Television

What’s Fact and What’s Fiction in Pam & Tommy

Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee’s whirlwind romance and notorious sex tape are the subject of a new Hulu miniseries. How much is truth and how much legend?

Diptych of a photo of Tommy Lee and Pam Anderson smiling and a still from the show of Sebastian Stan walking with his arm around Lily James, both wearing sunglasses
Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson, and Lily James as Pam and Sebastian Stan as Tommy in Hulu’s Pam & Tommy. Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Giulio Marcocchi/Getty Images and Erin Simkin/Hulu.

Before Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton had their sex tapes stolen, iconic pinup Pamela Anderson and notably priapic Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee found their most intimate moments splashed across the internet in the dial-up days of 1997. And while Kardashian and Hilton were essentially famous for being famous before scandal made them notorious, Anderson was already a genuine celebrity, the star of Baywatch, the most-watched television series in the world, with more than 1 billion viewers in 150 countries.

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Hulu’s eight-episode miniseries Pam & Tommy explores the impact of the tape’s release, not just on the lives of the lovers but on the culture in general, ushering in assumptions that are now commonplace but were then startling, new concepts: that there was money to be made providing the public with X-rated material directly via the internet; that bestselling porn didn’t have to feature professional performers; that celebrities were considered, simply by dint of being famous, to have sacrificed any reasonable expectation of privacy; that people would upload private sex tapes in search of revenge; and that legacy media could be consumed by a viral sensation. We look at how much in the show’s first three episodes is fiction and how much is over-the-top reality. (The remaining five episodes will premiere on subsequent Wednesdays.)

Did Tommy Really Lick Pam’s Face the Moment They Met?

Celebrating her birthday in a club with her girlfriends, Pam (Lily James) declares she is done dating bad boys and orders shots for the entire club. Tommy (Sebastian Stan) is there with a date, but when the waitress tells him the shots are courtesy of Pamela Anderson, he looks over and is transfixed, a coup de foudre that convinces him Pam is The One. Abandoning his date, he goes over to her table, sits down next to her, and, high on ecstasy, licks her face. Fortunately for him, Pamela finds this charming and licks her friend’s face, and soon everyone is licking each other’s faces.

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This actually happened, albeit on New Year’s Eve and not Anderson’s birthday. According to Lee’s memoir Tommyland, “I went out with some of my best bros to a [Los Angeles] club called Sanctuary. We all sat in a booth popping E, drinking champagne and being fucking maniacs. … Suddenly, a waitress came over and said, ‘Tommy, here’s a shot of Goldschläger. It’s for you, from Pamela Anderson.’ ”

“I pushed my way into [her] booth, slid over her girlfriends’ laps and forced myself a space right next to her. Then I grabbed her face and just licked the side of it, from chin to temple.” Moreover, “She was so beautiful, I couldn’t even bring myself to think of defiling her with thoughts of lust. I just stared at her all night, and she just stared back.”

Did Pam and Tommy Get Married After Only a Few Days?

After the nightclub meeting, Tommy calls Pam all the time but she is too busy to meet. When she mentions that Baywatch is sending her to Cancun for a long weekend to schmooze the program’s syndicators, Tommy flies down (even though she has told him not to come as she’s there for work) and searches every hotel in the resort until he finds out where she’s staying. He whisks her off to a nightclub that’s a lot more fun than the dreary conference, and they spend a wild, E-fueled weekend, culminating in getting married on the beach in Mexico.

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Again, this is largely true. “I called every hotel on the strip, searching for her. The sixth hotel on my list was the Ritz-Carlton, and when they said there was a Pamela Anderson staying there, I practically wet myself with excitement. I left a message, or six, asking if she wanted to meet for a drink. We found a place called Señor Frog’s, which reeked of beer and margarita vomit. We were both shy and embarrassed, especially after all the buildup to this first date, but as the night progressed … the outside world melted away,” Lee recalled. Four days later, they got married on the beach. As the series depicts, Anderson wore a white bikini and Lee wore cutoffs. Instead of exchanging rings, they tattooed each other’s names on their ring fingers.

Did Pam and Tommy Save Themselves for Marriage?

In the program, Tommy confides to a band member that although he and Pam have spent most of the past four days in her hotel suite, he wants to wait until their wedding night before going all the way.

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Unsurprisingly, this is not necessarily true. Lee’s account is that the couple went “to clubs, to restaurants, to bars, to the beach, and all we did was stare at each other and kiss all night. Then we went home and made love.” Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Lee’s attachment was deeply romantic, as he continued, “it felt like our hearts had been hot-glued together.”

Was Tommy a Diva Homeowner?

