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When Trump was on ‘The Nanny’

As I’ve told all who will listen, the strangest thing about this election, to me, has been less that my country might be going totalitarian (I’ve read enough Hannah Arendt to know that such things, unfortunately, happen) as who that would-be totalitarian leader is. It’s not someone like Mike Huckabee, who had long been my least-favorite politician, but… yup.

If you weren’t already preoccupied with the absurdity of America being at risk due to Donald Trump, you will be after reading Katie Rogers’s brilliant-but-upsetting New York Times story about Trump’s television and movie roles:

“His first television appearance seems to have been an uncredited 1981 cameo on the sitcom ‘The Jeffersons.’ Since then, Mr. Trump has seized on opportunities to create a recurring character over three decades: a larger-than-life New York billionaire named Donald Trump. His cameos have included numerous TV shows (‘The Nanny,’ ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,’ ‘Sex and the City’) and movies (‘Home Alone 2,’ ‘Zoolander’ and Woody Allen’s ‘Celebrity.’).”

And then a whole childhood, a whole lifetime, of media consumption flashed before me, both from Rogers’s article and from a YouTube cameo survey embedded within it. (I never watched “The Apprentice,” but not, as you’re probably gathering, because I’m above watching junk.) And it all got that much more surreal: This is who wants to destroy American democracy as we know it?

But there’s one item that really got to me. A cameo I’d surely seen but had forgotten. On a show that is, if not empowering to Jewish women… OK, let me just confess that I do think the show is empowering to Jewish women: “The Nanny.” Trump was on “The Nanny,” alongside Fran and Mr. Sheffield. What?! I know.

“The Nanny,” dear younger-than-millennials, was a fahbulous sitcom that subverted many preexisting negative stereotypes about Jewish women. Fran Fine, in the title role, is loud, materialistic, and has a strong New York accent, and this is her charm, which she ultimately uses to charm her boss, rich British man Mr. Sheffield. As versus the usual trope, where such traits would have a character relegated to sidekick status. (That goes instead to C.C. Babcock, caricatured WASP.) But rather than holding forth on the Fran-C.C. dynamic (which I could), let’s return to the matter at hand, which is Trump’s appearance on the show. I guess he was a foil Fran used to make Mr. Sheffield jealous? Presented as a real-life Mr. Sheffield type? As a (pardon me while I compose myself) love interest for Fran?

And there’s even a gross backstory, because of course there is. From the NYT piece:

“In one case, Mr. Trump had a direct hand in shaping his characters: Peter Marc Jacobson, a creator of the sitcom ‘The Nanny,’ said that he had received a note from Mr. Trump’s representative that quibbled over a script’s reference to the real estate mogul’s wealth. The script called him a millionaire. ‘Since he’s a billionaire, he would like the line changed accordingly,’ the note read. In the end, Mr. Jacobson changed the script to say ‘zillionaire.’ He also framed the note. ‘It’s so bizarre and so narcissistic that somebody would want something like that changed,” Mr. Jacobson said. “It’s a sitcom. You want to be humble about it.’”

Phoebe Maltz Bovy edits the Sisterhood, and can be reached at bovy@forward.com. Her book, The Perils of “Privilege”, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in March 2017.

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