakker home in Palm Springs, California, to make an offer to "keep quiet."

Messner filed for personal and corporate bankruptcy in 1990, saying he owed nearly $30 million to more than 300 creditors. He was later convicted of bankruptcy fraud. As he faced sentencing in 1996, he said that he could not afford to treat his prostate cancer because he lacked health insurance.

As her second husband was jailed and she was first diagnosed with colon cancer, she re-entered the public eye in a series of books, movies and television appearances.

In 1996 she wrote her autobiography, Tammy: Telling It My Way, and she co-hosted a TV talk show titled The Jim J. and Tammy Faye Show with out actor and comedian Jim J. Bullock.

She was the subject of a documentary titled The Eyes of Tammy Faye (1999) narrated by RuPaul, and a follow-up film titled Tammy Faye: Death Defying (2004).

She appeared twice on The Drew Carey Show in 1996 and 1999, playing the mother of character Mimi Bobeck (Kathy Kinney), who was also known for wearing excessive amounts of makeup.

On September 11, 2003, she published a new autobiography, I Will Survive... and You Will, Too! in which she described her battles with cancer and her life with Messner.

Despite her background in Christian fundamentalism, Tammy Faye became a gay icon after her parting from PTL, appearing in Gay Pride marches with such figures as Lady Bunny and Bruce Vilanch. Unlike many American Christian fundamentalists she "had long refused to denounce homosexuals" and also expressed compassion toward, and urged support for Americans with HIV/AIDS when it was still a much feared and unknown disease. 

 She was benevolently referred to as "the ultimate drag queen," and said in her last interview with Larry King that, "When I went — when we lost everything, it was the gay people that came to my rescue, and I will always love them for that."

In early 2004 she appeared on the second season of the VH1 reality television series The Surreal Life. The show chronicled a 12-day period wherein she, Ron Jeremy, Vanilla Ice, Traci Bingham, Erik Estrada, and Trishelle Cannatella lived together in a Los Angeles house and were assigned various tasks and activities.

Together, the six put on a children's play and managed a restaurant for a day. She also attended a book signing for her best-seller, I Will Survive... And You Will Too.

At the end of the show, Messner said she thought of Vanilla Ice and Trishelle Cannatella as children and could relate to them deeply because she had similar feelings and problems when she was their age. She described porn star Jeremy as "a nice man."

Tammy Faye's 11 years with cancer were highly publicized. She was first diagnosed with colon cancer in March 1996, and the disease went into remission by the end of that year.

On July 19, 2007, Tammy Faye appeared on CNN's Larry King Live in what turned out to be her final interview (she died the following day, just hours after the broadcast). At the time, she said she weighed 65 pounds (29.5 kg) and was unable to eat solid food. Messner's husband would later say that he believed that she chose to do the interview to say a final goodbye to her fans.


John Gray said...

Just saw your comment on Raymondo's film review blog
Go and see I Tonya's great

Raybeard said...

At first I thought that this Bakker guy was the one who'd wept "I have sinned!" in front of followers and cameras when he should more truthfully have said "I've been found out!" - I've managed to find out that that had been Swaggart. But that's by the by - anyway, these big-mouth God-guys are all cut from the same cloth.
Tammy Faye was just a name hovering on the outer fringes of my awareness,= but, being wiser now I see that she deserves a more upfront seat.

Thanks to JayGee above for sounding out my recommendation for 'I Tonya'. You really ought to see it as I know you will.