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PODCAST EPISODE 33 – Farrah’s Angels

Farrah Leni Fawcett (originally spelled Ferrah, born February 2, 1947, was an American actress, model, and artist. A four-time Emmy Award nominee and six-time Golden Globe Award nominee, Fawcett rose to international fame when she posed for her iconic red swimsuit poster – which became the best selling pin-up poster in history – and starred as private investigator Jill Munroe in the first season of the television series Charlie’s Angels (1976–1977). In 1996, she was ranked No. 26 on TV Guide’s “50 Greatest TV stars of All-Time”.

In 1969, Fawcett began her career when she appeared in commercials and guest roles on television. During the 1970s, she appeared in numerous television series, including recurring roles on Harry O (1974–1976), and The Six Million Dollar Man (1974–1978) with her first husband, film and television star Lee Majors. Her breakthrough role came in 1976 when she was cast as Jill Munroe in the ABC series Charlie’s Angels, alongside Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith. The show propelled all three to stardom, but especially Fawcett (then billed as “Farrah Fawcett-Majors”). After appearing in only the first season, Fawcett decided to leave the show, which led to legal disputes. She eventually signed a contract that required her to make six guest appearances in the show’s third and fourth seasons (1978–1980). For her role in Charlie’s Angels, she received her first Golden Globe nomination.

In 1983, Fawcett received positive reviews for her performance in the Off-Broadway play Extremities. She was subsequently cast in the 1986 film version and received a Golden Globe nomination. She received two Emmy Award nominations for her roles in TV movies, as a battered wife in the 1984 film The Burning Bed and real-life murderer Diane Downs in the 1989 film Small Sacrifices. Her 1980s work in TV movies also earned her four additional Golden Globe nominations.

Farrah Fawcett in 2000
Photo: John Barrett/PHOTOlink.net

In 1997, she gained some negative press for a rambling appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman but also garnered strong reviews for her role in the film The Apostle with Robert Duvall. She continued in numerous TV series, including recurring roles in the sitcom Spin City (2001) and the drama The Guardian (2002–2003). For the latter, she received her third Emmy nomination. Her film roles include, Love Is a Funny Thing (1969), Myra Breckinridge (1970), Logan’s Run (1976), Sunburn (1979), Saturn 3 (1980), The Cannonball Run (1981), Extremities (1986), The Apostle (1997), and Dr. T & the Women (2000).

Fawcett was diagnosed with anal cancer in 2006 and died three years later at age 62. The 2009 NBC documentary Farrah’s Story chronicled her battle with the disease. She posthumously earned her fourth Emmy nomination for her work as a producer on the documentary.

Early life

Fawcett was born in 1947 in Corpus Christi, Texas; she was the younger of two daughters. Her mother, Pauline Alice Fawcett, was a homemaker, and her father, James William Fawcett, was an oil field contractor. Her elder sister, Diane Fawcett Walls, was a graphic artist. She was of Irish, French, English and Choctaw Native American ancestry. Fawcett once said the name “Farrah” was “made up” by her mother because it went well with their last name. Another theory is that her father, an oilman, reportedly named her “Farah” after the Arabic word for “joy”, and she reportedly asked to change the spelling to “Farrah”.

A Roman Catholic, Fawcett began her early education at the parish school of the church her family attended, St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Corpus Christi. She graduated from W. B. Ray High School in Corpus Christi, where she was voted “most beautiful” by her classmates in her freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior years of high school. For three years (1965–68), she attended the University of Texas, where she studied microbiology before switching to an art major. She lived at Madison House on 22nd Street, west of campus, and was a member of Delta Delta Delta sorority. During her freshman year, she was named one of the “ten most beautiful coeds on campus”; it was the first time that a freshman had been chosen for the honor. Her photos were sent to various agencies in Hollywood. David Mirisch, a Hollywood agent, called her and urged her to come to Los Angeles. She turned him down, but he called her for the next two years. Finally, in 1968 (the summer following her junior year), Fawcett moved to Hollywood with her parents’ permission to “try her luck” in the entertainment industry.

