Fact vs Fiction: 'Pam & Tommy' season 1 episode 6: How did Playboy discover Pamela Anderson?
Pam's past is put under the microscope.
This post contains spoilers for Pam & Tommy season 1 episode 6, "Pamela in Wonderland." For the previous episode head here.
The majority of Pam & Tommy has depicted the whirlwind romance of the titular couple and the events that led to the distribution of the stolen sex tape. “Pamela in Wonderland” turns the clock back to the summer of 1989 when Anderson was first discovered, setting her modeling career in motion and led to eventual global stardom.
“We’re in this together,” Tommy (Sebastian Stan) told his wife in last week’s episode, but it is only Pam (Lily James) who has been named in the legal proceedings. It isn’t Tommy’s career and past actions that are put under a microscope, which speaks to the ingrained misogyny the Baywatch star is subject to. Every choice she has ever made is being wielded against her in her deposition. Rather than containing the story, this civil suit has made it national news.
As reported in Amanda Chicago Lewis’ Rolling Stone article, the $10 million civil lawsuit was filed on March 29, 1996. Other figures believed to be in possession of the tape (like “Uncle” Miltie Ingley and Rand Gauthier) were also cited alongside Penthouse in this legal action, but episode 6 focuses on the adult publication wanting to print stills from the tape. Flashbacks are used in the episode to illustrate how Pam’s career is being used to justify the distribution of images from stolen private material.
We are going to separate fact from fiction in the limited series Pam & Tommy. This episode-by-episode guide continues with Pam’s early career and the harsh treatment the star faced during the deposition.
Was Pam discovered at a football game?
Sort of. Anderson had done some modeling work before she appeared on the big screen (and to viewers watching at home) during a B.C. Lions football game at their Vancouver stadium, though it is this moment that lit a spark. Or so the story goes. However, in 2010 a Los Angeles Times piece revealed that while this event did lead to the now-iconic “Blue Zone Girl” poster for Labatt beer it maybe isn’t as random as the episode makes out.
The episode opens with Pam looking for her jacket while her boyfriend impatiently beckons her out of the car. When Pam says she doesn’t want a beer, he gets her one anyway, creating the perfect moment for the “Labatt Cam” to capture the blonde beauty — who also happens to be sporting a t-shirt promoting the Canadian beer brand. While Anderson has said it was a coincidence, the LA Times notes that her boyfriend “Daniel Ilicic, had pitched Anderson to Labatt as a spokesmodel before she appeared on the big screen at the Lions game.” Nevertheless, the football game moment did happen and it did play an important role in turning Anderson into be a huge star.
When did Pam first pose for Playboy?
Only a few months passed between the football game and Anderson’s Playboy cover debut, which shows how quickly her career took off after the first Labatt ad campaign. October 1989 was the first of 14 covers Anderson appeared on before the publication ceased its print edition in 2020, and no other model has been a Playboy cover star as much as Anderson.
“Pamela in Wonderland” depicts her boyfriend’s negative reaction to this modeling opportunity, which is accurate. “A cover meant fame. But my boyfriend at the time was furious. He said, 'You’re not going to do that! You’re not doing anything!' So out of spite, I did it. [laughs] I mean, whatever. It was fun,” recalled Anderson in a 2016 Interview Magazine profile.
How invasive was the deposition?
“It was great sitting through depositions, where old men with crusty white s*** in the corners of their mouths would hold up pictures of me naked in Playboy and ask why I’d even care that the tape was out there,” Anderson sarcastically said about the questions she endured in Lee’s 2004 memoir Tommyland. Suffice to say, the portrayal of this legal action in Pam & Tommy is representative of the degrading questions Anderson faced. The number of times she appeared on the Playboy cover was used by the Penthouse lawyer as justification in both the series and real life.
Other factors, such as the candid stories Lee and Anderson had told the press, were also dug up to use against her. “Because the two discussed their sex life in interviews, Penthouse‘s lawyer argued that the couple had forfeited their privacy rights regarding the video’s content,” Chicago Lewis explains in Rolling Stone. It didn’t matter that the tape had been stolen as Penthouse had obtained the tape from “a source” and the publication played no part in the original theft.
What was the outcome of the deposition?
At the end of the episode, Pam announces she is done with having her every decision being used against her. “I couldn’t handle it. It got to a point where I could not go to another deposition with these sweaty old guys asking me about my sex life,” is how Anderson describes the draining experience in Tommyland. The timeline has been condensed in Pam & Tommy, which shows Pam attending a single day of civil suit deposition.
The first judge dismissed the temporary restraining order against Penthouse and then in August 1996 a second judge refused the permanent injunction the couple sought against Penthouse, “largely because it is essentially unheard of for a court to bar a media outlet from publishing something before it has done so.” It was also during this hearing that Anderson’s nude modeling was used as grounds for dismissal by the Penthouse lawyers.
The lawsuit continued into the following year and in August a judge threw out an invasion of privacy lawsuit, “saying that intimate photos of the partly clad couple that ran in the magazine had been published previously in other magazines and were no longer private.”
With two episodes remaining in Pam & Tommy the saga is far from over.
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Emma Fraser spends most of her time writing about TV, fashion, and costume design; Dana Scully is the reason she loves a pantsuit. Words can also be found at Vulture, Elle, Primetimer, Collider, Little White Lies, Observer, and Girls on Tops. Emma has a Master’s in Film and Television, started a (defunct) blog that mainly focused on Mad Men in 2010, and has been getting paid to write about TV since 2015. It goes back way further as she got her big start making observations in her diary about My So-Called Life’s Angela Chase (and her style) at 14.