Farrah Fawcett, 1947–2009
Farrah was on my radar several years before she batted her eyelashes and smiled that pearly-white grin as Jill Munroe on Charlie’s Angels. To me, she epitomized girlish glamour as she stroked Joe Namath’s chin and cheeks on a TV commercial while cooing “Let Noxema cream your face so the razor won’t.” If TiVo were around, I would have watched these thirty seconds nonstop (or until at least my brother Michael would have changed the channel, threatening a little fisticuffs), but alas, this nonjock would have to slog through Wide World of Sports, and other early-Seventies jock programming, eating Mister Salty pretzel sticks with Michael and my dad just to catch a glimpse of that golden mane and hear that little voice that barely found the right notes. Later, I would discover that her seemingly naïve sexiness wasn’t who she was at all, but just an act, performed by an actor, which she was, after all. Or rather, an artist. When my dad asked me if I knew the name of the woman who stroked Joe’s face, I looked at him aghast. I thought, You mean this vision of glamour and beauty has a name? I shook my head, and when he said “Farrah Fawcett,” I laughed. “Nuh-uh! No one has a name like that!” Of course, images of sinks and spigots rushed into my mind, and I thought that “Faucet” was just a completely ridiculous last name. It just had to be made up. But “Farrah”? If Faucet was a strange last name to behold, Farrah was even more ridiculous. After all, I was seven years old, and the most exotic name for a girl I knew was of a girl in my first-grade class, Danielle. Little did I know that the name Farrah Fawcett would haunt me for the rest of her life. I secretly fell in love with her.
And then the poster. Michael received a puzzle version of the iconographic red swimsuit poster for his birthday from some neighborhood kid who’s mother should probably have known better than to get a young boy a puzzle of a sexy lady in a revealing bathing suit. But I was so glad she did. I quickly took over the puzzle box, set up a folding table in the driveway, and started putting the pieces together. My brother even helped. We were desperate to find the nipple pieces, and when we did, and secured them into place, we were rewarded with a sense of accomplishment at being able to gaze upon her beauty.
Needless to say, I watched Charlie’s Angels religiously, usually with my grandmother who lived with us. It was 1976, I was nine years old, and my parents, who were in their early thirties, were always out for some reason on Wednesday night. So my babci and I would curl up on the couch with some popcorn and juice, and as I watched the Angels use their brains and beauty to foil the lawbreaking evildoers, I would all the time wish that I was Jill Munroe’s little brother, visiting his big sister for the weekend or some undisclosed amount of time. Usually I would be kidnapped by some nefarious yet good-looking criminal mastermind, and Jill (and the other two) would come to my rescue after Jill beat up a thug or two. Ah, a boy can dream.
And I kept dreaming about Farrah, and especially the acquisition of “Farrahnalia.” For example, when TV Guide ran an ad for a necklace in the shape of a faucet (I think one was even encrusted in diamonds or perhaps some other glittering gem), with Farrah wearing one, I wanted to send in my birthday money just to feel it and see it sparkle. Alas, I did not have the courage to do so. I don’t think anyone did, for that matter, because even though I would buy one today, I can’t find one on the Web. You’d think someone would have one on eBay, but searches for faucet jewelry have all come up dry.
Farrah only appeared for a year on Charlie’s Angels, but I continued to watch in the hopes that she would make occasional guest appearances visiting her replacement, her younger sister Kris, as played by the very different Cheryl Ladd. But I had Logan’s Run to keep my Farrah fix alive. This futuristic drama that looked like it was shot in an LA galleria was my favorite movie from 1976. Everyone is young, gorgeous, and hot. Farrah, playing another smiling Barbie, turns out to be part of the resistance against the unseen fascists who run the Domed City. Spoiler Alert: Much to my horror, she died early in the film, but she left an indelible impression.
I followed her career closely during the next few years as she struggled to find her niche in the entertainment world. Movies like Sunburn, Saturn 3, and Cannonball Run were, well, easily dismissible, but she did manage to do some nice work in Somebody Killed Her Husband opposite an intensely hirsute Jeff Bridges, showing that there was more behind the big smile and big hair. But you could sense the yearning to plant her teeth into a meatier role, something that would work her over and help shake off the deep impression that she was just a bimbo. So, what do actors do who need to revitalize a sagging career? They change their look and do off-Broadway. When she appeared off-Broadway as Marjorie, the intended rape victim, in Extremities in a short hairdo, the critics went nuts. Holy Shit, this Angel can really act. I didn’t get to see Extremities (I was still in high school at the time), but I managed to score a promotional half-sheet poster from her appearance, which I treasure today.
