Recently, when we talked, she had just finished a conversation with Joe Jamail, the Houston superstar attorney, who was in Colorado. Her next call was to Washington, concerning copyrights; on her list of calls to make was to an FBI agent in New York and to another Houston attorney, Kent Shaffer. She’s like a corporation, and it takes a lot of work to keep it going. She was anxious to fit in a workout sometime during the day that keeps her body in the “16-year-old” range. She’s been the blonde for the past 30 years, the blonde with the perennial good hair day, the blonde that all would-be blondes emulate and the blonde that everybody in the world recognizes. She’s Farrah Fawcett.
And, why do I liken her to a corporation? We think of her as lolling around in the beautiful club room after a tennis match or shopping on Rodeo Drive, lunching in the Polo Lounge, reading scripts, sipping green tea or champagne, or over at Jose’s having the hair done. Forget it! We’ve all heard the “blonde joke” stories, but this particular blonde has an astronomical IQ and the business savvy of the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
Her phones never stop. I told her I thought that was good news. But, when you consider that she has to sit through dozens of calls to find the ones of any substance, it gets to be a full-time job. She’s without an assistant right now and pretty overwhelmed.
She has been through an amazingly challenging time the last few years, starting with an earthquake that devastated the house she lived in for 26 years. Wilt Chamberlain’s home, next door, was not damaged, but she had to move out. Even though it’s been a while now, she still has to dig through boxes. She’s also trying to buy a house, but admits she doesn’t quite know how to do it.
I visited the home Farrah refers to with my sons and a contingent of Houston friends for a “Texans in Hollywood” party some years back. What a magnificent home it was – on the top of Mulholland Drive, with racquetball and tennis courts, a gym and swimming pool. I especially loved all her framed magazine covers that lined a breakfast nook and stretched the length of an adjoining hall. All of those photos are still in boxes.
When Farrah’s sister, Diane, developed lung cancer, doctors gave her three months to live. Diane lived for three years, and Farrah felt blessed to be able to sit with her at M.D. Anderson on many visits. Normally, Farrah always has a book, charcoal or pastel pencils with her; but on one particular day, sitting in the waiting room while Diane received her treatment, she had nothing. It was here that she drew her favorite piece of art, what she refers to as a “magical accident” – an orchid, on the back of a Starbucks napkin – and gave it to her sister. When Diane died, it was given back to Farrah, and she treasures it to this day.
As difficult and devastating as it was for Farrah to lose her sister, nothing prepared her for the loss of her mother, Pauline Fawcett, in March. She was Farrah’s best friend, her confidant, her mentor. Farrah describes her mom as delicate, sweet, a real lady and very strong – she always spoke her opinion and often shocked Farrah’s friends. Farrah credits her mother with teaching her to look for and find the good in people. She adds that her mom was somewhat naïve.
It was David Mirisch, a publicist in Los Angeles, who persisted in calling Farrah at the University of Texas for three years before she, purely as an adventure, agreed to go out – “probably for the summer.” Farrah was in her junior year and had majored in microbiology, until she switched to become an art major. Put under contract just weeks after arriving, Farrah was a working actress almost immediately.
Farrah was always very happy and proud to take her parents with her on many amazing trips, such as to England to meet Prince Charles and to meet dignitaries from around the world. Farrah delights in the fact that her parents were always themselves, down-to-earth and real. She recalled that when they met Prince Charles, her dad called him “Chuck.”
While Farrah was born in Corpus Christi, the family moved to Houston when she was a junior at UT. Reflecting that she grew up in a very structured and disciplined environment, she is grateful to her parents for providing her the fundamental values that have served her so well throughout her lifetime. Farrah says her parents taught her to be strong, honest and courageous.
She says that her son, Redmond, would have been more comfortable if they lived in a small apartment. Describing him as a wonderful and talented young man, a great musician and song writer, he reminds her of herself and her dad. “My No.1 goal in life is to love, support and be there for my son. I’m very proud of him. He understands all this attention, when it is work related, but is uncomfortable and very protective when we are just doing life things, like normal people. But, of course, he’s finally realized, it’s not and may never be ‘normal.'” Farrah is well aware that it has not been easy for Redmond to have his mother out there in the public eye.
It was in the late 1960s when that “eye” trained on Farrah, as she began to appear in guest-starring roles in shows such as “I Dream of Jeannie,” “The Flying Nun” and “The Partridge Family.” Her first movie role was in 1969’s “Myra Breckenridge.” She married in 1974. Soon, she posed in a red bathing suit for a poster that sold an astonishing 12 million-plus copies.
