Farrah Fawcett

updated 05/04/1989 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/04/1989 01:00AM

Hers was the smile that blinded. Hers was the face that cut men down to sighs, the body that launched 8 million, swimsuit posters, the hair that inspired countless doomed imitations, and most of all, hers was the jiggle. She materialized out of nowhere during the Bicentennial year, bearing the strange name Farrah Fawcett-Majors and posing for shots seen round the world, and for a single dizzy season there was simply no other sex symbol worth talking about. There still is no purely TV sex symbol who even comes close. She starred on a now archaic detective show called Charlie's Angels as one of three girlie gumshoes, Jaclyn Smith and Kate Jackson being the others, but Farrah strode alone as the queen of a then-new, grinningly provocative genre on TV. Innocent of a bra, she put her life and virtue on the line in nearly every episode. Scantily clad, she and the other Angels were trapped on a cruise ship with a homicidal maniac. Scantily clad, they raced stock cars and skated in roller derbies. Scantily clad, they fled from evildoers on horseback and in rafts and in brakeless cars that were always headed downhill. Then, as quickly as she had appeared, she was gone, and for a long time it seemed she would not live happily ever after.

She had done her work, though. Angel essence, the combination of girls, guns and great clothes which she personified, had turned a detective show into a pop phenomenon, and even without her, the program ran four more years. TIME called it a mediocre idea whose time had come, an "aesthetically ridiculous, commercially brilliant brainstorm surfing blithely atop the Zeitgeist's seventh wave." Jay Bernstein, Farrah's manager, got to the point faster when explaining the success of his client's poster and probably the success of her show: "Nipples."

But why Farrah? Why the poster, T-shirts, lunch pails, dolls, look-alike contests, signature line of shampoos, breathless press coverage and 20,000 fan letters a week? It had to be her. Jaclyn Smith was a bit too beautiful to be a real sex symbol, a bit too distant, and Kate Jackson was a bit too brusque and businesslike. Ah, but Farrah, she was the girl next door, if you lived in a lucky neighborhood, squeaky clean, fresh-faced and wholesomely full of the knowledge that she was sexy as all get-out. Yet she was charmingly modest about 32 of her most dazzling attributes. "My theory is that God gives you either straight white teeth with lots of cavities or crooked stained teeth with no cavities," she once philosophized. "I have lots of cavities." On another occasion she said, "I don't know how I got to be a sex symbol. My body isn't that great. I don't think I'm too much of a threat." She was even a conscientious wifey to her Six Million Dollar Man, Lee Majors: Her contract stipulated that she could leave work in plenty of time to prepare her husband's dinner. "I love Lee," she explained, "and I love cooking."

The daughter of a Texas oil rigger, Farrah was born in Corpus Christi and educated in parochial schools,-one of her third grade compositions was titled "I Would Like to Be a Sister When I Grow Up." That goal flew for good when, as an art major at the University of Texas, she was voted one of the 10 most beautiful women on campus and her photo found its way to Hollywood. Publicist David Mirisch, scion of a celebrated film clan, got a glimpse of the glossy and wrote Farrah, urging her to quit school and come to L.A. Her first week in town she got an agent. Her second week she met Lee Majors, signed a contract with Screen Gems and began decorating TV series (she was David Janssen's Harry O girlfriend) and movies {Logan's Run). "I didn't come to Los Angeles expecting to be anything," she once admitted. "I was led. Events happened, fell into place. I really gave no thought to my career."

She started having second thoughts about her thoughtlessness at the end of that first season as an Angel, in 1977, and became convinced that the series was stunting her artistic and economic growth. Angels producers Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg slapped her with a $7 million lawsuit and saw to it that she didn't work much in television for a year. She then agreed to three years of guest appearances. Haloless, she made a trio of bad movies, Somebody Killed Her Husband (wags called it "Somebody Killed Her Career"), Sunburn and Saturn 3. In 1979 she dumped her longtime manager, Bernstein, and left her spouse for Ryan O'Neal. Hollywood said that neither Farrah nor the romance would last.

She has proved them wrong. She triumphed on TV in Murder in Texas, The Burning Bed and Between Two Women and off-Broadway in Extremities, reprising that role as a vengeful rape victim in the film version. She and O'Neal are still together and the parents of son Redmond, 4. She lives on. "I'd pay each of them a million dollars to do a two-hour Charlie's Angels reunion movie," Leonard Goldberg said a few years ago, but there's fat chance of that. Charlie's Angels is of a time long gone. Farrah herself hates to talk about that time, let alone bring it back. Still...slick, wiggly, jiggly, silly, shallow, leering, pandering and sexist though the show may have been, good old invisible Charlie gave us four slaphappy years of fun—and one year of glorious, giddy idolatry, when Wednesday nights held the promise of mind-softening but not senseless escape and good, clean lust was decorously in the air. So long, Angel.

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