Let's just say "Pam & Tommy," starring Lily James as "Baywatch" bombshell Pamela Anderson and Sebastian Stan as hard-partying Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee, is a... multifaceted TV series. The Hulu drama, premiering Wednesday, is an infusion of ’90s nostalgia, a portrait of the internet's growing pains, an attempt to reconsider the theft and distribution of the couple's sex tape from a more enlightened perspective.
But first and foremost, the series is the portrait of the whirlwind romance, tumultuous marriage and eventual divorce of two of the most famous people in America at the time — and as with many fictionalizations of the recent past, it takes some liberties with the facts for dramatic effect. To help you follow along, here's a timeline of key developments in the pair's relationship, including the sex tape saga and eventual unraveling, supplemented with Times coverage as it happened.
Sept. 1, 1989: Mötley Crüe releases "Dr. Feelgood"
Formed in L.A. in 1981, the band that bassist-songwriter Nikki Sixx once boasted could "out-rock anybody" had dropped four prior albums — "Too Fast For Love" (1982), "Shout at the Devil" (1983), "Theatre of Pain" (1985) and "Girls, Girls, Girls" (1987) — and built a reputation as poster boys of sex-drugs-and-rock-n-roll decadence. "Dr. Feelgood," which debuted at no. 1 on the Billboard charts, was a high-water mark of success for the group. Bad-boy drummer Tommy Lee, known for mooning the audience and for his marriage to Heather Locklear, is a key part of the band's hardcore image.
Sept. 14, 1992: Season 3 of 'Baywatch' premieres
Canceled by NBC after just one season due to low ratings, the now-iconic series about red-suited L.A. County lifeguards was resurrected in syndication after it became a hit overseas. Anderson secured "Baywatch's" place in the cultural memory — and her own place in the zeitgeist — when she began starring as New Age goddess C.J. Parker in 1992. (Anderson had previously appeared as a "Tool Time" girl on "Home Improvement" with Tim Allen, which bowed in 1991.) Anderson would remain a series regular on "Baywatch" until 1997.
Feb. 19, 1995: Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee marry in Mexico, four days into their romance
October 1995: Disgruntled electrician Rand Gauthier steals a safe, containing the infamous sex tape, from Lee and Anderson's home
In the 2014 Rolling Stone story from which "Pam & Tommy" is adapted, journalist Amanda Chicago Lewis reports that Gauthier, who was part of the team renovating the couple's Malibu mansion, sought "revenge" for what he called his mistreatment and summary firing by taking the safe from their garage shortly before Halloween. Filmed in the early days of their marriage, the 54-minute tape featured intimate moments from Anderson and Lee's new life together, including about eight minutes of sex. The safe also reportedly contained Lee's guns and Anderson's jewelry.
In January 1996, according to Lewis, Anderson and Lee discovered the theft and filed a police report. That March, they filed a $10-million civil suit against Penthouse magazine, which had obtained a copy of the tape, and subsequently published photos from it alongside a June 1996 story on the couple.
May 3, 1996: Anderson's futuristic actioner "Barb Wire" opens
“My manager wanted to turn this down, and told me, ‘You’re not going to play a cartoon character,’” Anderson told The Times while in production in the summer of 1995. “But when I read the comic book, I knew that nobody could play this character but me. I agreed to do it without even seeing a script. I figured at this point in my career, I’m just lucky to be working, and Barb sounded like as much fun as I could have doing a movie. She’s actually closer to me than anything I’ve ever done. I feel like I wangled my way into Hollywood, and I’m always in trouble and doing things sideways but eventually getting to where I want to be, and that’s how Barb is. There’s an evil, twisted, dark streak inside me that I finally get to explore with this character.”
June 5, 1996: The couple's first child, Brandon Thomas, is born
March 17, 1997: The rise of internet porn begins to make waves
Months before his Internet Entertainment Group (IEG) began distributing the Anderson/Lee sex tape, 23-year-old cybersex entrepreneur Seth Warshavsky had already drawn The Times' attention in a trend story headlined "Urls! Urls! Urls!" According to the story, IEG was earning revenues in excess of $20 million per year, part of "a burgeoning online industry" made up of "hundreds, if not thousands, of Web sites selling video phone sex, live chats, video feeds from strip clubs, digital images, online magazines, fan newsletters and paraphernalia."
