• Industry

Pamela Anderson: No One’s Brainless Beauty

Blonde Bombshell. Sex Symbol. Playboy Bunny. These are some of the labels used to describe Pamela Anderson, an actress who, the Associated Press has just announced, will play Chicago’s Roxie Hart on Broadway, April 12 – June 5. That those labels are limiting is no accident. In a world where a woman with beauty and brains is still met with an air of surprise, as if one automatically discounts the other, the recent focus of Hulu’s Pam & Tommy brings again to light the double standard that continues to be applied to the different genders.

Though Tommy Lee, her husband and the drummer of Mötley Crüe, was also exposed during the infamous honeymoon tape, it was Pamela Anderson who had her career destroyed for doing what normal people do. The salacious public framing – mainly from men in power – had a lot to do with Pamela’s looks and gender. She is naturally beautiful and not shy to disrobe herself. So, society sat in judgment and refused to believe that her choice to appear in Playboy magazine could be a calculated decision from a Canadian girl trying to leverage her moment into access, like a modest chess move allowing a bigger reward later on.

It’s easier to say she was exploited, rather than that she chose to take her clothes off and be photographed to fast track an end goal. The fact that she made that choice was used as justification for trashing her for the tape – a tape that had been stolen, a tape that contained private moments that she had never agreed to share. There was a feeling that, if she took her clothes off and got paid, a voluntary act, then she should not feel perturbed that the world could watch her doing something she never intended to be made public. The Hulu show does a good job of capturing the mindset, the double standard, and the toll it took on both the woman and her career.

There’s something that happens to young nubile women who arrive in Hollywood with stars in their eyes. The #metoo movement shed a light on the underbelly of a system where people in power manipulate those with few options. New arrivals were coerced sexually and in other ways before getting through the door of access. Back at the height of Bay Watch fame, as a young reporter not yet part of the HFPA, I got to visit the set of Baywatch. The conversation was all about ‘Pamela’. None of it was positive. When the platinum blonde joined the reporters, it was interesting to sense how very aware she was of the projections. There was a little self-depreciation. And you could see the subtle hope of a young woman giving it her best shot to be seen as more than the sum of her parts. She owned that her opportunity to segue into acting was founded on her playmate pictorial in 1990. She went to pains to point out that her family was open minded and saw nothing to be ashamed about her being photographed for Playboy. “It gave me my work papers,” she pointed out logically, a salient choice missed by most. “It was like playing a role, like my first character role. I thought, ‘What would Marilyn Monroe do in this? What would Madonna do?’ So, I just did it.”


There is an episode in Pam & Tommy where Pamela Anderson (played by Lily James) is asked: if she could emulate a career, whose it would be? She gives a long and justified reason for crafting her career on Jane Fonda’s, another woman who had been dismissed as a sex symbol and who had to fight hard to overcome popular pigeonholing, and a Vietnam War scandal, to prove that she was capable. Should anyone bristle at the comparison, there is the truth that Pamela Anderson was at one time working very hard on both Home Improvement and Baywatch, a feat that was rare in 1993 and had not been done for more than a decade. It’s worth noting that she was on Home Improvement when it was rated #1. She was fielding meetings from Universal, Warner Brothers, and the former Columbia Studios. She had dreams of helming action movies at a time when that was not where one would find a woman cast.

She also shared that she was taking safety precautions. A colleague had called from Playboy and said, “Pamela, someone came here with a gun looking for you.” At the time, she had complete faith in those around her to keep her safe. “I’m just very lucky that I have people in my life” that “take care of me.” When it was suggested that she was studying karate for protection, she answered with that complete honesty that the jaded have learned to hide, “I was lacking discipline in my life.” She explained how “karate works with your mind and body. You’re learning something.” When the reporter persisted with the suggestion that the skill might save her life one day, she gave that famous lopsided smile and added: “It could get me a role in a movie too.” The conversation is notable because it showed that, like her initial Playboy exposure, she viewed everything as a steppingstone toward a larger goal. She was thoughtful and ambitious but not packaged in a way that people honored. If she ever had a chance at being taken for more than her beauty, the infamous tape torpedoed that idea.

It is good to hear that, within the span of a week, Pamela Anderson has had two wins – a Netflix documentary about life and career that might aptly be entitled ‘Not a Victim, but a Survivor’ (a phrase pictured in a handwritten note on a Netflix letterhead that touted the deal on Instagram); and the aforementioned musical on Broadway. Maybe these announcements will finally enable her to land that action movie. She has always possessed a sweetness that the world might have mistaken as stupidity. In this month of March, as we celebrate women’s history, it would be wonderful to see Pamela Anderson get the last laugh.