Small screen, big star

Annus Horribilis, Annus Mirabilis: Never mind Baywatch, never mind the tattooed, soon-to-be-ex-husband. Given the right script, Pamela Anderson could still be a Monroe for our age. By Emma Forrest

Last year, Vanity Fair suggested that Pamela Anderson, the premier blonde sex-bomb of the Nineties, find her own Arthur Miller. This was after the Baywatch actress had sealed her engagement to Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee with a tattoo of his name on her ring finger, but before they had a baby, Brandon. It was after she had been photographed saying her vows on a Malibu beach, dressed in a white bikini, and before - though not long before - she filed for divorce.

The society magazine advised her to take up with Saul Bellow. A nice thought, but one can't help recalling the classic line about the Monroe- Miller marriage: "the tragedy of which was that she was the brains and he was the beauty".

If she feels she must now search for cred, a far more suitable literary companion might be Trainspotting's author, Irvine Welsh. Going by the gossip of supermarket tabloids in the United States, at least they share a common interest.

But that's the lovely thing about Pam. She has never wanted to be credible. During her touchingly self-deprecating conversation with Ruby Wax, shown on BBC1 last February, she joked about wanting to play King Lear. Pam knows that she is a star rather than an actress, and women admire her, as they do Sharon Stone, for the obvious joy she feels in being a star: Pam and Sharon look pleased with their achievements, as opposed to your Julias and Winonas, who keep telling us how much they don't want to be there.

Emotionally, her downfall has been an abusive husband who stayed up all night getting out of his mind with his mates while she was trying to get her new-born son to sleep. Before Pam married Tommy, both his ex-girlfriend, Bobbi Brown, and ex-wife, Heather Locklear, went public about the physical abuse they had suffered while involved with him.

Locklear's life has many lessons for Pamela. Having left Tommy Lee, the Dynasty starlet is now the villain on Aaron Spelling's Melrose Place and the highest-paid actress in television.

Pamela does have talent - enough to get her by. Although she is no Paul Scofield, she is not supposed to be. Like Monroe, she is a nice little comedy actress, which is how she first made it - playing "the tool box girl" in the sitcom Home Improvement. It was a niche, but she traded it in for the scarlet swimsuit of Baywatch, which was a return to what she wore on all those covers of Playboy. She became as popular a lifeguard as she had been a centrefold and was soon the biggest sex symbol in the world. However, Baywatch has now been axed in America, while Home Improvement is still one of the highest-rated comedies on American television.

Career-wise, Pamela's problems started when she moved to the big screen. Her debut, Barb Wire, was one of the most unwatchable of all cinema turkeys. The black-rubber-and-big-guns bonanza was not even laughably camp because its failure was so predictable: TV queens generally do flounder on celluloid. Shimmering from her success on Dynasty, Heather Locklear underwhelmed Hollywood with her role in Creature from the Black Lagoon before finding her feet back on the small screen. Farrah Fawcett, the ultimate television princess in Charlie's Angels, still insists on trying her luck in risible Disney comedies, and has consequently vanished from sight. Teri Hatcher has been wise in not giving up the day job (Lois in The New Adventures of Superman): her film Two Days in the Valley was widely panned. The inevitable ascension from small to big screen just doesn't work. One's good looks don't necessarily translate to celluloid, let alone one's talent.

Pamela Anderson doesn't need Baywatch, but she does need the small screen. There is better garbage out there for her to do. There is no reason why she couldn't make her comeback on Friends, as Brooke Shields did, or get herself her own Aaron Spelling vehicle. Pamela can no longer be a silent icon. She has already done too much Oprah, Ruby Wax, Jay Leno. And she has lived too much. Even if she never acted again, we would still love her, as we do Liz Taylor, for what she has been through. Regardless of Baywatch being dropped, we have no desire to switch off the real drama. She could just settle into that.

Elizabeth Taylor, however, is in her sixties. She did a lot of good work before becoming a staple of gala dinners and talk shows. It is harder for Pamela because, being a blonde, she is replaceable. Baywatch produced Gena Lee Nolin and Donna D'Errico, two vastly inferior Pam clones who are, nevertheless, hugely popular. Playboy has turned out Jenny McCarthy, another Pam archetype who is making it very big as a host on MTV. Pam must be wondering if she is anything more than "this hair, these lips, that body, those boobs" (which is how Tommy Lee described her).

She can survive without Tommy or the hair, the lips, etc. Her on-off reconciliation with her husband is currently off. If she sticks to her guns, she will consolidate the female support she first won with that charming Ruby Wax interview, and lose those substance abuse rumours for good. And it sounds flippant, but Pamela Anderson, more than any girl I've ever seen, could do with a haircut. Women in transition cut their hair. I think she'd look rather lovely with a brunette crop.

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