Sunday, April 30, 2000

Eyes have it: Tammy Faye a draw

Flea market visit lures fans, curious

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        RICHWOOD — Former televangelist Tammy Faye Messner kept insisting she was “just a plain, ordinary person” when she made an appearance Saturday at Richwood Flea Market.

[photo] Bill Long (right) paid $5 to have a picture taken with Tammy Faye Messner.
(TONY JONES photo)
| ZOOM |
        Still, she signed autographs, posed for pictures, talked to dealers and punctuated smiles by batting those famous heavily mascaraed eyelashes.

        Customers flocked to the diminutive woman, as renowned for her eye makeup as for the fall she took with her televangelist ex-husband, Jim Bakker, in the late 1980s, and she responded with ease:

        “Well, hi, honey.” “How are you?” “Hello, girls.” “You're so cute.”

        When a woman commented on Mrs. Messner's thinness, she responded just as generously.

        “That's nice to know,” she said. “I'll live on that for a while.”

        Mrs. Messner visited Richwood as a spokeswoman for the National Flea Market Association. She made a point to stroll by each of the flea market's 300-plus booths and shop for “cheap jewelry.”

        She was sporting a large silver-and-glass ring she had purchased at a California flea market. It accessorized with her clear plastic wedge heels, pink sweater, white skirt and pink purse with little mirrors.

        When not roaming the aisles, Mrs. Messner sat at a table that had her autobiography, Tammy: When the Spirit Moves You, and videos about her life. A Diet Coke, large silver bracelet and black tube of pink Le Monde lipstick were at her side.

        Mrs. Messner greeted fans and those merely curious to see what all the fuss was about. She has made similar appearances at flea markets in Denver and Phoenix.

        She enjoys the appearances because she gets to “to help people (and) to encourage people.”

        “I'm just a plain ordinary person,” she said. “If I made it, then anybody can make it. People know I've been there. I understand the hurt.”

        On Saturday, a couple going through rough times asked Mrs. Messner to pray with them. She did. A woman asked for her home address in Matthews, N.C. She gave it. Another woman mentioned her bout with breast cancer and how Mrs. Messner's own triumphs helped. Mrs. Messner accepted such comments with a smile.

        “I just like her and think she's a heck of a lady to have gone through what she's gone through,” said Janetta Johnson, 59, of Florence. “I just wanted to see her.”

        Angel Conway, 9, of Florence also approached Mrs. Messner.

        “I just think you're beautiful,” said the young girl. “I like how you do your makeup.”

        Her mother was proud. Shelley Conway considers Mrs. Messner a testimony to strength and endurance.

        “To me, she's a beautiful individual,” she said. “Maybe she wears too much makeup, but I do like her.”

        Mrs. Messner grew up poor in rural Minnesota. She and her former husband were Christian television's favorite couple until 1989, when Mr. Bakker was sentenced to four years in prison for defrauding their followers of millions.

        Since then, she has divorced, re-married and appeared on TV sitcoms Roseanne and The Drew Carey Show.

        Mark Stallings, co-owner of the Richwood Flea Market, learned about two months ago that Mrs. Messner would be visiting. He was pleased, especially when Saturday arrived and the phone kept ringing off the hook.

        Callers wanted to know how long she'd be there and whether they could get her autograph and picture.

        “People just love her,” he said. “She brings in a good crowd.”

        The flea market normally draws 12,000 to 15,000 people on the weekend. Mr. Stallings expected a larger crowd this time because of Mrs. Messner.

        Jill Miller of West Chester, Ohio, who operates a flea market booth, agreed that Mrs. Messner's appearance accompanied a definite buzz among dealers — and a larger crowd — on Saturday.

        “It's a good way to draw customers. I just like her because she's a dingbat,” said Ms. Miller, who also bought Mrs. Messner's autobiography. It was signed, “You're so cute. God Bless You.”

        Men also approached Mrs. Messner. Bill Long of Colerain Township paid $5 to have his picture taken with her. Mrs. Messner signed it with a flourish, “I love ya, Bill.”

        “I just thought it might be fun,” he said. “She's got a good sense of humor.”

        When asked if it was OK to broach the topic of her makeup, Mrs. Messner was amenable. Of course, she said enthusiastically, because makeup is fun and she just loves being a girl.

        She shared the secret to her Tammy Faye eyes — taupe shadow on the lid, a bit of lavender in the inner corner, black liner around the eye and then gobs of black mascara.

        She does not apply a specific number of coats. “I just go for it,” she said.

        PHOTO: TONY JONES Bill Long (right) paid $5 to have a picture taken with Tammy Faye Messner.


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