Sitcom or fairy tale?

Drescher's 'Nanny' to wed millionaire boss

(c) 1998, Bonnie Churchill

LOS ANGELES -- The invitations are out -- tune in to "The Nanny" May 13 -- and the dress designed. CBS is hosting the wedding ceremony.

Those long-awaited "I do"'s between the Nanny, Fran Drescher, and her millionaire boss, Maxwell Sheffield, played by Charles Shaughnessy, have been filmed. I was on the set to see the lovely couple exchange vows. It was a family occasion. Drescher had written small roles for her real parents: Uncle Stanley and Aunt Rose. She also flew in family friend and cantor David Benedict, from New York, to marry them.

"It's about time," Shaughnessy said in his clipped British accent. "Do you realize we've been waiting for this moment for the past five years?"


Shaughnessy's wedding memories

While the flowers were being arranged, the gold-painted chairs decorated with net, and Drescher was slipping into her long, white wedding dress, designed by Celeste, Shaughnessy sat down to visit.

"This is scarily similar to my own wedding," he explained. "Fifteen years ago, on a cold and rainy night in London, I went to the phone near Falls Station and called my girlfriend, Susan, in Los Angeles. At one o'clock in the morning, I proposed. When I asked her father for his daughter's hand in marriage, he laughed so hard he dropped the phone."

Shaughnessy met and fell in love with Susan Fallender when they were in an acting class together in Los Angeles. "Just like in 'The Nanny,'" he continued, "the bride is Jewish and the groom Catholic."

The real-life couple wanted to accommodate both families, so their wedding was held in a garden, under a chuppah, performed by a reformed Rabbi/Buddhist.


'Feelings' and powder blue jackets

"My parents flew in from London for the wedding," Shaughnessy remembered, "and Susan's extended family came from both Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

"My parents expected something more traditional. I think my mother flinched slightly when instead of, 'Do you take this woman for your wedded wife?' I was asked, 'Are you there for Susan?' Instead of an organist, we had a three-piece band wearing powder-blue dinner jackets playing 'Feelings.'"

Unlike the TV series, Shaughnessy was not a millionaire, so he and Susan didn't have a honeymoon.

"We spent our wedding night in the presidential suite of a downtown L.A. hotel. It smelled of tobacco and had cigarette stains. In the middle of the night, we heard police sirens. There was a drug deal going down, and we heard shots.

Getting started

"Neither of us had a steady job," he continued, "so we moved in with her family and slept on the couch in the living room. I got a job selling adult porno videos over the phone. I thought my English accent would be a help, but as one fellow yelled, 'Who are you? You sound like the Queen of England!'"

Shaughnessy switched to children's videos but got few sales there, as well. Finally, a fabric designer hired him to work in the storeroom.

"It was a good job," he said, "boring and uninteresting, but with a steady salary. They gave me time off to audition for roles. After a year, I finally was hired as an actor."

Who would guess that after all of that, Charles and Susan would be married 15 years and have two daughters, Jenny, 8, and Madelyn, 3?

From Eton to Hollywood

Things were much different for Shaughnessy growing up in England. He was born in London, attended Eton and graduated from Cambridge. His father is the distinguished Alfred Shaughnessy, who wrote "Upstairs, Downstairs" and currently has a new book out, "Confessions in Writing."

"I first became interested in acting as a profession when I did a school play at Eton," Charles Shaughnessy said. "It was 'Death of a Salesman,' and I played Willy Loman, the over-the-hill, middle-aged lead. I was 16 years old at the time.

"It was the most extraordinary, magical production of my career. The teacher who directed it was a genius. They are still talking about it 30 years later."

Once Shaughnessy had that taste of acting, he wanted more. After Cambridge he studied drama and then joined the Salisbury Repertory, which gave him his first experience in professional theater.

"My first (professional) play again was 'Death of a Salesman,' only this time, I played Loman's son, which was much more suitable to my age. Repertory was a wonderful experience. Each week I'd create a different role. I did everything from leads to carrying a spear. There were magical times when I'd walk onstage and become so engrossed in the character, the audience seemed to disappear."

When the actor came to Los Angeles, he did plays and television. A big stepping stone was getting a week's work on "General Hospital." He read for the role, but when he called his agent, he learned the producer had said he wasn't right. "What does that mean? I'm not handsome enough?"

Don't take 'no'

"Yeah," the agent replied. "I dug in my heels when I heard that and said that's not good enough, call them back. My agent did and told me that the casting director would see me again on Monday, but suggested that I use the weekend to do something about my looks."

Shaughnessy did. "I went to the beach, got a good tan, had my hair cut and borrowed a really smashing boating jacket from a friend."

The casting director and the executive must have liked what they saw. He got the part, which led to his being signed for the role of Shane on "Days of Our Lives." He played the role for seven years and won three Soap Opera Awards.

Then, five years ago, Shaughnessy said, "I did a guest spot for CBS as Murphy Brown's date at the inaugural ball, then went to TriStar and did a role in 'Mad About You.' Just then, Fran Drescher was looking for a British actor for 'The Nanny.'"

A new season ahead

"It will be exciting to begin next season as a married couple," the actor said. "I think Fran is another Lucy. There will be such variety in the scripts -- it'll make the series even more funny and exciting. Just like Ricky was in show business, so is Maxwell, and just as Lucy was star-struck, so is Fran. It lends itself to some hilarious situations."

It was obvious from watching Fran and Charles film the wedding scenes for "The Nanny" that the two get along like cream and coffee.

"She's remarkable," Shaughnessy said. "She stars, produces and oversees everything. It's a blessing to have one of the producers on the set, for if we try something new, we don't have to ask the network. Producer Fran is there to make a decision. It's smoother and time-saving. You feel safe."

What will Charles Shaughnessy be doing when "The Nanny" goes on vacation? He has tickets to leave the next day. He's taking the family to Maui. "The brochures say the hotel has a great plan to entertain the kids," he said. "So maybe Susan and I will get that long-lost honeymoon."

(c) 1998, Bonnie Churchill. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate.

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