When filmmaker Ryan White was an adolescent in the mid-‘90s, Pamela Anderson was one of the most famous women in the world — a Playboy cover girl who rose to international superstardom as lifeguard C.J. Parker in the syndicated mega-hit “Baywatch,” married Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee after a whirlwind four-day romance and became ensnared in an early internet scandal when an intimate home video of her and Lee was stolen and distributed online.
But White hadn’t thought about Anderson much in a long time when, a few years ago, he was approached about making the actor the subject of his next documentary.
Though he was intrigued by the broad strokes of Anderson’s story, White was also wary of the image-conscious meddling that usually happens with celebrity subjects.
That all changed when, at the urging of Anderson’s elder son, Brandon Lee, White met with Anderson, who had recently moved back to her hometown in British Columbia, over Zoom. They ended up talking for hours.
Pamela Anderson is a bad-ass, wrapped in an enigma inside a bombshell
Following the new double-dipping template of memoir and documentary, Pamela Anderson finally tells her own story with remarkable matter-of-factness.
“I was so compelled by the woman in my little Zoom box. She totally blew up all of my preconceived notions of who Pamela Anderson was,” said White, whose previous credits include “The Keepers,” about the murder of a Catholic nun in 1960s Baltimore. “I thought, ‘This is the recipe for a wonderful doc if we can relay the sense of surprise I’m having right now to an audience.’”
White spent the next few years working on “Pamela, a Love Story,” which arrives Tuesday on Netflix, in tandem with the publication of her memoir “Love, Pamela.” Drawing from the diaries Anderson has kept for decades, a trove of private home videos and interviews with the star and her family, “Pamela, a Love Story” presents a compassionate, complicated portrait of a woman all too often reduced to a late-night punchline.
Appearing in minimal makeup and flowy white dresses — a stark contrast to the glamazon look she sported in the ‘90s — Anderson opens up about childhood traumas, including sexual abuse at the hands of a babysitter, the effect her parents’ turbulent marriage has had on her understanding of romance, and the humiliation of having her private sex tape beamed across the internet.
We also see Anderson react in real time to the Emmy-nominated Hulu limited series that brought the sex tape imbroglio back into the limelight last year.
Unlike that frenetic project, “Pamela, a Love Story” is “raw, bare bones and stripped down,” said White. “What I hope the documentary does is make Pamela very human and strips her of that caricature.”
How did working on this film help you better understand what Anderson went through in the ‘90s?
I didn’t understand at the beginning how traumatizing that moment in her life was. I didn’t know that sex tape had been stolen from them. I might have even assumed, like a lot of people, that they had leaked it, and that’s why she’s a superstar.
The idea that one of the most famous sex symbols of our lifetime would find a sex tape traumatizing — would find it a moment when her sexuality, which she had worked so hard for 10 or 15 years to reclaim after so many moments growing up where that was taken from her — the fact that this happened and robbed her of that sexual identity again, was surprising to me.
And then the Hulu show re-traumatized her. Neither myself nor Pamela knew the series was coming [when we started working on the documentary]. Watching her have to relive that in such a public way, we would, of course, say: “You shouldn’t feel humiliated. The show is sympathetic to you.”
It’s just the idea that she was being forced to relive one of the worst moments from her entire life in the public eye, in a way that was somewhat comedic in tone. It was really sad to watch her have to go through that.
With the Hulu series’ short, potent sixth episode, writer Sarah Gubbins and director Hannah Fidell capture a woman in crisis. Here’s how they did it.
Did that make you think about the ethics of your job, as a filmmaker who tells stories about real people?
It’s something that I still wrestle with on an ethical and narrative level. I believe that we, as storytellers, need to be able to tell stories about real people and, of course, sometimes we need to be able to tell stories about people without that person’s involvement. That’s a lot of what journalism is.
The big question in this case is, when we’re talking about a victim who is alive, has agency and could have an opinion on whether they want their story to be told or not, should we be involving that person? Or should we be making that person relive something they don’t want to relive, whatever that incident is?
I also believe passionately that when you’re talking about victims or survivors, of whatever the incident might be, those people need to be involved [in the film].
The only time during the filmmaking process where I felt like she wanted to get away from me was whenever these inflection points of the Hulu show came up. Even if she was too nauseated and said, “I just have to go to my bedroom for the rest of the day,” she was back the next day. She vulnerably lived that in front of my cameras, but it was pretty excruciating to watch. It’s made me question a lot about the decision-making that we do as storytellers.