After Penthouse ran honeymoon images of the partly-clad couple, taken from the explicit videotape, the couple sued the magazine for invasion of privacy, arguing that the images were exploitative and they had not given permission to use them for commercial purposes. A Los Angeles judge dismissed Lee and Anderson's suit, saying that intimate images had been published previously in other magazines and were no longer private. The judge also dismissed allegations that the magazine was using Pamela Lee’s image for financial gain, saying that the photos were accompanied by a “newsworthy” article about the couple’s marriage.
Superior Court Judge Robert H. O’Brien grants the injunction barring Milton Ingley — an adult film distributor known as "Uncle Miltie" — from selling or distributing the video. The couple's attorney, Michael Eidel, says at the time that they have hired "an Internet spy" to track down other copies of the tape, an effort that would turn out to be for naught.
Nov. 3, 1997: Warshavsky issues press release announcing intent to exhibit sex tape
According to Rolling Stone, Warshavsky pursued the tape as a publicity stunt for IEG and its website Club Love — then posted the video to the site days later when a judge denied the couple's request for an injunction.
The couple settles a lawsuit against Warshavsky and IEG for posting the stolen honeymoon tape on the internet. Details of the settlement were confidential. Stephen T. Owens, attorney for IEG, argued to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David P. Yaffe that the Lees had waived their right to privacy by talking about it in detail on radio rude-boy Howard Stern’s show.
In 2014, Rolling Stone reported that Anderson and Lee, desperate to stop the legal wrangling, had signed away the tape's copyright on Nov. 25, after which it became available online with subscription to Club Love. By February 1998, when Anderson filed for divorce, it was widely available on VHS, DVD and CD-ROM thanks to a deal Warshavsky struck with Vivid Entertainment's Steven Hirsch.
Dec. 29, 1997: The couple has their second child, Dylan Jagger
January/February 1998: Another Pamela Anderson sex tape emerges
Recorded with Poison lead singer Bret Michaels, whom Anderson dated before her relationship with Lee, the tape is the subject of yet another flurry of legal wrangling with IEG in early 1998. After IEG ignores a court order to cease distribution of the tape, Michaels sues for $1.5 million in damages, $50,000 in attorneys' fees, and fines of $50,000 for each day IEG continues to advertise the tape on its website. He further alleges a sustained campaign of harassment following his refusal of a $1-million offer to sell the rights to the tape, including a fire at his house in Nashville, the poisoning of his dog, and the lugnuts on his car being loosened while at a Metallica concert in San Diego.
IEG — represented by Larry Flynt attorney Alan Isaacman — counter-claims that it owns the rights to the Michaels tape, made available by “a close friend” of Michaels.
The Times reports that Anderson also sues IEG in federal court in connection with the Michaels tape, seeking damages of $40 million.
Feb. 26, 1998: Anderson accuses Lee of assaulting her
Lee was booked on suspicion of striking Anderson while she was holding the couple's infant son, Dylan, at their Malibu home after she refused to call her parents and ask them not to come over. The incident left Anderson with a bleeding hand, a sore, reddened back, and a broken fingernail, according to police. Lee was already on probation for attacking a cameraman who was trying to videotape the couple during a Hollywood outing in 1996. Lee pushed the man to the ground, breaking his pelvis and a rib.
Feb. 27, 1998: Anderson files for divorce
Hours after Lee was charged with spousal and child abuse — and remained in custody on $1 million bail — Anderson filed for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences. It was the second time Anderson had filed divorce papers. The first was in November 1996 and was soon dropped after Lee reportedly wooed her with romantic gestures that included riding up to their Malibu home atop a white steed. The couple have reunited (and disunited) multiple times in the years since.