Farrah seemed to be on her way up again, garnering major kudos and nominations for her TV movie roles. She showed the effects of spousal abuse in TV’s The Burning Bed [see photo, right]. I still cringe every time I see Paul LeMat raise his hand to her face, she feinting as if the hand already slapped her across her cheek. And I encourage you to see her portray the title roles in Nazi Hunter: The Beate Klarsfeld Story and Poor Little Rich Girl: The Barbara Hutton Story just to understand her range. One of her greatest performances, however, was in a TV miniseries called Small Sacrifice in which she played opposite Ryan O’Neal as a mother accused of killing her children. Her take is creepy and penetrating, the smiling blonde-girl-next-door type mixes and melds with this trashy, tough-talking and slightly sleazy broad to create a real dilemma for the audience: Did this woman who professed her love for her kids really murder them? You’ll have to hunt down the video (which, of course, I have).
During the Nineties, I sort of let Farrah slip a little to the margins of my mind. I was too busy trying to forge a theatre career as a director, ultimately in the Big Apple. Even though I was busy, Farrah was always at the periphery. Her name would buzz inside my head, and lo and behold either I’d hear about some struggle with this lover who was treating her poorly, or her new TV movie would pop on the boob tube. Sometimes, I didn’t watch. I wasn’t much into TV in the last decade. But in the bat of an eyelash, I would defend her vehemently, professing her great skills as an actress and her work as a sculptor. (You can see her work in the film version of Extremities.) She had an artist’s soul and temperament. She was who she was. When she rambled incoherently on Letterman, she undeservedly became the media sensation for yet another fifteen-minute fame blip. As the new millennium rolled in, I found myself reading more about her posing for Playboy, rolling around naked in paint and pressing herself against a blank canvas, giving body art a new meaning.
When I learned that Farrah was diagnosed with anal cancer, I thought, Christ, here come the bad jokes. But to come forward and share her struggle with the world only strengthened the connection she had to people. Why hush up what you can open up? Knowledge is power. So she sought treatments, with long-time partner Ryan O’Neal by her side, hoping and praying that God would intervene and spare his angel. When it seemed as though she were in the clear, the nasty invader came back and decided to stay. It claimed her life on June 25, 2009. I cannot bring myself to watch Farrah’s Story, her final personal account of these last stages of cancer, yet. I have it on TiVo, so there is no rush.
The day of Farrah’s passing, I woke up as usual, the movie poster of Extremities beside my side of the bed. (I know, it’s strange to have this huge poster by your bedside, but that poster meant a lot to me over the years. I directed the play in college, and to me, it symbolizes the struggles we have to endure to overcome whatever it is that oppresses us, fighting preconceived notions of who people think we are, and letting them know that deep inside, there is much more to us.) It was a lovely morning, sun shining through the drapes, casting the den in a rosy inviting glow. Steve had heard that she had been given her last rights while on his way out, but since I was on the phone, he decided to let me find out about Farrah on my own. I didn’t cry, but felt an ineffable loss, sort of like when you hear about the passing of an old friend you haven’t seen in a very long time. I never did get to meet Farrah, live, in the flesh, but in my dreams and memories she still shines, effervescent, complex, and gorgeous. Rest in peace, lady, and if the afterlife is an acting class, may you be not at the top of the class, but the teacher.
Talking and mourning go hand in hand. The great thing about being in a relationship is being able to share Farrah stories. Steve grew up in Kansas; for all intents and purposes his life mimicked mine, except that he lived on a farm, and I in suburbia. Being allowed to stay up late on Wednesday night to watch Charlie’s Angels (8:00PM Central Time) while donning his yellow “faucet” T-shirt was the best night of the week, hands down. Jill Munroe was Steve’s favorite Angel as well. No wonder we stick.
Ah, so how to commemorate this gorgeous, sexy, provocative, sincere, artistic mother. A video retrospective on YouTube? No, someone else could do that much better. How about a drink, Farrah. If Steve and I could make you a cocktail, this is what it would be, based on three things:
1. Your effervescence—your smile, your hair, your beauty;
2. Your love of art—your sculpture, your closeness to clay and the earth; and
3. You once made a coconut cream pie with Queen Latifah on Good Morning America.
So, here it is.
1 1/2 ounces white rum (such as Mount Gay)
3/4 ounce crème de banana (such as Bols)
1/2 ounce advocaat (egg liqueur)
1 tablespoon sweetened coconut flakes
In a shaker, muddle the coconut flakes in crème de banana. (You can also grind the coconut flakes in a spice grinder.) Add the rum, advocaat, and halfway fill with ice. Shake vigorously for 15 seconds. Strain (or double-strain if you don’t want coconut bits in your drink) into a coupe. Add the blueberries. Top with champagne. If you’d like, you can rim with ground coconut flakes, but this may be a little too much. Even for Farrah.