This weekend my friend and I were watching Beverly Hills, 90210, beside ourselves over Kelly, Donna and Brenda’s bridesmaid dresses at Mel and Jackie’s wedding.
I tweeted about the episode, and someone filled me in on the whereabouts of Mom-Of-The-Year runner-up Jackie Taylor.
Ann Gillespie, who played former model/recovering addict Jackie Taylor from 1990-2000, is now a senior associate rector at an Episcopalian church in Virginia. In fact, her current vocation has been calling this whole time.
“It was a decision that, in essence, was made for me.” Gillespie told me on Thursday. “I was trying to hold it at bay, and not say yes for a long time, even while I was on 90210. It was towards the end of [the show] that I was beginning to consider the possibility that I may be really saying yes, and that I would go into the seminary.
“We moved to Alexandria, Virginia in 2004, and I began my formal discernment process.”
In 2007, Gillespie was ordained as a priest. In 2009, a new version of the 90s hit called for Jackie’s return. The writers asked Gillespie to reprise her role as the recovering alcoholic, this time as mother to 16-year-old Erin Silver (played by Jessica Stroup). The storyline was disappointing, to say the least, for Jackie’s fans.
“I always wanted Jackie to find more meaning in her life than what she was given,” Gillespie said. “Of course, that’s what I do for a living now.” Part of Gillespie’s job is to counsel those battling addiction or suffering from a terminal illness.
“I was, of course, disheartened that she was just as drunk and mean as she’d ever been,” Gillespie said after reading the script. “In fact, meaner! I decided that it was worth it for me to do it. Of course I wanted to work with Jennie [Garth] again, and I enjoyed meeting Jessica and working with her, too.”
The producers were flexible with Gillespie’s schedule, shooting two episodes at a time when she traveled across the country.
“One of the producers called me after the first few episodes, and said ‘So, if you lived in LA, we’d be writing for you all the time. But, you’re not here, and we’re going to take some time and eventually plan Jackie’s demise.”
“The good thing about what they did was to offer an opportunity for some reconciliation and redemption before she died,” Gillespie said of our beloved 80s model. “That was very powerful for me. By that time in my life as a priest, I had sat with people who were dying. On some level, I was inviting their souls to be with me when I went through this process.
“The fact that she got sober, and that even though an AA meeting was the setting for Silver’s outburst, at least she was at a meeting!”
Much to her fans’ disappointment, Jackie Taylor died of breast cancer after relapsing. I asked Gillespie to rewrite history, at least for viewers who had been there since she entered Timber Hills.
“I think they could have done all kinds of interesting things with Jackie all through the years, but she was really only a tool for the other characters’ responses,” Gillespie said, directing the spotlight back to stars like Shannen Doherty, Tori Spelling and Luke Perry.
“It was always to generate conflict while the kids were in high school. I was there to drive Jennie Garth’s character crazy. Once they [the kids] could be involved in bad behavior, I was around the edges of that.”
‘Tis true. With a clear head, Jackie was able to offer the sagest of words.
“The kids were always the experts, that’s what I thought was hilarious. I used to have conversations with Jim Eckhouse and Carol Potter (who played Jim and Cindy Walsh), and we would joke about how the characters are always smarter than the people who played them.”
Too right. Too right.
I had to ask Gillespie if she thought Jackie’s child-rearing skills were up to snuff.
“No!” She answered with a laugh. “That’s now how I raised my own child, God knows, but that’s not the character they wrote. It was great fun to play, I’ll tell you that.
“I didn’t think the way Jackie was raising Kelly was healthy, because she wasn’t functional. She wasn’t really thinking of anybody other than herself, and that’s what happens with alcoholics. I’m intimately aware of this. I suppose she did the best she could given what she was trying to do, and understandably Kelly’s character was pretty bitter until the very end, until she had a last moment. And that was a really wonderful experience to film that with Jennie.
“The two of us worked together over the course of 19 years. It was great fun, because we each went through so many changes in our lives, to be able to reconnect after all that time.”
I brought up the “Wedding Bell Blues” episode, in which Jackie Taylor married Mel Silver at Casa de Walsh.
Gillespie laughed when I mentioned the pepto bismol bridesmaid dresses. She pointed out that the TV ceremony was denomination-free, despite Mel Silver being Jewish.
“TV shows are so funny, in that they didn’t want to identify what kind of a religion it was. They were very, very particular. They didn’t want to alienate people in Kansas if it was explicitly Jewish (which, excuse me, ‘Mel Silver?’). We were never allowed to say what kind of a wedding it was, or even indicate.
“The whole thing was absurd,” Gillespie recalled fondly. “I was pregnant in real life with my daughter at the time, that’s why they wrote Jackie’s pregnancy in.”
And the bridal hats, Jackie?
“The hats were fabulous,” Gillespie said.
“What I do remember was really loving the scene when Jennie and I had a moment alone before the wedding. My character sort of lost her nerve, crying that she’d been married so many times before and how did she know Mel was the one? Kelly was there give Jackie reassurance to say, ‘Yes! You can do this.’ It was a very sweet scene.
Though it was obvious to me who Gillespie was closest to on set, I had to ask.
“There’s no question it was Jennie. She’s a remarkable human being,” Gillespie said.
“I have not kept up with her since I did the most recent episode. We did keep up a couple times in between then and I think she’s doing a remarkable job raising her children, trying to make her way through the world.
“We had lots of conversations about big life questions and I love her and admire her. It’s a tough business to be in, and it’s so public. Now television has gotten so weird with all these reality shows.
“I do remember tuning in when Jennie had a reality show. I watched one episode where she was talking about her divorce, and I was just like, “Oh Jennie. Just be careful. Just protect yourself.” I feel very protective of her.
Before we went our separate ways – me to watch Kelly and Dylan fall in love, and Gillespie to her calling – I wanted to ask about the pivotal episode, which sealed Jackie’s fate forever. The Mother/Daughter Fashion Show, where Jackie got so coked out of her mind that she sent Kelly running out of the event in tears.
“That was a wild thing to film,” Gillespie recalled.
Did she do any research before the episode?
“I had read enough and knew enough from my own friends,” Gillespie said.
“It was interesting that they were willing to let it be as real as we could make it, to suggest the whole thing,” Gillespie said, alluding to Jackie’s cocaine habit. “It was a fun thing to shoot and interesting. That was the first episode I was on.
“It was the sixth episode of the first season, so they were just beginning. Fox began airing the show in the summer, so it took off very quickly. It was the first time they had ever done anything like that. And so, people started watching.
“I was always very grateful to have been given that opportunity,” Gillespie said of her peripheral yet iconic character. “When I did the first episode, they didn’t say to me, ‘We’re looking to turn this into a recurring character.” They just said ‘We’re hiring you for the episode.'”