April 8, 1998: Lee pleads no contest to abuse charges
Lee faced multiple felony charges stemming from the Feb. 24 incident in which he struck his wife while she was holding the couple's infant son. In exchange for Lee's plea of no contest to spousal abuse, the charges of child abuse and unlawful possession of a gun were dropped.
“I’m anxious for [Lee] to see his kids, as I’m sure his kids are anxious to see him,” Anderson told reporters after leaving the courthouse, adding that she was proud of her estranged husband for taking responsibility for his actions.
May 21, 1998: Lee sentenced to six months in jail
Lee is sentenced to six months in Los Angeles County Jail for battering Anderson. Lee was given a three-year suspended prison sentence and conditions of his probation included that he spend 180 days in jail and pay a total of $6,200 to a battered women’s shelter, a victim restitution program and a domestic violence fund. Lee was also told he must enroll in counseling and rehabilitation programs and perform 200 hours of community service.
“What I see here is a very clear — very disturbing, in my judgment — pattern of conduct in which otherwise resolvable matters are handled by violence,” said Malibu Municipal Judge Lawrence J. Mira. “You do it whether it’s a family member or a third party. That’s intolerable in any kind of civilized society.”
Lee was released from jail after serving less than four months of a six-month sentence.
June 13, 1999: Meet Internet Entertainment Group's Seth Warshavsky
“We’re just as much journalists as ‘Fox Files’ or ‘Hard Copy’ or ’60 Minutes,’" Warshavsky says. “It’s a different kind of content... The only reason ’60 Minutes’ or ’48 Hours’ doesn’t show [Pam and Tommy] is because they can’t show nudity. And the hypocrisy that comes into play when they say, ‘you’re profiting off of these people’s mistakes,’ is absurd.”
Jan. 6, 2002: Meet Vivid Video Inc.'s Steven A. Hirsch
These days, hard-core sex stars date rock musicians, appear on album covers and dance in music videos. They gab with shock-jock Howard Stern. Academics plumb porn for its cultural and business significance. The internet is flooded with come-hither websites. Students at Yale hold coed “chicken and porn” parties. Annual rentals and sales of adult videos and DVDs top $4 billion, and the industry churns out 11,000 titles each year — more than 20 times as many as Hollywood, according to Adult Video News, an industry trade magazine.
Hirsch has become so successful, and perceptions of the industry have changed so much, that he was invited last May to address a USC business class. His muscular frame clad in casual slacks and a crisp blue blazer, the 40-year-old executive lectured his audience on “production value” and “market share" — terms drawn from the same corporate lexicon as former Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and other industry titans who have shared their wisdom at USC.
October 2004: Lee publishes a memoir, "Tommyland"
“It’s all part of the turning point,” Lee tells The Times in an interview shortly after the book's publication, wearing a Beatles T-shirt, puffing a cigarette and sipping on a protein drink — a far cry from the mountains of cocaine and heroin consumed during his Crue days. “I’ve done nothing I’m ashamed of. I have no regrets. But I’m cranking it down a few notches. Hell, I’m drinking a freakin’ smoothie!”
Sept. 15, 2008: Inside the celebrity sex-tape trade after Pam and Tommy
The callers are usually nervous, cagey about their identities and vague when it comes to facts, but to the porn companies on the other end of the telephone, their message is easy to decipher: I know of a celebrity sex tape and I want money.
“I’ve had four tapes shopped to me in the past two weeks. B-list, C-list stuff,” said Kevin Blatt, a Web publicist who got the title “celebrity sex tape broker” for his involvement in a Paris Hilton video. Those feeling out the market are most often former lovers or their friends, relatives or roommates. With video camera prices falling and the definition of celebrity expanding to accommodate each new reality TV show, there seems to be no shortage of explicit tapes of recognizable people.
During an event at the Cannes Film Festival, Anderson announces the launch of the Pamela Anderson Foundation, dedicated to “human, animal and environmental rights,” and reveals a history of sexual assault, including molestation, rape and gang rape. The star said she took “the risk of over-exposing myself, again, possibly being inappropriate, again,” in order to share “events that in surviving drove me to this point, right now.”
Times staff writer Yvonne Villarreal contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.