Jenny McCarthy: The Next McCarthy Era

Jenny McCarthy, the curvy, blonde enfant terrible of TV, talks about the days of Singled Out, the debacle of Jenny and the blast she had making BASEketball for the big screen. While she's at it, she recounts her casting couch nightmare with a famous action star and explains why she'd like to skin her boyfriend after he dies.

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I have friends who swear they'd rather have been living in Iraq than witness the pop culture rise of that bodaciously endowed, tongue-flicking conniption fit known as Jenny McCarthy. The 25-year-old, 34-26-34 bopping blonde just isn't everybody's mug of triple espresso. But for all those not aghast at her antics, McCarthy's incredible leaps in showbiz have been a kick-ass sight to behold.

It all began in Chicago, when McCarthy went to the offices of Playboy magazine in search of a gig that could pay off her nursing school debt--she never graduated but still owed thousands. A few months later she was Miss October. Soon tired of the bunny life, she moved to L.A. to launch a film career and picked up a bit part in Things To Do in Denver When You're Dead. The shift in fortune came when she went in to audition for MTV's Singled Out, a show designed to be a latter-day The Dating Game on crack. She won the role of cohost by being louder and tougher than the other beauties who were trying to prove they could wrangle studs and provoke an audience. Once on the show, McCarthy added to her unhinged act by pulling faces and sticking out her tongue. Simultaneously spoofing and selling herself, she merrily thwarted any idea that she could be relegated to a whack fantasy.

Singled Out became a ratings sensation.

In no time, McCarthy was making faces on magazine covers, hawking Jenny McCarthy's Surfin' Safari CD music compilation and appearing in another movie, The Stupids, with Tom Arnold. She quickly bypassed such other Internet icons as Madonna. MTV knew it had lucked into something big and bumped her up to The Jenny McCarthy Show, a limited-run sketch comedy show that featured McCarthy as a shamelessly mugging love child of Jim Carrey, a Queen of Gross Out who cut wind and blew lunch. When MTV handed her off to NBC for her sitcom Jenny, which had a highly unusual 22-episode commitment, movie producers lined up to book her on hiatus. Producer Richard D. Zanuck, who'd helped Goldie Hawn make the transition from small screen to big, was interested. Rumors swirled that McCarthy might take the lead in the movie versions of Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie.

Then things changed. The overhyped and poorly conceived Jenny crashed and burned with critics and viewers. McCarthy's Candie's shoes ad campaign, a segment of which featured her perched on a toilet holding The Wall Street Journal with her scanties around her ankles, unleashed a torrent of bad press. Her book, Jen-X: Jenny McCarthy's Open Book, in which she yammered about her bodily functions and lamented her $1,500 breast implants, stiffed. On top of all that, she didn't get a good movie role. McCarthy suddenly seemed as much an overreacher as MTV breakout-turned-footnote Pauly Shore. The press started trashing her for having a live-in relationship with her manager, 49-year-old Ray Manzella, who'd formerly guided Vanna White and Pamela Anderson.

McCarthy kept out of sight for a few months, then took a role in the David Zucker-directed crackpot comedy BASEketball opposite Comedy Central's South Park creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Her role isn't huge, but she's in fine company. And overall, she's not nearly as stamped out as some people might wish. When I meet her in one of Santa Monica's good-to-be-seen-in restaurants, every pampered head in the place turns to watch her walk in. Simply groomed in a demure knit blouse and slacks, she's far prettier and softer than one might expect. Warmer, too.

But not wholly unlike the brassy TV icon of old. "I'm shitting my pants," she declares when I ask how she's doing these days. "This is the first time I'm without a contract. It's scary. Since 1994, I'd been working 17 hours a day, seven days a week, and the contract just expired in March. In some respects, I feel like I'm having a real breather. I'm terrified, though, because now that I'm not under contract, I have to do it on my own. There's no one ruling me so I can't blame it on anybody."

What exactly is it she wants to do on her own? "From the time I was a little girl, I was simply going to be a movie star," she declares without batting an eyelash. "I'm looking for the legendary, all-the-way-up-until-I'm-dead career." McCarthy takes a bite of spaghetti and a sip of Coke and continues, "When I meet with executives, I think they think I'm going to come in like the psychotic cheerleader, without a brain or a vision. I think they think I'm out every night living it up during my so-called 'last days on top.' But I'm very competitive, very focused. Once I talk with them, they see pretty quickly that I'm not some idiot just doing what I do to flaunt my butt cheeks."

So where does McCarthy put the blame for her recent flameout? Wasn't it she herself who, after Singled Out, jumped into two ill-conceived TV shows, never slowing to fine-tune her act or beef up her skills? "I don't think a lot of people realize this, but when I signed the contract for Singled Out, there was a paragraph that said, basically, 'We have the right to create up to two other shows for you--another MTV show and a show on a major network.' When I signed for Singled Out, I signed on for The Jenny McCarthy Show and Jenny without a choice. I couldn't take a break, even though I said, 'I think I'm getting a little too overexposed, you guys.'"

Rumors from the set of Jenny, which cast McCarthy as a Utica, New York, convenience store clerk who finds she's been left a posh Hollywood Hills bachelor pad by her recently deceased, B-movie-star dad (played by George Hamilton), characterized the star of the show as a deer trapped in klieg lights. "When NBC told me I was going to be the savior of Sunday night," McCarthy says, "I was, like, 'Holy shit. That's the kiss of death.' No matter how 'hot' you are, it's impossible to save a night--especially with a new show. People were questioning and second-guessing constantly and I was hearing different notes from so many different people, when I had no say on anything. I didn't even want the show to be called Jenny, and I sure didn't want to play someone who keeps whining, 'Where's my dad? I really need a dad!' They put me in a little flip hairdo and squeaky-cleaned me. They were burying me.

Did she read the reviews? She nods, laughing, "All 200 of them, and maybe two of those were good. In the end, I could say it was NBC. I could say it was the writing. I could say it was me. Maybe all of the above. I don't know who to blame. I was totally devastated when the show was canceled. I bawled my eyes out. The network didn't even tell me--I found out from the makeup girls, because their agents had canceled them for the following day." Ouch.

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