Sports Legend Revealed: Did Pam Anderson get her big break when shown on camera at a Canadian League football game?
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FOOTBALL LEGEND: Pamela Anderson got her big break when caught by a TV camera at a Canadian Football game.
A number of professional football players made it big in the United States of America after first proving themselves in the Canadian Football League. The most famous example of a player not being drafted or not making a National Football League team before becoming a star in the CFL is clearly Warren Moon, the legendary quarterback who is the only man to be enshrined in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But Moon is far from the only player to do so - some others include Pro Bowl Quarterback Jeff Garcia (undrafted by the NFL), defensive end Harald Hasselbach (the last player to win a CFL championship and an NFL championship) and wide receiver Mervyn Fernandez. This is not even counting those players who had a choice between the two leagues and went with the CFL before later coming to the States (guys like Rocket Ismail and Joe Theismann).
However, the CFL did not only give the United States football players. It also was (in a roundabout way) responsible for giving the USA Pamela Anderson!
How did it happen? Read on to find out!
Pamela Denise Anderson was in the limelight basically from birth. Born at 4:08 AM on July 1, 1967, in Ladysmith, British Columbia, Anderson was the first baby born on Canada’s 100th Anniversary as a nation. As a result, Anderson was named ‘The Centennial Baby.’ When she was six years old, a photograph of Anderson at the library became a popular poster in British Columbia libraries (you know, like those ‘Read’ posters you often see in libraries). So even while living in small cities, she managed to make a name for herself.
Always interested in the entertainment industry, while still in high school Anderson appeared in a 1984 film, Crimes of Passion (starring Kathleen Turner and Anthony Perkins) as a hooker. Clearly interested in the entertainment business (and California specifically - Anderson’s goal in her high school yearbook was to be a ‘California beach bum’), soon after graduating high school Anderson moved to the biggest city in British Columbia, Vancouver. Once there, she eventually found work as a fitness instructor. While in Vancouver she began to participate in the film and TV industry there (a number of movies and TV shows film in Vancouver), getting small jobs on a few different projects as an extra. In 1987, she was credited in the film, Some Kind of Wonderful (as ‘Party Guest’). Around this time, she also began modeling fitness wear and swimsuits.
In the Summer of 1989, the 22-year-old Anderson attended a B.C. Lions football game at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver (I cannot seem to figure out exactly which home game she attended - most tellings of the story have it as being against the Toronto Argonauts, but that game did not take place until the middle of August - it seems a lot more likely that it took place at one of the three home games in July) with some friends. Anderson was wearing a tight Labatt’s Blue crop-top t-shirt (supposedly given to her by one of the friends she attended the game with, someone who worked for Labatt’s - I cannot confirm that). A camera man put his TV camera on Anderson during the game and she was shown on the big video screen at the game (and to the TV viewers at home). The audience reaction was tremendous. Accounts differ on whether she was given any specific special treatment at the game itself (whether it be being involved in a contest at halftime or whatever), but it is safe to say that the exposure from her appearance at the game did, indeed, break her career in a big way, particularly with regards to Labatt’s, as they reportedly received a number of phone calls inquiring about the girl from the football game.
Labatt is one of the oldest beer companies in Canada. It was founded in Ontario by John Kinder Labatt in 1847! Up until the late 1970s, it most popular beer was Labatt 50, but eventually, its Pilsener Lager, labeled Labatt Blue, became its best selling beer (it was first informally referred to as Labatt Blue because of the color of the label and because Labatt was a sponsor of the CFL team the Winnipeg Blue Bombers; Labatt eventually just adopted the name officially). Its late 1970s appeal might have something to do with Labatt owning the Toronto Blue Jays from the team’s formation in 1976 until 1995 (when Labatt was purchased by the Belgian brewer Interbrew), but I couldn’t say for sure. By the late 1980s, Labatt had introduced a marketing strategy called ‘the Blue Zone,’ where they would mark off certain areas of stadiums as ‘the Blue Zone.’
Now here is where the myth of Pamela Anderson falls apart a bit. According to Anderson herself in a few interviews, her appearance on the big screen at the Lions game was pure chance, and her career sprang out of that. Anderson said in a 1996 interview, ‘I did not pursue this career.’ As though if it would not have been for the TV camera catching her, she would have never been anything but a fitness instructor. Obviously, we know that not to be the case. She had worked in the entertainment industry already and was modeling well before she was ‘discovered’ at the football game. In addition, according to photographer David Sereda, who had done modeling sessions with Anderson around that time, Anderson and her then-boyfriend (and later fiance), Daniel Ilicic, had pitched Anderson to Labatt as a spokes model before she appeared on the big screen at the Lions game. Ilicic later did the photography on the famous ‘Blue Zone Girl’ poster of Anderson, and allegedly that, too, was produced before Anderson appeared on the big screen. Actually, if we are to believe the story that one of her friends worked for Labatt’s, it certainly would make sense that Ilicic would have plenty of opportunity to pitch Labatt, right? In either event, the football game appearance was extremely notable as it brought Anderson a great deal of attention and got Labett to finally say ‘yes’ to her.
Anderson eventually did appear in advertising for Labatt (including the aforementioned famous ‘Blue Zone Girl’ poster). Right around this time, another Vancouver photographer (at Anderson’s behest) sent some photos of Anderson to Playboy magazine, who was interested. Anderson was asked to do a photo shoot for the magazine. She first appeared on the cover of the October 1989 issue of Playboy. The Labatt ads began appearing at this time. Anderson began to get more attention now from Playboy and other places, so she moved to Los Angeles to pursue her modeling career. She did her first Playboy nude pictorial in February 1990 (soon after the spread she got her first breast implants) and later in that year she began to appear in a few minor TV roles (Charles in Charge and Married...With Children) before getting a gig as a recurring character on the brand-new hit sitcom Home Improvement (as the ‘Tool Time girl’) in 1991. It was her role on Home Improvement that got her her job on the TV series Baywatch, at which point she became a national star.
So while we can certainly debate the various aspects of the Pamela Anderson ‘creation myth,’ as it were, the one thing that all versions of the story agree on is that had it not been for her attending that BC Lions game, she never would have become as famous as she eventually did. So next time you see the Kiss Cam land on someone at a sporting event, who knows, you might be seeing a star of the future!
Thanks to David Sereda, Sky Magazine, Playboy Magazine and Pamela Anderson herself for various quotes and pieces of information!
Be sure to check out my Sports Legends Revealed for more sports legends! For other legends involving the worlds of sports and entertainment intermingling, check out...
How did U2 save Canadian Professional Football in Montreal? (talk about topical - this one is even about entertainment and sports mixing together in Canadian Football!)
Also be sure to check out my Entertainment Legends Revealed for legends about the worlds of TV, Movies, Music and more!
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Photo: Pamela Anderson. Credit: Genesis Burson-Marsteller, AFP/Getty Images