The Shmooze

Charles Shaughnessy on Jewish Stereotypes and Nearly Boycotting 'The Nanny'

By Susie Davidson

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Charles Shaughnessy, best known for his exasperated bellow “Miss Fine!” on the ‘90s television sitcom “The Nanny,” spoke this past Saturday evening at the Stoneham Theatre in Stoneham, Mass. During the evening, a benefit for one of the actor’s favorite causes, the Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps, Shaughnessy answered questions from audience members. Attendees asked him about his prior roles on such shows as “Mad Men,” “Murphy Brown,” “Mad About You,” the classic soap opera “Days of Our Lives,” and productions that have ranged from “Camelot” to “Spamelot.” But it was his part as Maxwell Sheffield on “The Nanny” that inspired the bulk of the queries.

The 55-year old actor told of receiving a law degree from the University of Cambridge, but explained that he chose acting because the people in the law field were not the ones he preferred to hang around with; even with all their issues, it was Hollywood types he most related to.

Shaughnessy, whose father, Alfred Shaughnessy, was the principal writer for the PBS series “Upstairs, Downstairs,” advised audience members — mostly middle-aged-and-up suburban women — on how to break into the biz, and cautioned them to be selective in roles (yeah, right).

When prodded about his purported off-screen role as a vocal Democrat, Shaughnessy demurred, and changed the subject by painting a portrait of an America divided by “two wonderful aspects — those who are motivated by the good of the community as a whole, and those who are empowered by the potential of the individual and the free, pioneering spirit the country was founded upon.” (Shaughnessy’s blogs, which place him squarely in the donkey contingent, can easily be found online.)

Cornering him in the lobby after the talk, a couple of us asked Shaughnessy — who, although not Jewish himself, is married to Jewish actress Susan Fallender — about his thoughts on the role of Jews as depicted on “The Nanny.”

“I nearly boycotted the show at first because of the stereotypical view, which I saw as negative,” said one attendee, Frank Levine, of Malden, Mass.

“I felt that way, too,” said Shaughnessy. But he explained that he came to appreciate it in a certain way; that it was endearing and, let’s face it, somewhat authentic.

“I have Sylvias in my family,” I conceded.


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