When Farrah Fawcett-Majors blossomed into “Farrah”, the timing was nothing if not ironic. The feminist movement had evolved from burning bras to searing publicly staged intellectual debate; women were donning suits and taking to the workplace en masse, thanks, in part, to the equal opportunity push supporting them. Some of us even stopped setting our hair and let our frizz flags fly. And then there was Charlie’s Angels.
Full of college-injected attitude, I steadfastly refused to tune into ABC that fall of 1976. Without even checking it out, I just knew any show about a group of scantily clad, pretty girls solving crimes while answering to a paternal otherworldly voice was a huge step backward just when the old Virginia Slims cigarette (for women!) ads proclaimed we’d “come a long way, baby.” I insisted on going out instead of staying in, tuning in. Interestingly, the streets were oddly quiet. It seemed a whole lot of people were home, watching Charlie’s Angels.
The show was a sensation. Even my mother, whom I’d hoped would understand my reluctance, admitted she found it “fun. And, of course, your father likes it.”
Of course he did. These Angels, as played (and I do mean played) by the beautiful Jaclyn Smith, a perky Kate Jackson and the knockout Farrah, were gorgeous, not too dumb and they jiggled in all the right places. The show hit a chord, but it was Farrah who became the icon.
Some say it was that poster. Ask any man who was alive in the late 1970’s and, odds are, they had that poster, Farrah, with her signature layered curls, spectacularly thin thighs and that red swim suit, hanging in their room. They may even still have it somewhere. I can only imagine that would be a pretty tough memory to throw in the garbage.
But Farrah, unlike her obedient Angel, wasn’t the most compliant of superstars. She wasn’t happy with the scripts, her salary, the work hours, which kept her away from her reportedly demanding husband, actor Lee Majors, who, the papers buzzed, insisted she get his dinner on the table by 6:30. After one season, her appearances on the series became sporadic. And it seemed Farrah had sacrificed her career for having been “difficult”.
Still, through divorce, bad movie roles and even the minor tweaks to her famous haircut, Farrah remained a fascination. Nurturing her creative spirit through interior design, painting and sculpture, Fawcett refused to stay stereotyped in the pretty but lame roles she was routinely offered. With an acclaimed leading performance in a much discussed TV movie about domestic abuse, The Burning Bed, Farrah re-established her stardom, albeit in a much more complex and downright interesting turn. While she alternated between ambitious and more lightweight projects, it was undeniable this was not just a strikingly beautiful woman, but also a person who ached to be and do more.
Her efforts weren’t always successful. The last time I had the opportunity to interview Fawcett, instead of chatting up the standard stuff about her latest movie project, she chose to talk about the press; how she didn’t understand why they were so hard on her infamously loopy appearance on David Letterman, how someone had put into print that she had used someone’s yard as a bathroom. She seemed truly indignant and hurt: a celebrity caught in the headlights.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that in these past few weeks, as Farrah, the beauty, shows the ravages of her very sad battle with cancer. Her recent outburst on many of the entertainment news programs, shaking with fury at the paparazzi, snapping happily at her arrival from treatment overseas: it seemed so futile, and maybe personally unwise. Was it healthy for a person who needed all her strength to get so whipped up over the photographers whom had, she felt, intruded on her every move for so long anyway?
But once again, Fawcett decided not to just play along. In what will probably be her final appearance, she has created the most personal of her work, a film document of her war against a disease that has touched so many of her fans, too. The program that she produced, along with her final plea for a more respectful tabloid press, may wind up being this complex woman’s most profound legacy after all.