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For three years Kate Jackson was the most bedeviling of Charlie's Angels. She balked at a scene requiring a braless run in a cross-country race. She refused, unlike chesty Cheryl Ladd and beauteous Jaclyn Smith, to wriggle into a bikini that would hardly cover a cherub. And she publicly bemoaned the show as a bit of fluff, "so light it would take a week to get to the floor if you dropped it from the ceiling."

Still, while the show may have proved that the number of angels who can dance—or jiggle—on a pinhead is an irrevocable three, their identities are certainly not immune to change. Six weeks ago, while vacationing in Hawaii with new husband Andrew (The Rebels) Stevens, 23, Kate was let go. The reason: too much needling.

"I guess I did cause a few problems," Kate now admits. "What it comes down to is I got tired of them and they got tired of me. I'm glad I've finally been able to hang up the halo." So were producers Leonard Goldberg and Aaron Spelling. "Due to problems on the set," intoned Spelling, "Kate's being dropped for the good of the show."

Would Charlie's Angels sag in its fourth season, without Kate's attempt to make the characters more than interchangeable cardboard cutouts? Though fortified by Cheryl Ladd after the clamorous 1977 shearing of Farrah Fawcett-Majors (which may have emboldened the producers to release Kate), the show this year slipped to seventh place. Even Freddie Silverman of desperate NBC has publicly targeted the Angels as vulnerable.

ABC's hope is that the ballyhooed search for Kate's replacement ("Oh, the unpleasantness of having to look at 15,000 beautiful girls," Spelling said, tongue in cheek) will firm up the show's ratings. As a "joke," the producers now say, they had suggested Margaret Trudeau. Then they were disappointed by Barbara (The Spy Who Loved Me) Bach's test ("I was too sophisticated," Bach sniffed). Finally, Charlie's Angels decided they needed Revlon's Charlie girl—model Shelley Hack, 31, who starred in last year's film flop If Ever I See You Again. Hack will change the show down to its roots—instead of two brunettes flanking blond Cheryl, now Jackie will be the brunette between two blondes.

As producer Goldberg noted with relief, "Kate's departure may be a blessing in disguise," and, speaking for herself, Jackson heartily agrees. The show's unrelenting 14-hour days had brought her "total confusion." "I had lost my sense of self, lost track of who I was," she admits. "I had everything in the world and I just wasn't happy." Reports appeared in print that she had become a pill-popping "first-class bitch" who purposely slowed the production schedule. "I won't dignify such lies by refuting them," says Kate. "I didn't do anything like going out of control or drinking and abusing myself." Instead, she became one Angel who looked homeward longingly.

For the first two years of the show, Kate complained, "My life was all geared to work. Even though those millions of people around the country know me and like me, they aren't in my living room at the end of the day when I'm lonely and hassled." Then last August she surprised the world by eloping with Stevens. They were married at the Martha's Vineyard home of husband-and-wife singers James Taylor and Carly Simon. "Suddenly there was this adorable man really caring about me, even when I was crying and my hair was all weird," Kate recalls. "Before we knew what hit us, we were madly, passionately in love." Andrew, son of actress Stella Stevens, adds, "The mutual support we gave each other was like a gift for both of us."

The match made in heaven, though, only made Kate even more restive on the set. "Andrew would get up with me at 5 in the morning and I'd see him for a cup of coffee and then I'd come home late for dinner and fall asleep during dessert," she recalls. "It's one thing to be miserable when you're by yourself. But when you feel committed to another person, there's a responsibility not to let yourself be drained by something that could end up destroying the rest of your life. I finally had to say, 'Wait a minute, there's my life and there's the show and one is killing the other, so something has to go.' And I sure as hell wasn't about to sacrifice my life for a television show."

"Conflicts arose in various areas with each girl," Andrew adds loyally. "It just depended on priorities. Jackie Smith's priorities were material comfort, Cheryl's were more toward trying to become a star, and Kate's always had to do with trying to elevate the quality of the show and not just mark time in mediocrity." Kate agrees. "They promised to make the schedule easier if we would do our part in return, which was to shut up. They told us to quit complaining so they could get four years in the can and make a lot of money in syndication and everybody would live happily ever after. I don't want to sound ungrateful, but I was never content just to take the money and run."

Which implies that the other Angels were. If, as rumor has it, Cheryl and Jackie are happy to be rid of their scrappy co-star, they aren't saying so. "I wish Kate the best of luck in whatever she does next," coos Jackie, a true pal, who with husband Dennis Cole will be next-door neighbors this summer when Kate and Andrew move their Siberian huskies into a new four-bedroom Coldwater Canyon mini-mansion ("so homey it's perfect"). Smith-Cole and Jackson-Stevens plan a local baby boom. "It'll be lovely when we both have kids about the same time," says the Alabama-born Kate, now 29. "Then they can grow up as neighbors just like kids in the South."

Meanwhile, Katie (as he calls her) and Andrew are gestating Topper, a remake of the 1937 Cary Grant-Constance Bennett classic, as the first project in her new $6 million ABC development deal. "We really mesh," exults Kate of plans to co-star with her husband. "Even our disagreements are healthy." The pace is a welcome break after eight frenetic TV years—and consolation for having to give up the lead to Meryl Streep in the upcoming Kramer vs. Kramer opposite Dustin Hoffman. Schooled at New York's American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Kate first won a year-long Dark Shadows soap role, then spent four years on The Rookies before her three-year Angels sojourn. "I don't want to sound artsy, but an actor needs time to sit back and let a little life filter in," she says. "When you're running on empty, you can't go very far. Maybe I can regain some credibility as an actress."

A lower profile, she notes, also won't hurt her marriage. At first the fans' fervor was "a nice ego stroke," but now "Sometimes it's a little heavy, just because I was really very visible and the show got so much hype." Their six-year age difference doesn't bother them (Andrew once lived with actress Kim Darby, eight years his senior). "I never think about it," says Kate. "There are more important things—like he squeezes the toothpaste from the middle and I can't stand it." Likewise, neither fears Andrew will become "Mr. Kate Jackson." "I've conquered the son-of-Stella-Stevens syndrome—she's now Andrew Stevens' mother or Kate Jackson's mother-in-law—so I'm way past such problems," he says. "And I'm much too strong to ever let that happen anyway." Kate, who once lived with Edward Albert Jr. and dated such stars as Nick Nolte and Warren Beatty, adds, "I really believe in Andrew's future and talent. He's going to have a big, successful career."

The perils of too much togetherness so far are inconsequential. They touch and nuzzle constantly, and are seldom apart. Kate still roller-skates with Cher, hangs out with Marcia (Welcome Back, Kotter) Strassman, her Angels wardrobe woman Erica Phillips and activist pals Jane Fonda and Mario Thomas, but marriage has brought "lots of new friends," says Jackson, who claims basically to be a homebody. "I never really thought that I was part of the Hollywood syndrome. I don't go out a lot and I'm not seen in all the right places."

One of the places she apparently won't be seen is Charlie's Angels—unlike Farrah, she'll have no return guest shots. Muses Kate, "Maybe I'll kick myself and say, 'You should have stayed on the series, it was wonderful.' It wasn't easy to look a million dollars in the face and kiss it goodbye, but I believe enough in myself to say, 'I'll take that risk.' I think everything is going to be fine. Andrew is the only person I picked out of the whole world that I've ever truly loved. He's changing too. We're growing, together."