‘The Nanny’: Renée Taylor’s Sylvia Ate So Much On-Screen Her Doctor Wrote a Letter Requesting She Stop

The Nanny had a strong roster of colorful characters that helped make it the funny show that it was. Beyond just the main cast, however, there were plenty of supporting characters who also provided big laughs. One of those characters was Fran’s mom, Sylvia.

Sylvia, portrayed by actor Renée Taylor, had a habit on the show of eating a lot. This was so prevalent that the actor who played her had to give her a note ordering her to stop. Here’s the story of how that went down. 

The premise of ‘The Nanny’

The Nanny pitted a streetwise, gum-chomping girl from Queens against a rich, elite family from Manhattan. The Sheffields were as posh as you can get, led by the classy, well-to-do Maxwell Sheffield. Joining him at their swank Manhattan townhouse are his three kids as well as their British butler, Niles.

Sadly, the Sheffield matriarch died, leaving a maternal void needing to be filled. When her boyfriend throws her out, Fran opts to become the family’s nanny. 

Fran couldn’t be more unlike this entire crew, so getting to see them interact was always hilarious. The contrast of a world-weary girl from Queens against wealthy Manhattan elites was always hilarious.

Fran’s high-pitched, nasally voice stayed etched in viewers’ brains. Her loud, outlandish outfits also left quite a mark. 

Who was Sylvia? 

Sylvia Fine was Fran’s mother on the show, portrayed expertly by Renee Taylor. The character was based on Drescher’s actual mother, Sylvia Drescher.

Sylvia serves as both something of a mentor and friend to Fran on the show besides just being her mother. In real life, Taylor was an accomplished actor. According to IMDb, she began her career as a comedian before transitioning to acting.

Taylor has had a long, illustrious career, working often on many projects. She famously appeared as Eva Braun in Mel Brooks’ The Producers. Later, she’d guest star on modern hit shows such as How I Met Your Mother or Law and Order: SVU. She’s won an Emmy and been nominated for an Oscar. While many fans of this particular show remember her for this role (as well they should, she was hilarious) she has had quite a successful run outside her time on The Nanny

Taylor also reunited with Drescher after The Nanny’s run ended. Drescher and ex-husband Peter Marc Jacobson co-created a sitcom based on their real lives called Happily Divorced. Taylor also appeared on that show. 

In an interview with Broadway World, Taylor said she’d be open to returning for another run with Drescher: 

“But Fran says that if The Nanny comes back [to television], she’s gonna play me, her mother, and I’m gonna play the grandmother. So that’ll be the next incarnation of it… That’s our intention, so I don’t see why it wouldn’t happen. As long as we’re young and healthy.”

Renée Taylor’s Sylvia ate so much onscreen her doctor wrote a letter requesting she stop

Fran Drescher (as Fran Fine), Renee Taylor (as Sylvia Fine) and Charles Shaughnessy (as Maxwell Sheffield).
From left, Fran Drescher (as Fran Fine), Renee Taylor (as Sylvia Fine) and Charles Shaughnessy (as Maxwell Sheffield). | CBS Photo Archive. File 86141.

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One of the Sylvia’s character traits was to have a healthy appetite. That obviously meant Taylor had to spend plenty of time eating on the show. This may have been good for her taste buds, but it wasn’t great for her health.

According to Mental Floss, Taylor told Drescher in a 2010 interview for her show that her doctor ordered her to stop eating so much for the production: 

“My doctor said that I could not eat on the show, and it was a real sacrifice.” 

It got so bad that the doctor actually wrote a letter Taylor had to bring on set. It must have been a challenge for Taylor, but she was a professional about it and still put in great performances as she has throughout her career.