Career

When Fawcett arrived in Hollywood at age 21 in 1968, Screen Gems signed her to a $350-a-week contract. She began to appear in commercials for such products as Noxzema, Max Factor, Mercury Cougar automobiles, and Beautyrest mattresses, among others. Her earliest acting appearances were guest spots on The Flying Nun (1969) and I Dream of Jeannie (1969–70). She made numerous other TV appearances, including Getting Together, Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law, Mayberry R.F.D., and The Partridge Family.[5] She appeared in four episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man with husband Lee Majors, on The Dating Game and S.W.A.T, and had a recurring role on Harry O alongside David Janssen as the title character’s girlfriend, Sue. She had a sizable part in the 1969 French romantic-drama Love Is a Funny Thing. She also played the role of Mary Ann Pringle in Myra Breckinridge (1970).

Rise to stardom

Fawcett (left) with Cher on The Sonny & Cher Show in 1976/Public Domain

In 1976, Pro Arts Inc. pitched the idea of a poster of Fawcett to her agent. A photo shoot was then arranged with photographer Bruce McBroom, who was hired by the poster company. According to friend Nels Van Patten, Fawcett styled her own hair and did her makeup without the aid of a mirror. Her blonde highlights were further heightened by a squeeze of lemon juice. Fawcett selected her six favorite pictures from 40 rolls of film, and the choice was eventually narrowed to the one that made her famous. The resulting image of Fawcett in a one-piece red bathing suit is the best-selling poster in history.

Fawcett’s iconic 1976 poster sold a record-breaking 20 million copies.

Due to the popularity of her poster, Fawcett earned a supporting role in Michael Anderson’s science-fiction film Logan’s Run (1976) with Michael York. She and her husband, television star Lee Majors, were frequent tennis partners with producer Aaron Spelling. Spelling and his business partner eventually chose Fawcett to play Jill Munroe in their upcoming made-for-TV movie, Charlie’s Angels, a movie of the week which aired on March 21, 1976, on ABC. The movie starred Fawcett (then billed as Farrah Fawcett-Majors), Kate Jackson, and Jaclyn Smith as private investigators for Townsend Associates, a detective agency run by a reclusive multi-millionaire whom the women had never met. Voiced by John Forsythe, the Charles Townsend character presented cases and dispensed advice via a speakerphone to his core team of three female employees, whom he referred to as “Angels”. They were aided in the office and occasionally in the field by two male associates, played by character actors David Doyle and David Ogden Stiers. The program quickly earned a huge following, leading the network to air it a second time and approve production for a series, with the pilot’s principal cast minus Ogden Stiers.

The Charlie’s Angels series formally debuted on September 22, 1976. Each of the three actresses was propelled to stardom, but Fawcett dominated popularity polls and was soon proclaimed a phenomenon. She subsequently won a People’s Choice Award for Favorite Performer in a New  TV Program. In a 1977 interview with TV Guide, she said, “When the show was number three, I thought it was our acting. When we got to be number one, I decided it could only be because none of us wears a bra.”

Fawcett’s appearance in the television show boosted sales of her poster, and she earned far more in royalties from poster sales than from her salary for appearing in Charlie’s Angels. Her hairstyle went on to become an international trend, with women sporting a “Farrah-do”, a “Farrah-flip”, or simply “Farrah hair”. Iterations of her hairstyle predominated among American women’s hairstyles well into the 1980s.

