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People Top 5
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- January 14, 1980
- Vol. 13
- No. 2
Lee's Love Lost
Though Old Buddy Ryan O'Neal Bagged His Bird, Lee Majors' Aim Is Sure: He Wants Farrah Back
The triangle began to form last September in Toronto, where Lee was preparing to shoot The Last Chase, a Canadian thriller. He was still bravely and coyly introducing himself as the man who "used to be the Majors at the end of Farrah Fawcett," when he bumped into his old friend, then styling himself "Tatum's Dad." O'Neal was visiting his daughter, who was on location for another film. He happily teamed with Majors for a rerun of the sort of carousing they used to do in their bachelor days of the '60s when Ryan was in ABC's Peyton Place and Lee in The Big Valley. "I thought we were once again quite close," recalls Lee, and he gladly promised to oversee the 16-year-old Tatum when Daddy had to leave town. "I told Ryan not to worry—I'd take her out to dinner, phone her and look after her." In return, Lee extracted a reciprocal promise that O'Neal would check on Farrah when he got back to L.A. "I thought she might be lonely and could use the same kind of companionship," Majors heard himself say.
How right he was. Ryan, Hollywood's most insatiable womanizer, has been seen in the company of more glamorous women than Warren Beatty or Louis Vuitton. The list that Farrah soon joined included, among many others, Ursula Andress, Bianca Jagger, Barbra Streisand and Diana Ross. Yet Majors was naively surprised by the outcome of posting a wolf to guard what he thought was still his henhouse. "They got all serious and I couldn't believe it," Lee marvels. "Ryan really made a play for her. I called him and asked him to lay off a bit. 'I can't,' he told me. 'I really love her.' So I said, 'Okay, buddy, if that's the way you feel.' I haven't spoken with him since."
Majors is understandably bitter. But though he talks with Farrah by phone at least once a day (sometimes it is Lee's dime, sometimes hers), he claims not to have discussed the Ryan affair with her. Explains the man who once masterminded every move made by the woman he still calls "my wife": "You've got to understand that I stopped directing Farrah one and a half years ago. She's determined to find her own way and her own answers now."
Nonetheless, though there have been rumors of imminent divorce, neither Lee nor Farrah has even filed for legal separation. They still share—but not at the same time—the Bel Air mansion with pool and racquetball court they have occupied for seven years. And if Lee's remarks are sometimes flippantly acid ("I used to be the only one who could shower with Farrah; now anyone can if they buy her shampoo"), he is supportive of her. "I may joke and tease around a lot," he says, "but the bottom line is I'm lonely and miserable without her." After all, he sighs, "Farrah is every man's fantasy mistress. I had the same kind of pride any man has when he walks into a room with a beautiful woman and all the other men look at that woman, envying the guy."
That was Majors.' own response when he first spotted Farrah's picture in agent Dave Gershenson's office 11 years ago. "I remember thinking she was quite beautiful and had a beautiful name," he recalls. Gershenson wanted the retiring Lee to escort her to a movie biz function. "I don't want to take her to the premiere, but I wouldn't mind taking her for coffee," responded Majors. Everyone knows the rest. He was the star; she, not even a starlet yet, ordered Scotch and Coke and got sick in the ladies' room. It was mentorship at first sight. "She was just a little girl from Corpus Christi," reminisces Lee. "All the mistakes I had made and the lessons I had learned the hard way, I tried to use to help Farrah."
Lee used his clout to get guest roles for Farrah and won her first exposure in his Owen Marshall series. Some years later Charlie's Angels made Farrah a far bigger star than her husband, but Lee insists that their diverging popularity had nothing to do with their problems. "All the stories that I was jealous of her career are just a lot of crap," he says flatly. "I was always 110 percent behind her and proud of her. There are times when I think that perhaps I created a monster," he says now. "But then, deep down, I know that's just not true."
It was Lee who convinced Farrah to defect from Charlie's Angels for feature films, leading to a $7 million suit against her and possibly the disaffection of her public. The result, in any case, was traumatic and to date disastrous. Farrah flopped in 1978's Somebody Killed Her Husband and last summer's Sunburn—albeit at $750,000 a throw. Lee, no luckier, went from his canceled bionic role to an inadvertent farce called The Norseman for $400,000. Just out now is his Killer Fish, "one of the year's more boring films," Majors admits. "I figured the reviewers were going to tear me to pieces, but actually they had some nice things to say." In fact, Lee's end of the seesaw may now be on the rise. At least he has been working steadily. Agent Jay Bernstein (whom both Farrah and Lee dumped last fall) magnanimously predicts that "this is going to be a great year for Lee—he should have three pictures coming out that will without question make him a motion picture star." But Bernstein fears that Farrah will be "poison" around town until she does "a small, low-budget quality film that proves she can act."
Lee, who's been so busy he had to turn down the plum Mac Davis part as the quarterback in North Dallas Forty, says, "I'd love to get my teeth into a good role. Then if people don't respond to me, I'll just drink away the pain." But he considers his finished work as a droll adman in Agency, a construction worker in Steel and an aging ex-race driver in The Last Chase to be his most successful to date. He figures his potential as a "younger [by nine years], less expensive Steve McQueen" remains considerable.
Even after years of TV stardom, that is still a heady thought for a Middlesboro, Ky. boy named Lee Yeary, whose fondest dream was to play pro football. After knee and shoulder injuries (and a nose broken five times) sidelined him to a job in the L.A. recreation department, fellow jocks encouraged him to try acting. His first wife and Lee Jr., 17, stayed in Kentucky, and even now Hollywood isn't home as much as a place of business to support Majors' quail-hunting expeditions to Oklahoma and Georgia. "I'm really a guy with simple tastes," he says. "I like to hang out with the guys and drink beer, go to football games, hunt and fish." Nowadays the good ol' boys, though, are likely to be multimillionaire Rankin Smith, owner of the Atlanta Falcons and Lee's investment partner, or Kentucky's John Y. Brown (way back when, Lee encouraged John to go for the governorship).
As for ladyfriends, Majors says, "I've always been a one-woman man. In all my 40 years I've had three great loves, but none greater than Farrah." Incredibly, if touchingly, at composer Paul Williams' urging, Lee has already cut three love songs for an album to be dedicated to his estranged wife. Majors pooh-poohs the buzz about his own infidelity. "A reputation as a ladies' man?" he asks. "I don't think so. I think I'm just one lucky son of a bitch. I have never been involved with anyone other than Farrah in all the time we've been married. The stories about Farrah's involvement with other people have always outnumbered mine by 10 to one." Indeed, she was linked in the tabloids with tennis player Vince Van Patten and her Husband co-star Jeff Bridges even before the split. Lee himself has dated since their estrangement, but says, "I have not met a woman I wanted to get involved with or even go out with a second time. Farrah has a lot of class," he continues, "and I don't think I will ever find anyone to compare her with. She's one of a kind and I love her. It's that simple."
At the same time he accepts that "I may have to do without her. I know there's a possibility that this might be the end," he says with regret, but not surrender, in his voice. "I hope we will get back together and honestly believe that, we will." Maybe if for no other reason—or for starters—on a movie property. Regaining his sense of humor, Lee observes, "I may have to do a picture with Farrah one day—just to bail out her career."
February 10, 2016
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