By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Born in 1959, Victoria lived in the shadow of her tormented aunt. Marlene was convinced her daughter could avoid schizophrenia only if she became an extreme extrovert. So Victoria was banished from doing any "woman's work," her mom says — no household chores or cooking.
She became attached to her dad, a physical education teacher at North Glades Elementary, near Carol City, where they lived. Jim Jackson believed his family had a gene that inclined them toward obesity. "He said I was 'genetically inferior,'" Victoria says. "I think it made me nuts. That's probably where my eating disorders came from."
Her childhood was spent on balance beams and parallel bars. From age 4, she could do a handstand, a move that would make her famous on SNL.
Nearly every hour that wasn't spent in school or church, she practiced in their yard or at a nearby gym. She would tumble on gravel until her hands were bloody. "I did not like gymnastics at all," Victoria says. "My hands were ripped. My hip bones had bruises on them. My knees are permanently injured. My neck got cracked once. I mean, doing 200 situps is not fun."
Her brother, Jim Jr., one year younger, was too introspective and ruminative for his dad. "We thought he was stupid," Jim Sr. says.
The son is now a Los Angeles architect. "I was a disappointment at birth," Jim Jr. says.
The kids were trapped in Dad's cinema-inspired fantasy world. Jim Sr. had Victoria flip through rings of fire. Or her brother would hang upside down over a burning log while she threw torches at it. "The flames started licking at my hair," Jim Jr. recalls. "I was frozen stiff, frightened out of my mind."
In 1974, Jim Sr. paid $52,000 for a more upscale, three-bedroom place in Miami Shores. Victoria became a cheerleader at the private high school Dade Christian. She dated a perfectly postured Baptist boy named William Paul Wessel, who was so strait-laced he carried a briefcase to class.
By the time Victoria graduated in 1977, Saturday Night Live had debuted its rookie cast, including Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, and John Belushi. But she had never watched the show. The family had no TV set. The only movies she knew were The Sound of Music and The Love Bug. When her dad asked what she wanted to do with her life, she remembers earnestly replying, "I'd like to be Julie Andrews on the top of a mountain singing with my children in matching outfits with a ukulele."
But then, says her brother: "Vicky went a little crazy." She got engaged to her beau Paul before he dumped her, she says, "for the girl who used to wink at him in church."
She bounced from Broward's Florida Bible College to South Carolina's Furman University before finally ending up at Auburn University in Alabama. It was in Birmingham in 1980, just before her senior year, when she first tried out for a professional theater production. She won three minor roles. Her pay: $600.
During a rehearsal of Meet Me in St. Louis, a celebrity fellow actor took notice of her helium voice and penchant for flip-flopping across the stage. Johnny Crawford had played Chuck Connors' son on TV Western The Rifleman 20 years earlier and then become a second-tier theater nomad. He took Victoria to lunch. Along the way, she did a handstand on a fire hydrant and then a tractor tire. "I felt like I had discovered something really special," Crawford says. So he offered her a one-way plane ticket to Los Angeles, where she could make it big.
She quickly decided to quit school and accept. (She finally earned a bachelor's degree in 2010 from Palm Beach Atlantic University.) She lived in Crawford's guesthouse in the Hollywood Hills and tooled around town on a moped. Together, they spoofed Hamlet at the Variety Arts Center in downtown L.A. He introduced her to Hugh Hefner at the Playboy mansion. She stood on her head and recited poetry while half-naked Bunnies looked at her quizzically.
That strange shtick became Victoria Jackson's comedy act. She was upside down, warbling a song about a mugger, when screen agent Dolores Robinson first saw her in a tiny upscale Beverly Hills wine bar called Englander's. "I'd never seen anything like her before," Robinson says.
"Some people thought I was a genius," Victoria says. "Some people thought I was retarded."
At age 22, Victoria met Nelson "Nisan" Eventoff. He was a fire-eater and sword-swallower who played the piano in blackface. She was smitten. Victoria claims Nisan rolled the first joint she ever smoked. "It made me very creative, horny, and paranoid," she says. Then he brought her to the Silver Lake home he shared with several other hippies, dogs, finches, and a ferret. There she lost her virginity to the fire-eater.
"I had a nervous breakdown," she says. She flew back to Miami and confessed to her mother, who took Victoria on her first visit to a gynecologist. Assured she was not pregnant, she then pondered her premarital predicament. If I married him, it wouldn't be such a bad sin, she thought. If I don't marry him, God will say, "She's a slut."