Farrah with Cary Grant 1978 Photo By Adam Scull/PHOTOlink.net

In the spring of 1977, Fawcett left Charlie’s Angels after only one season. After a series of legal battles over her contract with ABC, Cheryl Ladd eventually succeeded her on the show, portraying Jill Munroe’s younger sister Kris Munroe. Over the years, numerous explanations were offered for Fawcett’s precipitous withdrawal from the show. Because her husband, Lee Majors, was the star of an established television show himself (ABC’s Six Million Dollar Man which aired from 1974 to 1978), the strain on her marriage due to filming schedules that kept them apart for long periods was frequently cited, but her ambition to broaden her acting abilities in films has also been given as an explanation. She never officially signed her series contract with Spelling owing to protracted negotiations over royalties from her image’s use in peripheral products, which led to an even more protracted lawsuit filed by Spelling and his company when she quit the show. As a result of leaving her contract four years early, she reluctantly signed a new contract with ABC stating that she would make six guest appearances on the series over a two-year period (1978–1980).

Charlie’s Angels was a major success throughout the world, maintaining its appeal in syndication and spawning (particularly in the show’s first three seasons) a cottage industry of peripheral products, including several series of bubble gum cards, two sets of fashion dolls, numerous posters, puzzles, and school supplies, novelizations of episodes, toy vans, and a board game, all featuring Fawcett’s likeness. The “Angels” also appeared on the covers of magazines around the world, from countless fan magazines to TV Guide (four times) to Time Magazine.

Dramatic roles

In 1980, Fawcett starred with Kirk Douglas in Stanley Donen’s science-fiction film Saturn 3; the film earned unfavorable reviews from critics and experienced poor box office sales. The following year she starred alongside an ensemble cast, which included Burt Reynolds, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr., in the comedy The Cannonball Run (1981). Later that year, she co-starred with Katharine Ross, Sam Elliott, and Andy Griffith in the television movie Murder in Texas.

In 1983, Fawcett won critical acclaim for her role in the Off-Broadway stage production of the controversial play Extremities, written by William Mastrosimone. Replacing Susan Sarandon, she played the role of an attempted rape victim who turns the tables on her attacker. She described the role as “the most grueling, the most intense, the most physically demanding and emotionally exhausting” of her career. 

The following year, her role as battered wife Francine Hughes in the fact-based television movie The Burning Bed (1984) earned her the first of her four Emmy Award nominations. The project is noted as being the first television movie to provide a nationwide 800 number that offered help for others in the situation, in this case, victims of domestic abuse. It was the highest-rated television movie of the season.

In 1986, Fawcett appeared in the movie version of Extremities, which was also well received by critics and performed well financially. For her performance, she received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama. (At the time there was even talk and buzz about the possibility of her receiving an Oscar nomination for her role in the film.) She appeared in Jon Avnet’s Between Two Women with Colleen Dewhurst and took several more dramatic roles as infamous or renowned women. She was nominated for Golden Globe awards for roles as Beate Klarsfeld in Nazi Hunter: The Beate Klarsfeld Story and troubled Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton in Poor Little Rich Girl: The Barbara Hutton Story, and won a CableACE Award for her 1989 portrayal of groundbreaking LIFE magazine photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White in Double Exposure: The Story of Margaret Bourke-White.

Art meets life

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Fawcett had steadfastly resisted signing a release for nude photographs of her to be published in magazines, even though she had briefly appeared topless in the 1980 film Saturn 3. She caused a major stir by posing semi-nude in the December 1995 issue of Playboy. At the age of 50, she appeared in a pictorial for the July 1997 issue of Playboy, which also became a top seller. The issue and its accompanying video featured Fawcett actually using her own body to paint on canvas; for years, this had been one of her ambitions.

That same year, Robert Duvall chose Fawcett to play the role of his wife in The Apostle, which was an independent feature film that he was producing. She received an Independent Spirit Award nomination as Best Actress for the film, which was highly critically acclaimed. In 2000, she worked with director Robert Altman and an all-star cast in the feature film Dr. T & the Women, as the wife of Richard Gere. (Her character has a mental breakdown, leading to Fawcett’s first fully nude appearance.)

Personal life

Fawcett began dating Lee Majors in the late 1960s. She was married to Majors from 1973 to 1982, although the couple separated in 1979. They had no children. During her marriage, she retained the name Farrah Fawcett-Majors in her screen credits.