How did you approach compiling all the diary entries and the archival home movies? I assume you had to be particularly sensitive about anything you found that was intimate or very personal in nature.
It was key that Brandon, her son, was one of our producers, because she felt a safety in [handing over] the archives. They gave us every single tape that they had. They were all in a loft in Pamela’s beach house [in Malibu]. She hasn’t ever looked at them. She watches a few of them in our film, and it was so emotional and triggering that she never wanted to do it again.
Likewise, the diaries are everywhere. Her house is covered in them. She didn’t want to reread them. She said, “Take them.”
So my associate producer, Dominique Hessert Owens, and her husband drove a cargo van from Ladysmith, Canada, on Vancouver Island all the way back down to Los Angeles. We had so much archive, it was impossible to ship — and we would never think about shipping, because of the risk it could get lost. I felt an extreme responsibility to not betray Pamela in any way, because she is already is so open and vulnerable and noncontrolling.
The whole point of our film is that that [sex] tape should have never been released. So If there was a moment of intimacy [on any of the videos], we weren’t going to use it. That was a rule of thumb in the edit room. We have nudity in our film, because Pamela was in Playboy. And that was the moment where she felt like she was owning her sexuality and taking it back in a way. But things she thought were private and always would remain private, we were going to honor that. What a massive responsibility to have one of the most famous people in the world, every diary of theirs from their entire life. Every inner thought that that person has ever had, I just still can’t wrap my mind around that amount of vulnerability it takes to hand that over to a third party.
5 times Pamela Anderson’s memoir left us wanting more — a lot more
The former ‘Baywatch’ star opens up in a new memoir, ‘Love, Pamela’ — to an extent. Here are five excerpts that left us with more questions than answers.
So has she watched the completed documentary?
Yes. I thought she was never going to watch it, or maybe she would watch in 10 years. But I think Brandon really wanted her to watch it.
And I got a text message from her after she watched it, which was one of Pamela’s signature text messages, which I love getting, because they’re always written in poetry, and I can hear her voice in my head as I read them, and she said she loved it. She said it was very difficult to watch but that she was really proud of it, and she was proud of her vulnerability. Brought a little tear to my eye.
Near the end of the film, Pamela speaks really candidly about her breakup with Tommy Lee and the failed marriages she has had since. Did her emotional vulnerability in that moment surprise you?
Yes. It was also meta, in a way, because the process of making this documentary changed her trajectory. During that first Zoom, I thought, “What a perfect little narrative arc, this island girl who got swept up in this crazy Cinderella rock ’n’ roll story and returned to her island to live out the rest of her life and is married to a local and taking care of her parents. What beautiful bookends.” What ended up happening — which is totally Pamela, I now understand — is that neat, tidy arc got totally blasted.
Part of that getting blown up was, I think, the fact that she had me there once a month, stirring up all these emotions in her either through our conversations or having all the diaries around and tapes that she might pop in the VCR. So the fact that we were making this film and we were excavating her memory, and these photos, diaries, videos, stirred something up in her where she concluded, “What am I doing? I’m not ready to die yet.”
And that’s what leads to our crazy, unpredictable third act, which involves the divorce, the Hulu show coming out and getting a role in “Chicago.” None of that was ever a glimmer in our eye when we began this film.
Timeline: Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee’s sex tape saga, as it happened
To accompany the premiere of Hulu’s ‘Pam & Tommy,’ we’ve compiled a timeline of key developments in the saga, with Times coverage.
Pamela appears dressed casually in most of the interviews. Was that a conscious choice to present her in a more stripped-down look?
We had a conversation from the beginning that there was going to be no lighting in the film. But I never talked to her about what she was going to wear or how she was going to wear her makeup or hair.
Pamela is a total free spirit. You do not direct her. Nothing was predictable in the filming process. I learned very early on that when I threw out an idea to Pamela, she was gonna say, “I think that’s a little dumb.” So we had to be very nimble. Even down to the moment [in the film] where she goes to the drugstore to buy a $5 box of hair dye. I didn’t know what was going to happen. That was a day where Pamela thought whatever I had planned was cheesy.
And so I was like, “Well, what are you going to do anyway?” “Well, I’m going to the drugstore.” We ended up in the hair dye aisle at the drugstore, and I’m like, “This is gold.” I had no idea that she dyed her own hair blond and had her entire life.