Side by side photos of Tommy Lee smoking in a white tank top that says "White Boy" and Sebastian Stan shirtless as Tommy Lee grinning and looking down from a balcony
Tommy Lee, and Sebastian Stan as Tommy Lee. Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Patrick Riviere/Getty Images and Erin Simkin/Hulu.
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Episode 1 starts with contractors remodeling the marital bedroom to Tommy’s demanding specifications. The carpenter, Rand Gauthier (Seth Rogen), finishes a complicated and cumbersome built-in bed, only for Tommy to say on completion he wants it moved across the room to accommodate a sex swing. The contractor warns him that this will cost quite a bit extra, but he says money is no problem. However, after Rand and the contractor perform additional work amounting to $20K, Tommy—who has changed his mind again and brought in another set of workmen to install a water bed—refuses to pay up, claiming the work is shoddy and he is being ripped off. When Rand shows up to insist, Tommy chases him off at gunpoint and refuses to let the carpenter collect his tools.

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This is more or less correct, although Gauthier was an electrician, not a carpenter. According to the 2014 Rolling Stone article on which the script is based, Lee did abruptly fire the contractor and workmen, refusing to pay for the work already performed on the grounds that it wasn’t up to scratch. Gauthier was so fed up with the couple’s demands he was ready to write off the $20,000, but Lee preventing him from retrieving his tools pushed him over the edge. Nor, as the Times of London reported, were these the only tradesmen Lee and Anderson fired on spurious grounds. And Lee was a terrible client, with ever-changing demands that included a koi pond, a 20-foot mural of heaven and hell in the elevator shaft, and a 30-foot swing in the living room above a white baby grand piano.

Was Rand Gauthier Ever Married to a Porn Star?

Infuriated by his treatment at Tommy’s hands, Rand decides to steal a safe from the rock star’s garage, figuring the valuables inside will be a partial restitution. And yes, as the series depicts, he did cover himself with a yak fur rug so that the security cameras might mistake him for the couple’s English sheepdog. When he finds a Super 8 tape the honeymooners made of themselves singing “Getting to Know You” from The King and I in the privacy of their bedroom before falling into each other’s arms, he seeks out a porn producer friend for advice on how to monetize it. He also consults his ex-wife Erica, a porn performer, who five years earlier had him fill in, as it were, when her scheduled partner for an anal scene failed to show up, a role he rather diffidently assumes.

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In fact, Gauthier was well connected in the porn world. He met porn star Erica Boyer on a blind date in the late ’80s and moved in with her after six weeks. She introduced him to some directors, and over the next decade he performed in over 75 porn videos, including such epics as Big Boob Bikini Bash and Willie Wankers and the Fun Factory. Far from being only tangentially attached to the industry, when not performing he built sets and dated performers like Wendy Whoppers and Stacy Valentine. Moreover, in the series Gauthier is played by Seth Rogen and so has a cuddly, Rogenesque body, but in real life Gauthier was broad-shouldered and strapping.

Did Pam Really Idolize Jane Fonda?

Side by side photos of Pamela Anderson and Lily James both wearing the iconic red Baywatch swimsuit
Pamela Anderson, and Lily James as Pamela Anderson. Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Fotos International/Getty Images and Erin Simkin/Hulu.
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In the tradition of previous blond bombshells like Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield, Pamela wants to be taken seriously as an actor, but finds that, as far as male producers and directors are concerned, any acting ability is an optional extra. So she is thrilled to be given a long, dramatic speech for a Baywatch episode. She makes sure she has it down and puts Tommy off so she can get a good night’s sleep before the shoot, but then on the day finds her big speech has been cut and they just want her to run into the surf, as per usual. When the publicist for her upcoming film Barb Wire asks her who her role model is, she replies Jane Fonda, because Fonda’s work as a sex kitten in Barbarella didn’t prevent her from being taken seriously as an actress, an activist, and an entrepreneur.

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At the time, Anderson didn’t reveal much about her aspirations to do more serious work, but in later years she said, “I’ve always got away with murder, running around in a bikini and what have you. But I knew I was capable of more than I’d been asked to do in the past. Besides, I want to try new things, and if I’m going to act I want to play different people.” At one point, one of these new things involved working with none other than Werner Herzog on an adaptation of Vernon God Little, a project that remains in limbo due to copyright issues.

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And while we were unable to find a reference to her identifying Fonda specifically as a role model, in 2015 Anderson co-starred with Fonda’s voice at least in a short film called Connected, in which she plays an aging trophy wife and spin instructor who is seeking to reinvent herself (Fonda voices the host of a self-improvement podcast). “This is the first time I’ve ever been in a serious role,” she noted at the time, while Luke Gilford, the film’s director, observed, “She was someone clearly searching for meaning, having been a symbol of everything plastic for so long. She was really scared but up for the challenge. She is very hardworking and did a ton of research and rehearsals, because people didn’t believe she could pull it off.”

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