From 1979 until 1997, Fawcett was romantically involved with actor Ryan O’Neal.[45] The relationship produced a son, Redmond James Fawcett-O’Neal, born in 1985. In April 2009, Redmond was on probation for driving under the influence when he was arrested for possession of narcotics; Fawcett was in the hospital at the time. On June 22, 2009, The Los Angeles Times and Reuters reported that Ryan O’Neal had said that Fawcett had agreed to marry him as soon as she felt strong enough.

Cancer

Fawcett was diagnosed with anal cancer in 2006 and began treatment that included chemotherapy and surgery. Four months later, on February 2, 2007, her 60th birthday, the Associated Press reported that Fawcett was at that point cancer-free. However, in May 2007, Fawcett experienced a recurrence and was diagnosed with stage IV cancer that had metastasized to her liver (which has a 5-year survival rate of <20%); a malignant polyp was found where she had been treated for her initial cancer. Doctors contemplated whether to implant a radiation seeder (which differs from conventional radiation and is used to treat other types of cancer).

Fawcett’s U.S. doctors told her that she would require a colostomy.

Not wanting to proceed with a colostomy for treatment of her stage IV cancer, she traveled to Germany for treatments described variously in the press as “holistic”, “aggressive”, and “alternative”. There, Dr. Ursula Jacob prescribed a treatment including surgery to remove the anal tumor, a course of perfusion and embolization for her liver cancer by doctors in Germany, and chemotherapy back in Los Angeles. Although initially, the tumors were regressing, their reappearance a few months later necessitated a new course, this time including laser ablation therapy and chemoembolization. Aided by friend Alana Stewart, Fawcett documented her battle with the disease.

Fawcett was released from the hospital on April 9. She was accompanied by longtime companion O’Neal, and according to her doctor, was “walking and in great spirits and looking forward to celebrating Easter at home.”

Farrah Fawcett Ryan O’Neil
Photo by Adam Scull/PHOTOlink.net

A month later, on May 7, Fawcett was reported as being critically ill, with Ryan O’Neal quoted as saying she now spends her days at home, on an IV and often asleep. The Los Angeles Times reported that she was in the last stages of terminal cancer and had the chance to see her son Redmond in April 2009, although he was shackled and under supervision, because he was then incarcerated. Her 91-year-old father, James, flew out to Los Angeles to visit.

Cancer specialist Dr. Lawrence Piro was treating Fawcett in L.A. He and Fawcett’s friend—Angels co-star Kate Jackson, a breast cancer survivor—appeared together on The Today Show. They dispelled tabloid-fueled rumors, including suggestions that Fawcett had ever been in a coma, had ever reached 86 pounds, and had ever given up her fight against the disease or lost the will to live. Jackson decried such fabrications, saying they “really do hurt a human being and a person like Farrah.” Piro recalled when it became necessary for Fawcett to undergo treatments that would cause her to lose her hair, acknowledging “Farrah probably has the most famous hair in the world”, but also that it is not a trivial matter for any cancer patient, whose hair “affects [one’s] whole sense of who [they] are”.

The two-hour documentary Farrah’s Story, which was filmed by Fawcett and friend Alana Stewart, aired on NBC on May 15, 2009.

At its premiere airing, the documentary was watched by nearly nine million people, and it was re-aired on the broadcast network’s cable stations MSNBC, Bravo, and Oxygen. On July 16, 2009, Fawcett posthumously earned her fourth Emmy nomination as the producer of Farrah’s Story.

Death

Fawcett died at 9:28 a.m. PST on June 25, 2009, at the age of 62, due to anal cancer, at Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, with O’Neal and Stewart by her side.

Funeral

A private funeral was held in Los Angeles on June 30, 2009. Farrah’s son Redmond was permitted to leave his California detention center in order to attend the service, where he gave the first reading. Fawcett was interred at the Westwood Village Memorial Park in Los Angeles.

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