In 1976, producers Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg tapped Farrah to star in “Charlie’s Angels,” which quickly became a mega hit show; but Farrah became a phenomenon – a household name in the world. She earned accolades as one of the nation’s favorite female performers – and a People’s Choice Award – for the “Charlie’s Angels” debut. There were “all things Farrah” in marketing items: T-shirts, cups, puzzles, dolls, etcetera. After the first season wrapped, Farrah shocked everyone by leaving the series because of a disagreement with producers over merchandising revenues. They offered Farrah 2.5 percent on merchandising materials when she was already receiving 10 percent from her poster. She stood firm, wanting the 10 percent she perceived to be fair. Producers filed a lawsuit, and after much negotiation, she agreed to return to the series in guest spots for the next two years. During that time, she appeared in three feature films: “Somebody Killed Her Husband,” “Sunburn? and “Saturn 3.”
Divorced in 1980, she began to date actor Ryan O’Neal. It was in 1985 that their son Redmond was born. When they separated in 1997, the couple shared custody of their son, as well as a loving and supportive friendship that has endured to this day.
After consciously turning down “beauty” roles for a year, she finally accepted and won critical acclaim for “Murder in Texas,” based on Tommy Thompson’s book, “Blood and Money.”
One of her boldest moves, and one that required her tough, can-do Texas spirit operating at peak performance, came when Farrah decided to take on the challenging and controversial role of a vengeful rape victim in the Broadway production of “Extremities.” Before making the decision, she called home to talk to her parents. Her agent, Sue Mengers, told her that if she failed in New York, “It’s over.”
Her dad reiterated something he had taught her years before, saying, “It’s not how far you fall, but how quickly you bounce.” Believing that she must never be led by fear and that she must always look for a challenge to change, Farrah jumped headlong into “Extremities.” It became the defining moment in her career, with Broadway critics raving about her performance.
Farrah followed this triumph with a starring role in the miniseries, “Small Sacrifices,” playing Diane Downs, for which she received both Emmy and Golden Globe Award nominations.
Farrah had worked for almost three years to get “The Burning Bed” produced, but it was only after her success in “Extremities” that her persistence paid off. When the made-for-television movie aired starring Farrah as Francine Hughes, a battered wife who murders her husband out of self-defense, it garnered rave reviews and an unprecedented 42 share – a record held for over a decade. “The Burning Bed” was the first television movie to offer victims of domestic abuse help through a nationwide 1 (800) number.
Farrah’s next project was the film version of “Extremities.” Thereafter, Farrah’s acting ability was never questioned. Her pure acting talent had left the skeptics and cynics buried in the dust of the vast critical graveyard.
She starred as Barbara Hutton in the miniseries “Poor Little Rich Girl” and was honored with a Golden Globe nomination. She won the Cable Ace Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Margaret Bourke-White in the telefilm “The Margaret Bourke-White Story,” based on the life of the legendary LIFE photographer.
In 1978, Playboy magazine ran an issue with Farrah on the cover and inside totally clothed – no nudity. In 1997, she succumbed to the many requests for her to pose in a nude Playboy pictorial, which sold more than four million copies, making it the biggest issue for the ’90s.
Her starring role with Robert Duvall in “The Apostle” earned her a nomination as best actress at the Independent Spirit Awards. It also earned her the deep respect of Robert Duvall, one of the world’s finest actors. He has said of Farrah: “Watching Farrah Fawcett act is like eating caviar.” During the time she worked on the feature film, “Dr. T and The Women,” famed director Robert Altman had this to say to her: “I hired you. Now, do what you do!” Altman paid Farrah the ultimate compliment by allowing her the freedom to try anything.
When David Kelly asked her to do a role on “Ally McBeal,” she immediately agreed because she knew his fine reputation as a writer and the quality of his shows. She felt the same when David Hollander asked her to guest star in the acclaimed CBS drama “The Guardian;” and she was anxious to work with fellow Texan, Dabney Coleman. Farrah received a 2003 Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actress in a Guest Role.
Artist Keith Edmier grew up in the ’70s, just as Farrah was becoming the symbol of the ideal American woman. Knowing of Farrah’s talent as an artist, his dream was to produce an exhibit featuring Farrah. She agreed on the condition that it would be a collaborative project with a portrait of Keith, as well. Ultimately, they produced what would be the centerpiece of an exhibit: nude sculptures the artists made of each other. Both life-size, a reclining Farrah is done in white marble, a standing Keith Edmier in bronze. The first exhibit was presented at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and because of the great success of the showing, moved to the Warhol Museum. Entitled “Keith Edmier and Farrah Fawcett 2000,” the exhibit includes six sculptures, many photographs, drawings and a book by Rizzoli. Farrah has the distinction of being the only actor to have an exhibition at LACMA, and the exhibit holds the record for most attendance.
