Page 2 of 4   <       >

Televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker Messner

His observation captured the opulence of the Bakker enterprise. The Bakkers spread the Pentecostal message of intense worship through broadcasts that were nothing less than visual and musical extravaganzas with cross-marketing of Heritage USA.

The Bakkers' on-camera chemistry depended on his cherubic face and apparent mild manner and her more unpredictable behavior. She was sunny or dramatic at any given moment, ready to launch into a gospel song or make a tear-filled plea for money that caused bountiful mascara to stream down her face.

Her grooming and fashion habits drew attention. She favored grandiose wigs, leopard-spotted pantsuits and spike heels (she stood 4-foot-10 without them). Her long false eyelashes poked forward in an exaggerated homage to Lucille Ball, her early idol.

She attained a strong following on her PTL programs, including "The Jim and Tammy Show" and "Tammy Faye's House Party." She discussed her fudge-making secrets and fondness for shopping ("My shoppin' demons are hoppin'!") and displayed a flair for singing country and gospel music. Several of her albums sold well.

Her vulnerability became part of her appeal to viewers. She made on-camera references to her postpartum depression, her addiction to painkilling medication, her breast enhancement surgery and her increasingly troubled marriage. "A lot of people say, 'Don't air your dirty laundry in public,' but my laundry's been cleaned by the Lord," she said.

Mel White, a former ghostwriter for preacher Jerry Falwell and now a prominent gay-rights activist and religious leader, once offered an explanation of her appeal to the New York Times. "For the evangelical community, she was Dr. Joyce Brothers, Martha Stewart and Carol Burnett, all rolled into one," he said in 2000.

"Her fans were people who grew up in a very fundamentalist tradition, not being able to wear makeup, or dance, or go out in public," White told the Times. "So here comes Tammy, with her dyed hair and makeup, her ebullient spirit and outspoken ways with both men and women.

"She talked about sex, and flirted with Jimmy. She took on the caricature of an obedient wife, and blasted it. You have never seen Pat Robertson's wife, or Jerry Falwell's wife. They stay at home, doing what those wives do."

Mrs. Bakker also had many detractors, and her image became a national punch line. Frank Zappa's song "Jesus Thinks You're a Jerk" asked, "Did he really choose Tammy to do his work?" And televangelist Jimmy Swaggart also condemned the Bakkers' lifestyle and message shortly before a sex and money scandal derailed his own career.

The Charlotte Observer won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for public service for investigating the PTL ministry finances and backstage marital dramas. The newspaper helped uncover how Jim Bakker misappropriated ministry funds.

There was widespread reporting on the Bakkers' many homes, vintage cars, hefty bonuses, expensive vacations and tendency toward eccentric spending, including an air-conditioned doghouse.

Jim Bakker paid a former church secretary, Jessica Hahn, more than $250,000 to keep silent about their extramarital relationship. He also had vastly oversold investor "partnerships" in the Heritage USA resort.


<       2           >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company