Have you given thought to where her career might be now if it hadn’t been derailed by the tape?
Once you’re with Pamela day to day, you realize she was never crazy ambitious in her career. It’s never what drove her. And it still doesn’t. I’m like, “Pamela, you should be the star of Netflix romantic comedies — imagine the viewership!” But Pamela is going to follow her heart on all of her decisions for the rest of her life.
I think she’s going to continue to surprise people, but she’s never going to follow a path [of] trying to accumulate fame, money or celebrity. I honestly don’t think that that’s interesting to her.
I’m excited now that the cameras are off and I just get to be, hopefully, her lifelong friend and be on the sidelines for that crazy, unpredictable path that’s coming. I think it’s going to be fun to watch. And I hope this is a year where people will finally root for Pamela.
How many of the events depicted in Pam and Tommy really happened? Going by some major sources (including the 2014 Rolling Stone article upon which the show is based and some excerpts from Tommy Lee's autobiography, Tommyland), Pam and Tommy is surprisingly faithful to real life.Did Pamela consent to Pam and Tommy? ›
Pam & Tommy (TV Series) Pamela Anderson is finally ready to tell her own story with her new Netflix documentary Pamela, a love story, and she's not holding back about Hulu's recent limited series Pam & Tommy — which was made without her involvement.Did Pam and Tommy make money from tape? ›
How much did the Pam and Tommy tape make? The stolen sex tape, titled Pamela's Hardcore Sex Video, went on to earn an estimated $77 million in under a year. However, the couple and the man who is credited as stealing the tape, Rand Gauthier, are not the benefactors of these profits.Are Tommy Lee and Pamela still friends? ›
While Anderson and Lee may not be the best of friends, the exes appear to be on a good terms. Anderson spoke to Variety recently and expressed how hurt she was by the release of Hulu's Pam & Tommy. Upon the limited series' release, Lee sent her a supportive note: “Don't let this hurt you like it did the first time.”What is not true in Pam and Tommy? ›
While much of the show stayed true to real life, there was one scene in particular that was a total fabrication: the one where Mötley Crüe loses their studio to Third Eye Blind. “Mötley Crüe and I've never been in the same studio,” Third Eye Blind frontman Stephan Jenkins told Variety in February.What parts of Pam and Tommy are true? ›
Pam & Tommy is mostly true to the real-life events centered around their infamous tape, but there remain a few minor inaccuracies. Hulu's hit limited series Pam & Tommy reveals the untold story behind the infamous sex tape leaked amid Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee's tumultuous love story in the 1990s.How do Pamela and Tommy feel about the show? ›
"Pamela has no intention of watching this God awful show, absolutely not. Never," the source said. "She's never heard of the actors playing her or Tommy, and doesn't care to know them. She and her family think the show is a cheap knockoff.How did they find out who stole Pam and Tommy tape? ›
The series brought to life the couple's famous sex tape, leaked in 1995 without their consent by disgruntled electrician Rand Gauthier (played by Seth Rogen). Each episode followed how the tape affected their marriage and their careers, as it continued to spread like wildfire thanks to the growth of the internet.Did Pam and Tommy give permission for series? ›
While Pam & Tommy focuses on Anderson, the producers were able to develop the series without her participation or permission by optioning the rights to an article published by Rolling Stone in 2004, disregarding Anderson's life rights.Who got rich off Pam and Tommy tape? ›
In 1998, Anderson filed for divorce from Lee and though neither made a profit from their own sex tape, others did. Pornographer and Internet Entertainment Group founder, Seth Warshavsky, burned Gauthier and sold the DVD rights to Vivid Entertainment for $15 million and the tape went on to generate $77 million.
