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[whitespace] Tammy Faye Baker The Eyes Have It: Tammy Faye Bakker was as famous for her mascara as she was for her televangical excesses.


Mascara Memories

New documentary traces the strange trajectory of Tammy Faye Bakker

By Richard von Busack

SHE WAS A GIRL from International Falls, the Minnesota town so often used as the national low-temperature mark by weathermen that it was parodied as Frostbite Falls, the hometown of Rocky and Bullwinkle. Tammy Faye Baker--saluted in the documentary The Eyes of Tammy Faye--is remembered by the public both for her weeping in disgrace and for her copious use of eye makeup, thus the famous tear-streaked mascara that made her a national favorite.

As a child raised in the staid, dour Assembly of God, the young Tammy Faye longed for a happier and more cheerful deity, and so she became a Christian puppeteer. Depressingly, The Eyes of Tammy Faye doesn't plow this field. There's more to Christian puppeteering than the "Manger Babies" on TV's King of the Hill. I have a few recordings by Oregon's Little Marcy, a ventriloquist whose squeaky little-girl voice perhaps influenced Tammy Faye's act (or perhaps the other way around).

Oh, yeah, the movie. Sorry. Later on, Tammy Faye met and married the evangelist Jim Bakker, perhaps drawn to him because of his marionettine features. Together, the two cobbled together a television show starring Suzy Moppet (engineered out of a Porky Pig doll) and Ally Alligator. Truly, Tammy was, as she's introduced here, "A double-whammy of turned-on Christian love!" Moving on to the early edition of The 700 Club, Jim and Tammy were present at the creation of Christian broadcasting during its massive growth in the late '70s and early '80s.

Unfortunately, Jim Bakker turned out to be a devil in disguise. Between bad investments in an entertainment/hotel complex called Heritage USA and personal philandering, he drove himself and his wife into the courts. Happily aiding in the Baker's misfortunes was their rival, Jerry Falwell, apparently smoother and more sharklike than this pair of visionary yet naive entertainers just trying to do the Lord's work. The 1987 scandal was tremendous; it even spawned a hokey TV movie, which we see excerpted here, with Kevin Spacey playing Bakker. But this misfortune was just the overture to other troubles Tammy Faye would face.

It's hard to imagine a way in which the life of Tammy Faye Bakker could be made into a bad movie. But filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato are uncritical of their subject, treating the televangelists as showpeople and not--as they often were--as political manipulators. They fawn over Tammy Faye, and though she's not unfawnable, some details go missing. Tammy Faye might be the generous, unhomophobic person that she's portrayed as here. Still, she was in business with some schemers who used enormous amounts of money to try to narrow the gap our forefathers made between the church and the state. The Eyes of Tammy Faye serves as a kind of commercial for this retired lady who might as well be one's stuffed-animal-loving, makeup-addicted eccentric aunt. But no one can say that she didn't have her Christian faith tested by adversity, disease, divorce, public humiliation. That this likable, dotty woman made it though is a resurrection story in itself.


The Eyes of Tammy Faye (PG-13; 79 min.), a documentary by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, opens Friday at theTowne Theater in San Jose .

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From the July 27-August 2, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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