In 1995, a frustrated electrician named Rand Gauthier stole and released a private sex tape of perennial Playboy cover model and Baywatch-star Pamela Anderson and the hard-partying drummer from Mötley Crüe, Tommy Lee, thus contributing to the biggest scandal of the decade and forever changing the idea of privacy. The lives of two tabloid darlings were turned upside down. The new series „Pam & Tommy“ tells the story, focusing on the dramatic consequences of the couple’s private video going viral.
We are talking about the events that took place in the mid-90s, started by the audacious theft of a sex tape. The production, simply titled „Pam & Tommy“, is based on the extensive article „Pam and Tommy: The Untold Story of the World’s Most Infamous Sex Tape,“ published in Rolling Stone in 2014. The series faithfully illustrates the written word – Amanda Chicago Lewis, the author of the article, was a consultant on the set. Pamela Anderson reportedly did not want to be involved in the series at all, despite multiple attempts to include her; Tommy Lee was also not involved with the series but he supported it.
Lily James and Sebastian Stan, the two main actors, literally blend in visually with the real-life characters they play. They reportedly went through long make-up processes to closely resemble their characters and sat for three or four hours a day in a prep-room to get DD-size false breasts, a prosthetic forehead, dentures, blue contact lenses, and a blonde wig (Lily James) as well as brown contact lenses, prosthetic penis, pierced nipples and 30 tattoos attached (Sebastian Stan). Their wardrobe was not custom made, but purchased second-hand based on the clothes Anderson and Lee wore during that period of 1995-1998. When watching the series, we felt as if we had returned to the wonderfully kitschy 1990s, which, as everyone knows, was not 30 years ago, but “only yesterday”.
Both actors spent a lot of time exercising and watched YouTube for hours studying the couple’s behavior. They each achieve the feat of uncannily resembling – aesthetically, vocally, and in every mannerism – the real-life people, without descending into mimicry. Fortunately, the result is not a simple resemblance to Pam and Tommy, because the actors poured souls into the characters – genuine emotions and thoughts. Their creations are brilliant, receiving positive reviews from critics.
The series does not focus on the scandal itself, but on its repercussions. The third protagonist, as important as Pam and Tommy, is Rand Gauthier (played by Seth Rogen), the perpetrator of all the confusion. What Rand did is stranger than fiction.
THE BACKGROUND STORY
Imagine spending three months, the entire spring of 1995, tearing down the walls, laying wires, and painting again and again, because an arrogant rich ass changes his mind every five minutes. At the same time this corky rockstar is living a fantasy life right in front of you, passing a joint around at 11 a.m. and sipping martinis with his new wife, a sexbomb who makes milions of people around the world drool in front of their TVs as she runs across the beach in a red bathing suit.
The worst part? You get fired after three months of hard work, without any payment. Lee, known for his megalomania, capricious humor and aggression, was not eager to pay, so he kicked out the workers under false pretense.
That actually happened to an electrician, Rand Gauthier, but he was so sick of the celebrity couple’s demands that he was ready to simply write off the $20,000 they owed him for his work. However, when he came back to the Lee’s mansion on Mulholland Highway to collect his toolbox and Tommy threatened him with shotgun, shouting, “Get the fuck off my property,” Gauthier got seriously pissed.
Amanda Chicago Lewis wrote in her famous article: “It’s funny what being held at gunpoint will do to you. And being held at gunpoint by a megalomaniacal rock star? Well, that doesn’t feel very good at all.”
Maybe if Tommy Lee hadn’t been aiming at the electrician Rand Gauthier, nothing special would have happened. Tommy would continue his rock’n’roll life in a Malibu estate alongside the sexbomb Pamela Anderson, and Rand would continue his woefully bland life of a sad and lonely middle-aged man in a musty apartment. Rand, however, could not endure the humiliation. He believed in karma and that the star drummer must be punished for his cocky attitude. Rand Gauthier wanted Tommy to realize that he was just a vulnerable human being, not an invincible rock god, even if he had sold 20 million records by the age of 32.
The electrician followed the couple for weeks, spending the entire summer of 1995 preparing for the heist, driving over to the Lees’ house several nights a week to sit and stare, waiting outside until three or four in the morning. Plotting. Stewing. Then on November 4, 1995, at 3 a.m., while the newlyweds were at home, upstairs, asleep, he set about implementing the plan.
The idea was to sneak into the garage, steal the giant safe and have a laugh at their expense. Since there were cameras everywhere, Rand wore a shaggy yak rug to resemble the enormous dog that Pam and Tommy had. He managed to remove the huge safe and load it (alone!) onto a delivery van parked in front of the villa. Then he drove off to a remote place, cut open the wall of the safe with a special saw and took out the treasures. Apart from Lee’s guns, Anderson’s jewelry and a white bikini that Pam wore on her wedding day, there was a homemade Hi8 tape. As soon as Gauthier discovered it, he knew he had a powerful weapon in his hands. However, he had no clue that this tape would ruin his life and at the same time help cement the musician’s legacy, letting the world know he had one of the biggest dicks in rock’n’roll.
What happened as a result of Rand’s meticulously prepared revenge exceeded his expectations. It was a symbolic beginning of the age of the Internet and new technologies, the loss of control over privacy, even the most protected one, and the birth of celebrity culture as we know it today. Not to mention that the lives of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee have never been the same again.
