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Entertainment

What Happened to C.C. Babcock from ‘The Nanny’?

Actress Lauren Lane tells VICE what it was really like being on a sitcom in the 90s and what came next when she left it all behind.
May 6, 2021, 2:33pm
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What Happened to...? is an investigation into the whereabouts of former icons.

On the one hand, she was a pretentious classist who let her unrequited love for Mr. Sheffield dictate her every move. On the other, she was a successful theater tycoon who didn't feel the need to conform to traditional domestic or maternal expectations. 

Flinging zingers as sharp as her blonde bob, the uptight, no-nonsense C.C. Babcock was the perfect foil to Fran Fine's carefree, flashy girl from Flushing. Audiences loved to hate her as much as she hated Fran, but over the years, C.C. has become an icon in her own right.

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Decades after its 1993 debut on CBS, The Nanny fans now argue that “the beloved sitcom actually did one of its most dynamic characters dirty.” There's a rotisserie chicken restaurant in Sydney, Australia, named CC Babcoq in her honor. And when The Nanny arrived on HBO Max in April, floods of tweets appreciating both the show and Lauren Lane’s performance as C.C. popped off. 

“I’m learning 30 years later, oh my God, this meant so much to people,” Lane said via video from her home in Austin, Texas. But during her run on the show, Lane privately faced her own obstacles. And after The Nanny ended, she felt effectively forced out of Hollywood and chose to reinvent a life for herself completely separate from her sitcom past.

Here, Lane opens up to VICE about her experiences within an ageist, sexist, sizeist industry and how she carved her own path beyond what Hollywood expected.

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Getting discovered

Born Laura Lane in Oklahoma—she later changed her name to Lauren since there was already a “Laura Lane” in the Screen Actors Guild—and raised in Texas, Lane’s life was a far cry from that of the wealthy Ms. Babcock.

“I come from a lower middle class, Southern, Oklahoma-Texas family. I didn’t come from sophisticated folks who were like, ‘Well, maybe you’ll do something important later,’” she said. “I didn’t have that pressure.”

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Lane put the pressure on herself. After getting her bachelor’s degree from The University of Texas at Arlington, she went on to study at the prestigious American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. Soon after graduating, she was performing in a staging of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya with the ACT when an NBC television scout offered her a development deal with the network. 

“I was literally like, ‘Okay!’ because I had $65,000 in graduate debt to be an actor. So it was a miracle. I was the only one of my class that went to LA,” she said. “I knew I was funny. And I knew I loved doing comedy based on theater stuff I'd done. But, probably, if I'm honest, I wanted to be Meryl Streep—but I’m not Meryl Streep.”

Her development deal led to multiple episode arcs on the crime drama Hunter and legal series LA Law and, eventually, a dream audition for the HBO sitcom The Larry Sanders Show

“I call my casting category ‘evil vixen,’ whether it's comedy or drama. I think it's because I'm tall and I have a deep voice,” she said. “They're just like, ‘Yeah, you have a deep voice. That’s for sure evil.’”

The casting director for The Larry Sanders Show happened to also be in charge of The Nanny and decided Lane would be perfect in the “evil vixen” role on that show instead. 

And [to the tune of The Nanny theme song] that’s how she became C.C.

The lady in tan

The Nanny premiered on CBS in November 1993 to modest ratings, but it soon developed a loyal following. Over the course of six seasons it became a staple of network TV and, ultimately, a 90s classic. Lane’s appreciation of the series was an equally slow burn.

“At the time, I was ambitious in a different way. I think that's the best way to put it,” Lane said. “I respect everybody that did that show. It gave me what I have today and it’s why I’m talking to you. But at the time, I didn’t get it. I didn’t get that people loved it.”

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After wrapping up each day on the show’s Culver City set, she’d spend her nights performing with Tim Robbins’ experimental theater company, The Actors’ Gang. She felt embodying a “sophisticated clown” on a family sitcom didn’t exactly play to her strengths. 

