The question of whether Farrah Fawcett is or is not married and/or pregnant is, admittedly, not as compelling as who will win the World Series. Still, the matter is of some interest, and for weeks reporters scurried around interviewing everybody except the rabbit.

All the while Farrah herself was issuing petulant little denials that only whetted the public's demand to know. "Not yet," she told PEOPLE. She evaded the issue with Johnny Carson. And when a reporter asked, at the 10th American Film Festival in Deauville, if she and Ryan O'Neal, her steady of five years, were soon to produce twins, she retorted, "I wouldn't have twins with anyone!" Even the purported father-to-be added to the frenzy by confessing that after being a "self-centered bastard" with his three children, Patrick, Griffin and Tatum, he now has fathering figured out: "I know how to do it now. I'm prepared."

And not a moment too soon. After a months-long game of public teasing, Fawcett, 37, and O'Neal, 43, have finally acknowledged that Farrah will have a baby around Feb. 2—her birthday. She had tried to keep it secret, it seems, because she didn't want the audience peering at anything but her anguished face in her recent TV role as a battered wife in The Burning Bed.

As for marriage, Farrah still claims to be a single woman despite the ring with 17 heart-shaped diamonds that O'Neal gave her. Ryan, the romantic, says the ring symbolizes "love," and Farrah insists, "It's not a wedding ring." Besides, she protests, life is just too busy, what with her career and his career, to worry about particulars. "So much is happening right now. We have no immediate plans to get married. But if we did, it would be very spontaneous. We might just look at each other one day and go to the courthouse." In the next breath, Farrah, a properly brought up Catholic girl from Corpus Christi, waffles. "I don't feel quite like I did when I was 21 about marriage. I'm ambivalent about it right now."

Still, conceiving a child out of wedlock might just appeal to her sense of fashion. Certainly she is in good company, joining a list that includes Jessica Lange, Princess Caroline, Liv Ullman, Ursula Andress, Grace Slick, Nastassja Kinski and Hayley Mills. More to the point, Farrah's recent cat-and-mouse game might be construed in certain circles as chic. After all, Princess Caroline had a full French wardrobe designed to conceal her pregnancy. Prince Andrea-Albert arrived inconveniently six months after his mother's wedding to Italian businessman Stefano Casiraghi. Similarly, actress Nastassja Kinski decided to diddle her bewildered public—confirming her pregnancy yet refusing to name the father. Europe soon became a veritable stud farm of hypothetical sires, including actor Dudley Moore and directors Milos Forman and Wim Wenders, but not the guy who finally owned up, Ibrahim Moussa, an Egyptian businessman. The couple did wed two months after the birth, but the international jury is still out on whether their son, Aljosha, is or isn't respectable.

The question has been kicking around in loftier circles at Least since 1950, when actress Ingrid Bergman turned almost overnight into a Hawthornian heroine by conceiving Italian director Roberto Rossellini's child out of wedlock. "It's not the first time that ever happened to a woman, and it's not the last," declared Bergman in those Middle Ages. She was right, of course, and her celebrated successors served not only to prove her point but also to help gain public acceptance for their status. "Many of these beautiful people are beautiful people," says Roger Burton, a professor of psychology at the State University in Buffalo, who has studied out-of-wedlock births. "The public looks at these women and they're Madonnas. But on the other hand, compare that to the way people treat a welfare mother."

Yet even the rich and famous have certain problems with their parental status—and that extends to both sexes. Celebrities such as Sting, Mick Jagger, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, LeVar Burton and Christopher (The Bosto-nians) Reeve have all fathered children born out of wedlock, and not always without consequence. Though Reeve, for one, insists that no one cares that he and modeling executive Gae Exton are unmarried parents of Matthew and Alexandra, his mother does, "I mind," says Barbara Johnson (who was divorced from his father and later married a stockbroker). "I'm an old-fashioned grandma." Another annoyed grandmother, Lady Mary Mills, is equally outspoken about daughter Hayley's son, Jason, 8, by Leigh Lawson. "Having children when you're unmarried is not such a good thing. It's hard on children to be bastards."

That word. The stigma still wounds, and even extends to the legitimate siblings of a love child. Lancôme model Isabella Rossellini and her twin sister, Isotta, were born two years after Ingrid Bergman married Rossellini, but the family was hounded nonetheless. "We became very protective of our parents," Isabella remembers. "Every time we'd see a long lens poking through the bush, the whole gang would rush out and throw stones." Writer Rod McKuen was 15 when his aunt correctly called him a bastard. This inspired him to search for his father and the truth, which he chronicled in Finding My Father: One Man's Search For Identity. "We have to get rid of that word illegitimate," he wrote.

Another thing that unwed parents grapple with is what to tell their issue. Catherine Deneuve, 40, France's top-draw actress, is the unwed mother of Christian Vadim, 21, whose father is director Roger Vadim, and 12-year-old Chiara-Charlotte, daughter of actor Marcello Mastroianni. "Both my children ask me why I don't live with their father," she says. "They are still anxious about what people think." Moreover, adds Deneuve, "When a child is raised alone, the chance of having an identity problem is probable. That will create problems for psychiatrists."

Such difficulties seem remote to The Young and the Restless soap actress Melody Thomas, a relative newcomer to the world of unwed motherhood. She met Carlos Yeaggy, 30, while he was a makeup man on the soap set. Five months after he moved in, she got pregnant. "I never considered having an abortion or putting the baby up for adoption," says Melody, 28, whose child, Alexandra Danielle Yeaggy, is 2. "I felt nothing but joy. It's certainly not scandalous to me."

Nor to Young and Restless producers. They wrote in a pregnancy for her sexpot character, Nikki. When viewers learned that Melody's bulging tummy was the real thing, they sent gifts. "No one pointed their finger at me and said 'bad girl,' " she notes. "Judging from the reaction around the country, it's not something that should be kept in the closet. Most of my fans are from the Midwest, and if they can accept it—and they did—so can Los Angeles and New York, which are supposed to be centers of sophistication."

Melody and Carlos split in April. Long before that they'd drawn papers making clear his paternity, visiting rights and child-support obligations. If and when Alexandra asks questions, says Melody, "I will explain that she was born out of wedlock. I don't anticipate any problems when that occurs. Times have changed so much."

Single father LeVar Burton didn't have nine months to confront his status. Joining the ranks of unwed parents was a surprise for the actor, a big surprise. A woman he had never seen before, a 1979 one-night stand, presented him with a son, Eian, now 4. "I was skeptical," says Burton, 27. It took a paternity suit and conclusive blood tests to convince him that he was the father. He filed for, and won, joint custody of Eian, whose mother, Pamela Smith, he says, "was shocked and fearful that I had some ulterior motive."

LeVar plans to be straightforward with Eian when the time comes. "I figure the day he asks that question, he's ready for the answer," says LeVar. "I never envisioned or expected in my wildest imagination I would have a child this way. But this is how it happened. I'm really glad that Eian is here."

Meanwhile, Ryan O'Neal is preparing to be a proud papa. "I'm ecstatic and elated," he said last week. "I'll have a lot more compassion now, and awareness." O'Neal freely admits that he had been asking Farrah to marry him for three years and that he thought buying her the ring might help his cause. But Fawcett likes the last word. "We're both very happy with our situation right now," she purrs, adding with just a flick of Farrah fickleness, "but that could change tomorrow."

  • Contributors:
  • Pamela Andriotakis,
  • Lois Armstrong,
  • Gail Buchalter.