Pam and Tommy made the tape during their honeymoon. The entire video lasts short of an hour and is a record of their day – their sexual activity takes only a fragment of it. As Amanda Chicago Lewis wrote: “This is not gonzo pornography – it’s a 54-minute home video, depicting about eight minutes of the sex Americans are most likely to sanction: white, straight, married and in love.” Nevertheless, Howard Stern called this tape the greatest porn he has ever seen in his life. “What’s cool about it is that, like, you get to live their lives with them.”
In order to understand the value of this tape, one needs to remember the couple’s status at that time. Pamela Anderson was a superstar not only in America. The series ‘Baywatch’, in which she ran on the beach as a lifeguard in a skimpy red outfit, brought her unimaginable, worldwide popularity. It sealed the status of a sex symbol that she had gained earlier thanks to frequent presence on the cover of „Playboy“. Her career was booming. She was about to appear in her first full-length film „Barb Wire“. Tommy Lee as a musician had his best years behind him, because glam began to slowly give way to grunge, but he was still immensely popular.
Their relationship was more than the sum of two values - it was a new quality. The paparazzi would not leave them alone, regularly photographing the couple at home. Their bedroom photos went for a high price and were featured in the French and Danish editions of „Penthouse“ as well as in the American magazine „Screw“. The public was obsessed with the pair, who had married in February 1995, on a beach in Cancun, Mexico, after a four-day, Ecstasy-enhanced courtship. Pamela was wearing a bikini and instead of wedding rings they got tattoos with the name of „the other half“. They were both madly in love with each other, but as Pam recalled years later, they were mere kids who developed an intense, crazy relationship.
Soon after the wedding, Anderson became pregnant. Their happiness seemed complete. And then the tape scandal hit them.
As a former porn industry worker, who had spent some time hanging around adult-film studios, building sets and chatting up starlets, Rand Gauthier used his contacts in the industry. His partner in crime was the overweight and unscrupulous owner of a shabby film studio, Milton Ingley, known as ‘Uncle Miltie’ (he is portrayed by Nick Offerman in the series). Both of them decided to use something new, called the „world wide web“ to advertise the tape and remain – what was then believed – anonymous…
Uncle Miltie struck a deal with porn producer Louis „Butch“ Peraino, who invested the money to create thousands of copies of the tape that were sold through specially set up websites, such as pamsex.com, pamlee.com and pamsextape.com. The tape, titled „Pamela’s Hardcore Sex Video“, cost $59.95 and the money was officially sent to a New York-based Canadian T-shirt company that mailed tapes via Amsterdam. In the mid-Nineties, the porn business was booming. Almost every home in America could afford a VCR.
As Amanda Chicago Lewis put it: “Starting in the spring of 1996, as information trickled out about what was on the tape, everyone wanted to see it, whether to gawk at the home life of two superstars or condemn the empty-headed, sex-addicted narcissists who presumably leaked it themselves. The couple already had a reputation for carnal and pharmaceutical indulgence, but peeping on their love play offered an entirely new level of dirty, thrilling violation, as we leap-frogged PR flacks, centerfold photographers and even the paparazzi to land squarely in the most private of worlds.”
When the various websites selling the tape were not crashing, they would process orders like crazy. Soon buyers started copying the tape and re-selling it, creating a tsunami of copycat websites offering the now world-famous video. Pam and Tommy filed a police report but it was already too late, as things were in motion. They failed to stop the tape’s distribution.
It was at this point that a copy of the video found its way into the hands of a 25-year-old Internet genius (a precursor of pay-per-click ads, streaming video and online credit card processing) named Seth Warshavsky. He ensured the trailer was played in loop on his website ‘Club Love’ and the tape was on sale in every porn store. Over the next few years, Warshavsky sold hundreds of thousands of copies. It is estimated that the sale of the tape brought in a total of $ 77 million profit, of which – at least officially – the victims did not see a cent.
Pam and Tommy took it to court. They won, but never saw any compensation, because Warshavsky’s company went bankrupt. Some suspect, however, that the marriage received a share of the profits, even though they deny it.
In 2000, the Guinness Book of World Records declared Anderson the “most-downloaded star” of all time but this private movie almost ruined her acting career. She lost the casting for „Secrets of Los Angeles“ to Kim Basinger and „Austin Powers“ to Elizabeth Hurley. When she appeared on talk shows to promote „Barb Wire” (1996), the hosts were always more interested in talking about the tape and her ‘horizontal skills’.
Meanwhile, while her career declined, Tommy Lee gained a second life as a sex god, since the world discovered how impressive his penis was. While the video turned Tommy into a rock & roll big-dick-swinging star, Anderson became a punchline in the public’s eye. The show business misogyny showed its cruel face – but not the first and not the last time: just recall the repercussions of Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake’s famous performance at the 2004 Super Bowl. Pamela and Tommy divorced in 1998 after three years of a troubled marriage – Lee was convicted of domestic violence. The couple remarried in 2008 and then divorced again in 2010.
Anderson and Lee have never been able to escape the shadow of the sex tape. The scandal had consequences not only for their private life, but also for pop culture in general. “Everyone laughed derisively at the tacky rock star and his blonde bimbo when the tape came out, but over the next two decades we all faced the same loss of control.” It turned out that with the development of the Internet, you can easily and anonymously publish someone’s intimate life for everyone to see. Sex has become a commodity more than ever before, creating a path for Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian, whose sex tapes were leaked in the 2000s. Being a celebrity changed its meaning forever.