Though the legitimate sales of the video reportedly crossed $77 million in the first year alone, most of the money went to Seth Warshavsky's Internet Entertainment Group, according to the Cinemaholic.How much money did the guy who stole the Pam and Tommy tape make? ›
How much did the guy who stole Pam and Tommy tape? Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee's sex tape didn't earn Rand Gauthier any money. Regardless of his involvement, Gauthier “never saw a cent” of the $77 million the Anderson/Lee sex tape generated.Who was the love of Tommy Lee's life? ›
In an interview with People in 2015, Pamela called Tommy the “love” of her “life.” “There was Tommy and then there was nobody else. He was the love of my life.How rich is Tommy Lee? ›
According to Celebrity Net Worth, Tommy Lee's net worth is $70 million as of 2022.Did Rand Gauthier go to jail? ›
After causing an enormous Internet sex scandal that rocked the lives of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee, the real Rand Gauthier was never imprisoned and didn't see any significant legal repercussions or receive any reprimands.What does Tommy think of Pam and Tommy? ›
The good news is, Tommy Lee has given his blessing for the Hulu miniseries, Pam & Tommy. Speaking to Entertainment Tonight in September 2021, two months after filming wrapped, Tommy described the series as a "really beautiful story" and revealed he had been in contact with Stan.Is PAMS body real in Pam and Tommy? ›
A prosthetic chest made of medical-grade silicone provided Anderson's curves. Collins says the breasts James wore were sculpted "three or four times to get them perfect. It's more than just the way they look.How true is all about Pam? ›
Yes! The almost-unbelievable murder of Betsy Faria in Troy, Missouri on Dec. 27, 2011 is a real story. The NBC limited series—based on real-life crimes committed by the victim's best friend, Pam Hupp—has been fictionalized to make good TV.How did Pam find out about the tape? ›
“One night, Pamela and I were chowing down on some dinner and flipping through television stations when we heard our names being mentioned on some news show,” Lee told Esquire. “On the screen, there was a dude at Tower Video stocking the shelves with videotapes. And we knew just what they were.”Do Pam and Tommy talk? ›
Tommy and Pamela remain in contact during his prison stint, and the couple even briefly get back together following his release.
Did Pamela Anderson Get Paid For The Rights Of 'Pam And Tommy'? Not only was Pamela Anderson against Hulu's 'Pam And Tommy', but she wasn't paid or asked for the rights either.Did a contractor steal the Pam and Tommy tape? ›
After electrician Rand Gauthier stole the now-infamous Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee sex tape from the couple's residence in 1995, he wanted a distributor; he wanted the world to see it.Did Rand make any money? ›
Per Lewis, Pamela's Hardcore Sex Video earned an estimated $77 million in under a year. But Gauthier never saw a cent of those earnings. To this day, Gauthier still isn't earning anything for the story, the focus of the fictional Pam and Tommy.Why didn t Rand Gauthier go to jail? ›
Did Rand Gauthier go to jail? Surprisingly, no! Gauthier nor his accomplices were ever charged for stealing the safe or distributing the Pamela Anderson sex tape. Pam and Tommy Lee filed multiple lawsuits once they discovered the tape was being sold, but failed to legally stop the sale and distribution of the tape.How many wives has Tommy Lee had? ›
Tommy has been married four times to four wives: Elaine Starchuk, Heather Locklear, Pamela Anderson and Brittany Furlan.Who owns Mötley Crüe? ›
“This is more than just a significant transaction,” said BMG CEO Hartwig Masuch in a statement. “Few bands understand the myth and the magic of rock like Mötley Crüe do. I am delighted that Mötley Crüe have decided BMG will be the best custodians of their musical career.”What did Tommy Lee do for a living? ›
He is a founding member of the heavy metal band Motley Crue, which was formed in 1981. As well as being the band's long-term drummer, Tommy also founded rap-metal band Methods Of Mayhem and has pursued solo musical projects. Tommy has also dabbled in TV, and in 2004 starred in a reality show Tommy Lee Goes To College.Is Tommy Lee considered a great drummer? ›
Yes, Tommy Lee is a very good drummer and one of the best within his genre and time.How did Rand Gauthier pay off his debt? ›
How did Rand Gauthier pay off his debt? Gauthier had to borrow money from mob boss Louis "Butchie" Peraino, who wanted his loan back. So, Gauthier had to pay back his debt by working for the mob, per Rolling Stone.Did Tommy and Pam approve the show? ›
Hulu's scripted television series Pam & Tommy recounted an emotional chapter in the life of Pamela Anderson. Still, despite the show's focus on the Baywatch actor, Anderson herself was not involved in the Hulu series production, nor did she give her consent or approval for the series.
Pamela Anderson hasn't bothered to watch “Pam & Tommy,” the Hulu series which recounts one of the most infamous chapters of her life: The theft and spread of an eight-minute sex tape recorded with then husband Tommy Lee in 1995. "I refuse to watch it," Anderson said in a recent interview with Variety.