If you can’t believe an impotent married man and his sexual surrogate discussing their therapy on national TV, whom can you believe? That’s the question that had daytime talkmeisters Sally Jessy Raphaël, Geraldo Rivera and Oprah Winfrey talking to themselves this month after it was discovered that all three had been duped into presenting fake guests on their shows. The same fake guests, in fact, using disguises, had matched their purported sexual problems to each show’s theme of the day.
“I’ve had 7,882 people on my show, and two have come forward and said they’re not who they are,” declared Raphaël, confronting one of the impostors, Tani Freiwald, who, though already exposed, accepted an invitation to appear on Raphaël’s Sept. 1 program. “Should we in the audience believe the other 7,880 were also frauds? Tani, you have made me and, much more important, the audience, a laughingstock.”
Freiwald, 37, a part-time actress in Chicago, without a steady job at the moment, had first appeared with Raphael in April as “Rebecca,” a sexual surrogate to men over 50. She did so well that she was invited back a month later, this time with a local acting buddy, Wes Bailey, in tow. Bailey, 33, presented himself as a young married man who’d become impotent and whose wife, played by yet another actress, knew and approved of Rebecca’s ministrations.
The ruse went undiscovered until a few weeks ago, when Jim Flanery of the Omaha World-Herald, tipped off by an alert friend, revealed that Freiwald and Bailey had extended their repertory at Rivera’s expense last July. On Geraldo’s show, Freiwald (as Rebecca) advanced public understanding by explaining how she’d helped “George,” a male virgin (played by Bailey), achieve full manhood at 35. (“There was no sex education in my school system,” George lamented.) Now it turns out that Freiwald also appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s cathode confessional two years ago. In that performance she claimed to be a married woman who hated sex. The trouble, she said, was that her husband of 14 years was starting to complain.
A furious Rivera is considering pressing criminal and civil fraud charges. He said of Bailey, “I’d like to take this lying wimp and put his nose in something smelly and squishy.” For her part, Winfrey has maintained a dignified distance from the whole mess. “We take every precaution to ensure a person’s credibility,” her executive producer said in a formal statement. “We trusted the referral of Chicago psychologist Dr. Dean Dauw, who specializes in sex therapy.”
Dauw (rhymes with cow), who is listed as an M.D. in the Chicago phone book, actually holds a doctorate in educational psychology. Known for the tireless promotion of his seven self-help books (Stranger in Your Bed, Sex Therapy Innovations, etc.), he has proved a valuable, if now questionable, resource to the daytime TV talk industry—a sort of central casting for sexual dysfunction.
Freiwald was Dauw’s office manager for two years, until last spring. She says that the psychologist asked her to go on Oprah‘s show in 1986, when he was hard-pressed to provide guests for a program on “Women Who Hate Sex.” Dauw, however, denies that he ever asked her to portray characters on TV. As for the appearances on Raphaël, Dauw told Sally Jessy on the showdown show that he had in fact given Freiwald some sexual-surrogacy training. (She says she was never really a surrogate.) “I never intended to perpetrate a ruse,” Dauw insisted. “I never said, ‘Go pretend.’ ” But a penitent Freiwald maintained that’s exactly what Dauw asked her to do and that he even asked her to find someone to play her patient. She called Bailey, whom she knew from Omaha, where they had both acted in children’s theater.
An outraged Raphaël was determined to redeem the honor of her time slot. “I’m very proud of our staff,” she told her studio audience before the cameras rolled. “We do all the research we possibly can on each topic. Now somebody says it’s all camp and phony and doesn’t mean anything.”
Both Bailey and Freiwald felt the wrath of Raphaël, but—by now experienced talk-show guests—neither wilted in the heat. Bailey said he’d pulled off the frauds as an adventure, which he likened to white-water rafting. Freiwald said she couldn’t pass up the challenge “to perform and be someone I wasn’t, and do it convincingly—not just on the stage but as I came through the door, as I was picked up in the limo at the airport.” In any case, she added, the hoax makes a point for the viewing public. “You have to be critical, analytical, participatory viewers of television.”
Raphaël was not appeased. “We help people. Of all the things to attack, please attack the game show or soap opera. We have to feel our form of broadcasting is better than some of the pap—not that we’re not pap.” She pauses a moment. “Maybe we’re pap with redeeming public values.”
—Reported by Barbara Kleban Mills in Chicago and Jill Pearlman in New York