“I was living in this world of like, ‘I’m a classically trained theater actress, and ‘The Nanny’ is a great job. I’m happy, I’m grateful. But it’s not what I’m going to end up doing, and not what I’m good at,’” she said. “Now, at my age, I'm like, ‘You are so silly. You were so blind.’ I wish I'd been smarter about it.”

And despite playing a key supporting role on a major series, Lane's life changed remarkably little. “I could pay my bills, and I could save money. That was a drastic change for a poor graduate student and I never lost sight of it,” she said. She did receive her share of fan letters. “Lots from prison,” she noted. “Evil vixens were their thing.” 

On set, Lane was friendly with co-stars Fran Drescher and Charles Shaughnessy, even though she and Drescher “are extremely different humans.” “I think I was just weird to them, because I'm a huge reader,” she said. “So I'd be on set reading, but that’s just who I am.” Fittingly, she was closest to Daniel Davis (Niles the butler), whom she’d known long before the series, and who her character ends up marrying and expecting a baby with at the end of the series after six seasons of escalating tension.

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“Danny and I are just snarky and fun. Danny and I are tight,” she said, becoming emotional. “Oh, I'm going to cry. He is an amazing actor. And he’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. And his theater! It would have been great if he'd had the opportunity to explore that side of his talent [more in film and TV]. It’s very Anthony Hopkins.”

“A woman with hips”

While many aspects of The Nanny were progressive, one element that does not hold up is the fatphobia and frequency with which jokes are made about women's weight. C.C.’s body was on the receiving end of many of the digs.

When I relayed a fan’s tweet that said they hoped “someone was on The Nanny set telling Lauren Lane nice things so she didn’t internalize all of the mean things said to C.C.,” Lane laughed.

“I would love to know how old that person is because they’re clearly from a generation where people take care of their mental health. That was not on anybody's radar in 1993,” she said. “It was just like, ‘You're a woman with hips. We can fucking talk about how much you eat.’ 

“No, there was no one, and yes, I did internalize. They were nice. They would say, ‘Oh, none of this is about you. People know that you’re beautiful, and this is just make believe.’ But, you know, you do it for six years, it does mess with you.”

One person who helped uplift Lane on set was costume designer Brenda Cooper, who created business chic looks for C.C. that Lane felt accentuated rather than hid her curves.

“Back then, if you were not a wispy ballerina, some people would just be like, ‘How the hell do we dress her?’ But not Brenda," Lane said. “Brenda was like, ‘Oh, I know exactly how to dress you.’ She made me look so beautiful and sexy."

“It was like a little death” 

A parade of special guest stars that included everyone from Bette Midler to Bob Barker and Billy Ray Cyrus came by The Nanny to lure viewers and boost ratings. While Lane cherished her time getting to meet legends like Elizabeth Taylor, Ray Charles, and Donald O’Connor, one encounter was “horrible.”

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When Wallace Shawn appeared on a season 2 episode as a potential Broadway investor, Lane was excited because she’d been a fan of Shawn's theater work in real life. They spent their downtime on set discussing “literature and writing and what it's like to be a playwright”—until, she said, the following incident occurred. 

“I’m going to be fucking honest. I’m walking up to my dressing room and he’s going back to New York, so we hug goodbye, and he put his fucking tongue in my ear,” she said of the stairwell encounter. “I remember pulling away and inside it was like a little death because it felt like, is this all it was all week? Like, you didn't really enjoy talking to me? It was horrible.”

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Lane doesn’t think it was an accident or ill-guided attempt at comedy, but rather “a sexual advance.” 

“I did not expect it either because nothing we had done or spoken about had any feeling of like—I mean, why would someone put their tongue in your ear?” she said. “That was really heartbreaking to me.” VICE spoke with a friend of Lane’s, who asked to remain anonymous for concerns about professional repercussions, who confirmed that she told him about the incident in 2011.

In an email to VICE, Shawn said, “In all my seventy-seven years I’ve never put my tongue in anyone’s ear. Not that I condemn those who do, if there are any. If we were hugging goodbye, I might have kissed her on the cheek?”