Farrah mentioned that in recent months there was a very unflattering story written about her in The National Enquirer. Her agent, who is also her friend, called and advised her not to read it to avoid being upset and stressed. Farrah called her dad and told him that she had just gone through the hardest time of her life, losing her mom; and, that if something like a magazine article could get her down, shame on her.
Farrah always falls back on that good common sense philosophy she learned at home. She realizes that in life, the pendulum swings and remembers her dad saying, “They sanctify you to vilify you.” Actually, Farrah has learned that she can’t control any of it and that she must never get hung up on it. You can hear the sadness in her voice when she speaks of people in her profession who don’t have family and balance in their lives, who so easily find themselves turning to drugs and sinking into deep depression.
In 2003, Farrah was inducted into the Texas Film Hall of Fame for her legendary status on screen and off.
Her latest project, the seven-week reality series from TV Land, “Chasing Farrah,” aired in March and April. She agreed to do the project after asking for and getting assurances that the shows would be real – no editing, no cutting, slicing, clipping, no manipulating.
Two reasons prompted her decision to star in a reality series. As strange as it may seem, she doesn’t have a lot of photos and video of her family and thought this would produce a great treasury of film to leave for her son and his children. She wanted to give a sense of who she is, who her parents are, where they came from, their integrity and strength, their unconditional love for her and their “say what you mean, mean what you say” honesty.
Secondly, she thought it might dispel some myths about her. Often she’s had people in her employ represent her to be difficult or a prima donna, when in fact she’s quite easy going and balanced, with a good sense of humor she attributes to her parents. “Chasing Farrah” was her opportunity to show herself exactly like she is, undiluted and never “unprofessional or bitchy,” like some might like to infer. Obviously, representatives are supposed to encourage and support their clients. In her case, it doesn’t always happen.
And what did I learn from the series? Farrah Fawcett is an icon. There is no place in the world where she can go that she is not followed and big crowds appear. Whether the paparazzi or adoring or curious fans, they clamor for anything “Farrah.” Many have tattoos of her on their person; many have whole rooms or stores of her memorabilia.
“Chasing Farrah” gave the TV Land network a 60 percent increase in ratings and put them on the map. The male demographic, 18-48, went up 100 percent; and women increased 30-40 percent. Reviews were outstanding, with the New York Daily News giving it 3 1/2 stars and the comment “It’s really good.” The Newark Star Ledger wrote “An unexpected sweet, involving series.” US Magazine: “Showing a sweet and vulnerable side of Farrah.” And, STAR: “Somehow you can’t look away.” With “Chasing Farrah” concluded, I asked about her next project. After each project is completed, she likes to pull back, take a look at her choices and see what she wants to do next. That’s where she is now. TV Land will re-run “Chasing Farrah” Nov. 28 through Dec. 5.
Jay Bernstein, often called “Starmaker,” is the manager/producer/public relations executive who has worked with some of the biggest names in Hollywood, starting with the Rat Pack. It was he who was Farrah’s manager at the start of her career, and they have remained good friends throughout the years. Now, back in her professional life, I asked if he has a title. “Not really. I’m working with Farrah in every area. No need for a title.”
He continues, “Farrah is a living legend. When she came upon the scene, she changed the culture of the country. She gave people someone to believe in, someone to root for. She became the symbol of the all-American woman – Women wanted to be her; they wanted their daughters to emulate her; and men wanted to marry her. She became a role model without really realizing it. For 30 years, Farrah Fawcett has been perfect. Being thought of as a “living legend” is not an easy position to be in. But, she has a strength that is rare. And, of course, it comes from her mother and father, who had been married 67 years when Pauline passed away. Farrah is my best friend, and I have more admiration for her than for anyone in the world.”
Actively involved in charity work with the Cancer Society, Farrah also has served as a board member of the National Advisory Council for The National Domestic Violence Hot Line, benefiting the victims of domestic violence.
During one of our conversations, she was rushing to make a plane for New York. What was she taking with her? A poem she wrote a long time ago titled “In Search of an Hour.” It starts: “When fame condescendingly claims you with its seductive tentacled touch, it demands nothing in return … Just everything.”
Two of her favorite thoughts are: “Every day is a good day. Just some days are better.” And, one that she signed in the Rizzoli art book I just received from her: “Life is sweetened by risk.” Farrah Fawcett, living legend, live on, live long, live well. We love you.