Tammy Faye Bakker is a household name in the United States and is known as the First Lady of religious broadcasting. In 2000 she was the subject of the documentary The Eyes of Tammy Faye by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, the duo responsible for Party Monster. I have been on a documentary buzz over the last couple of weeks (knowledge is power!) and saw this cult film in Laser so I decided to check it out.
Tammy Faye was the eldest of eight children born to Pentecostal preachers in Minnesota and from infancy, religion was at the centre of her life. When she was a teenager, Tammy’s mother suggested that she become a minister and when she married Jim Bakker at the age of nineteen they began their own ministry. They quickly moved into the world of televangelism which was just beginning to take off in America. Jim and Tammy Faye were founding members of the 700 club (the flagship news show of the Christian Broadcasting Network) and co-founded the Trinity Broadcasting Network, before eventually founding their own network, the PTL Club (PTL standing for Praise The Lord), in the mid 1970s.
The PTL club was hugely successful and Tammy’s personality was a crucial factor in this. She was warm hearted, charismatic and glamorous. She loved to sing and frequently did musical numbers on her show with titles like My Dependable Friend and God’s Not Through Blessing You. She came under fire for her acceptance of homosexuality and was one of the first people to feature AIDS patients on her shows, encouraging her viewers to show sympathy for the sick and act in a Christian way towards people suffering from the disease.
PTL imploded in the late 1980s with Jim Bakker being accused of fraud and using PTL funds to pay for the Bakker’s lavish lifestyle. In addition it came to light that Jim had been unfaithful with a buxom brunette called Jessica Hahn and that PTL money had been used to buy her silence. Jim went to prison and shortly after this Tammy and Jim divorced.
The documentary is narrated by Ru Paul and as befits Tammy’s status as a gay icon there are slightly camp touches throughout such as puppets announcing the title of each chapter (Tammy Faye and her husband were famous for using puppets on TV in their children’s shows). However there is nothing more camp than Tammy Faye herself! She wears makeup like a bad drag queen, sporting tattooed eyebrows, exaggerated lipliner and heavy false lashes clumped together with coat after coat of mascara. She is by turns overly dramatic and weepy, then funny, bubbly and vivacious. Most of all she comes across in the documentary as a survivor.
I have to say that I became a Tammy Faye fan having watched the documentary. She was an incredibly lovable person with a good heart whose image became unfairly tainted by the unscrupulous actions of her husband. Tammy Faye died in 2007 after an eleven year battle with colon cancer and famously appeared on the Larry King show the night before her death weighing just 65 pounds, her once glamorous appearance now ravaged by illness. At the end of the interview she said to viewers, “I’d like to say that I genuinely love you, and I genuinely care, and I genuinely want to see you in heaven someday. I want you to find peace. I want you to find joy”. AMEN.