A pregnant pause

When The Nanny returned from its summer hiatus to film season 5, Lane told the producers she was expecting a baby with her then-partner, businessman David Wilkins. Rather than write her pregnancy into the show as Lane had hoped, they opted to halfheartedly hide her baby bump under boxy jackets and giant props.

"I don't know that there was much they could do to hide it, frankly," she said. "Because I'm not one of those pregnant women who can wear a skin tight dress and just has a belly. No, this girl is built for having babies." 

To explain Lane's absence while she left the show to give birth to her daughter, Kate, C.C. was shipped off to a mental hospital while she recovered from her breakdown over Maxwell and Fran's engagement. 

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“In real life, I had my daughter, and I was back on set in two weeks. It felt like an obligation,” Lane said. “So, that was hard because I'm a new mom. I had postpartum [depression]. I was trying to be funny and feeling like a whale. That was just my own shit, though.”

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Lane brought her infant daughter to set and would often breastfeed between takes. One of the season 6 guest stars during Lane’s early days back at work happened to be Lynn Redgrave, the actress who had sued Universal Television over claims they fired her for attempting to breastfeed in her dressing room while working on House Calls in the early 80s.

According to Lane, when Redgrave saw Lane breastfeeding on The Nanny set she told Davis, “It was all worth it.”

“That's when I knew”

As The Nanny’s ratings slumped at the end of its sixth season in 1999, CBS cancelled the series and the cast went their separate ways. For Lane, who was approaching 40, it marked a sharp turning point. Not only would she be fighting for casting directors to see her as more than just C.C., she needed to be seen at all. “If you're Jessica Lange, you can work through your 40s and 50s,” she said. “But the only way you can is if you have an Academy Award. That’s reality.” 

The last straw came when she auditioned for “a hot show” of the early aughts. She can’t remember exactly which one, but it was a teen soap in the vein of Dawson’s Creek or One Tree Hill

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“I auditioned to play someone's mother, and the description was, ‘She's in her 40s, but amazingly, she’s still hot because she’s a yoga teacher, etc.,’” Lane said. “I went in for it, and I gotta tell you, I was funny as fuck. I nailed the lines.” But, she said, the “20-year-old white men in the room” looked completely uninterested. “That’s when I knew.”

Lane decided it wasn't worth fighting for scraps to find decent parts in Hollywood for a woman over 40, and shifted her focus on being a mom to her young daughter. 

“Frances McDormand, she’s a hero. She’s trying to do things to change it. And I’m grateful for her,” she said. “But until we get the writers in—and I think they’re coming—I had to stand there and know I wouldn’t really act in TV or film for 20 years.” 

“It’s just going to get better”

Lane packed up her life and moved to Austin to raise her daughter, and she's been there ever since. She became a tenured professor at Texas State University, and she returned to her first love of theater, including a recent 2021 virtual production with Louisville’s Humana Festival of New American Plays

She’s active on Instagram and Cameo (where she says most of her requests come from gay couples) and she’s dabbled in making TikToks. She also loves that she’s a meme and hopes fans create new GIFs of her now that the series is on HBO Max.

Last year, Lane reunited with the rest of The Nanny cast for a virtual table read of the series pilot, and a Broadway musical of the show is in the works. There’s also been talk of a TV reboot, and Shaunnessy has said Drescher has a “genius idea” for one. Lane would love to bring C.C. back to life. “If you’d asked me, like, 10 years after we finished, I would be like, ‘No,’” Lane said. “This is how 30 years will change you: Hell yes, I would do it.” Plus, she's currently two years away from qualifying to retire in academia and feels the time is finally right for her to return to TV and film acting, with or without The Nanny.

“Having to make a brand new life and have people be like, ‘Are you still acting?’ You can’t explain it the way I just spent time explaining it to you. It's sort of like, ‘Well, are you a failure?’” Lane said. “So, yeah, it changed me. But I'm really proud of myself. And it's just going to get better.”

Follow Ashley Spencer on Twitter.