Tammy Faye Bakker's crush on a flashy country singer here wounded her husband's pride and may have pushed him into his now-famous fling with a church secretary, according to people who saw the drama unfold.
Her infatuation with Gary S. Paxton, a singer and producer of the 1960s hits "Alley Oop" and "Monster Mash," alarmed TV evangelist Jim Bakker, who has since confessed that he wanted to win back his wife's love by making her jealous.
It also distressed Linda Wilson, Tammy Faye Bakker's former private secretary, she said. And Paxton's wife, Karen, said she became distraught as she watched her husband pay more and more attention to Tammy as the Paxtons' marriage was rambling toward divorce in 1980.
"I was devastated; I was hurt," said Karen Paxton, her eyes filling with tears while she sat on a bar stool, nursing a Scotch and water.
"She was in love with Gary, or thought she was, and she knew I knew it," said Karen Paxton, now divorced from Paxton, her fourth husband. "I don't want to sound like a vindictive woman. I love Tammy. We were very close. . . . "
Gary and Tammy were spending hours together alone--sometimes all night--in studio recording sessions, according to Karen Paxton and Wilson. Gary Paxton set about producing her albums in the late '70s, struggling to transform the preacher's wife he fondly called "Ladybird" into a performer no one would laugh at.
Gary Paxton, 48, insists they were "just friends, never more than that." But he conceded that the relationship at times got too close for comfort. "You're with somebody a lot," he said, "and become too close a friend sometimes, then realize you're too close and quit."
But rumors floated back to Charlotte, N.C., where Jim Bakker was absorbed in building his million-dollar PTL television network and his 2,300-acre Heritage USA vacation resort in Fort Mill, S.C. And Bakker, 47, has conceded that he was worried about losing the affection of his wife. Might she be having an affair? "He was afraid she was," said Wilson, who warned her boss to beware of even an affair of the heart.
"We talked about her and Gary," Wilson said. "I said to her, 'Tammy, a relationship with the Lord comes first, then your relationship with your husband.' "
She said she pleaded with Tammy Bakker: " 'Please, don't do anything you'll be sorry for. It's important for you to guard your affections, to guard your heart.' But she let down her guard. . . . "
Jim Bakker dispatched roses, one a day, to Tammy Faye in Nashville. He banned Gary Paxton as a guest on his TV program, "The Jim and Tammy Show." They had harsh words, recalled Karen Paxton. Gary Paxton wrote to the evangelist, begging forgiveness, but Bakker returned his eight-page letter.
"Jim was hurt to find out his wife might be even interested in another man, even if it was just a close friendship," Wilson said.
The Bakkers recently acknowledged to a visitor at their Palm Springs home that Jim's one-night sexual encounter with Jessica Hahn at a Florida hotel in December, 1980, was inspired by Tammy Faye's wandering heart.
"I brought it up," said Jamie Buckingham, 50, a columnist with Charisma, the leading Pentecostal magazine, "and they were very open about everything. Tammy said, 'Yes, but there had been absolutely nothing sexual about it. . . . He was just someone to talk to, a guy who would listen to me.'
"She was lonely and her husband wasn't paying any attention to her. It was a blow to Jim Bakker's masculinity that his wife had to find another man to talk to. It was the natural thing for him to try and show his masculinity" with Hahn.
Soon afterward, jealous and depressed, Bakker met John Wesley Fletcher, a traveling evangelist. According to Buckingham, Fletcher told Bakker, " 'If you want to make your wife jealous, the way to do it is to have an affair with another woman.' It was the perfect setup."
Asked about Tammy's infatuation with Paxton, PTL spokesman Neil Eskelin declined comment. The Bakkers, now in seclusion in Palm Springs, could not be reached for comment.
It began in Charlotte, in 1975, when Paxton, a stock car devotee, and his then-wife Karen rolled into town for the World 600. On the motel television set was a baby-faced evangelist cranking up his nearby TV ministry. After playing one of Paxton's gospel tunes, Jim Bakker announced, "I sure would like to meet the man who wrote that."
'Never Forget the Day'
Karen and Gary roared off to present a few albums to the TV preacher. "I'll never forget the day I met a man who has helped me more than anyone in the world when it comes to singing," Tammy Bakker writes in her autobiography, "I Gotta Be Me." "He had long hair, a beard, wore bright red boots, a jump suit, a huge hat and sunglasses," hardly "my image of a Christian."
Paxton has said that he lost everything after his early successes because of drugs and alcohol and that he tried to commit suicide several times. He has said that he moved to Nashville, had a religious conversion and resumed his career.
She was the TV evangelist's wife who had never walked on the wild side. She yearned for respect through her dream, singing. He knew how to make it happen.
To her, Gary Paxton symbolized the "freedom she never had," Wilson said. "Knowing her background and how she was raised, it was a real liberation, a different life style, the music world, the world of entertainment. She fell in love with that."
Paxton and Jim Bakker talked, and Paxton poured out how Jesus had saved him from whisky, drugs and wild women. Bakker invited Paxton to appear on the show, and he soon became a regular. But Paxton had stage fright; Bakker prayed with him in the dressing room before he sang. Suddenly, he was asked to produce Tammy's records. She needed help, he agreed.
And the PTL host's wife began flying to Nashville to work in the studio with Paxton, who not only was a singer-songwriter of million sellers but also producer for such hits as "Along Came Mary" for the Association.
"I was frightened to death," Tammy wrote, "but Gary's gentle spirit soon relaxed me. He told me I could sing; he put songs in my correct key . . . wrote songs especially for me that would fit my voice . . . prayed with me. (He) gave me a confidence I'd never had before."
Late Thursday, Gary Paxton told the Associated Press: "A lot of things have been said. I've outlived this for a long time. There wasn't anything bad in the first place. If they say it's sexual, I'll sue for slander. My pastor said not to talk right now."