Farrah Fawcett was an international star known the world over for her role as Jill Munroe in the 1970s television series Charlie’s Angels. Farrah successfully paired her beauty with an acting career that earned her the respect of her peers as well as numerous awards, including a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1995 for her contribution to television (located at 7051 Hollywood Blvd).
Though scores will remember her as the smiling face on the unforgettable red swimsuit poster, or equally from the perfectly tossed ‘feathered’ blonde hair that fell beneath her shoulders and inspired a generation of young girls, Farrah’s appeal reached far beyond those memorable images of yesterday.
Born Ferrah Leni Fawcett in Corpus Christi, Texas to James and Pauline Fawcett on February 2, 1947, Farrah was the younger of the two Fawcett daughters. Her older sister Diane was born nine years prior. Farrah’s stunning beauty was evident in her earliest years. Before she was old enough to attend school, she was called an “angel” by complete strangers during the many trips to the grocery store with her mother, an interesting foreshadow to who she would ultimately become.
After attending a Catholic elementary school, Farrah continued her education at John J. Pershing Middle School in Houston, and W.B. Ray High School in Corpus Christi, before entering The University of Texas at Austin in 1965. While in High School, Farrah was voted “Most Beautiful” all four years. At UT, Farrah pledged Delta Delta Delta. Her freshman year, she was voted one of the ten most beautiful girls on campus.
Initial aspirations set Farrah on a path to major in microbiology (though she quickly changed her major to art), but after her college photo made its way to Los Angeles-based publicist David Mirisch, she was asked to give Hollywood a shot. Mirisch called Farrah persistently, until she finally told him to speak with her father about the matter. Another few years of phone calls passed before Farrah and her parents mutually agreed that she should at least try Hollywood in the summer of 1968, and return for her senior year of college afterwards. Farrah immediately enlisted the services of Frank Armstrong, a photographer for Texas Student Publications. She and Armstrong went to Austin’s Zilker Park for a photo shoot. With those photos in hand, she moved out west, began a modeling career, appeared in numerous television commercials, and met Lee Majors, the star of The Six Million Dollar Man, whom she married in 1973. After separating from Lee Majors in 1979, Farrah began a life long romance with film star Ryan O’Neal (Their son Redmond was born in 1985). After seventeen years together, Fawcett and O’Neal parted but remained close, then later reunited. In 1976, Farrah became one of Charlie’s Angels, a role that would make her a household name alongside co-stars Jaclyn Smith and Kate Jackson. The 1977 People’s Choice Awards named Charlie’s Angels the “Favorite Overall New TV Program,” as well as earning Farrah the award for “Favorite Performer in a New TV Program.”
On Charlie’s Angels:
“Farrah and I were friends first, and then we just took that ride together…and that ride was the ride of rock stars at that time in television history.” – Jaclyn Smith
Soon after Charlie’s Angels premiered, the iconic red swimsuit poster that would eventually sell 20 million copies worldwide and adorn the walls of men and women alike was released. Additionally, Farrah’s hairstyle swept the nation for years to come, sending countless girls to their bedroom mirrors in an attempt to copy the golden feathered “Farrah-do.” On the wings of the new craze, Fabergé cosmetics launched Farrah Fawcett-branded shampoos and conditioners, beginning in the late 1970s and continuing through the mid-1980s, as part of a larger line of Farrah-based hair care products. Now a veritable superstar in the media, and in the hearts and minds of her extensive fan base, Farrah took the first steps towards becoming a legend.
Though Farrah began her film career with the 1969 French drama Love Is a Funny Thing (Un homme qui me plaît), audiences took notice when she graced the screen in the 1976 Oscar-nominated Sci-Fi film Logan’s Run. Entertainment Weekly later noted her appearance as the first of her cinematic milestones. 1984’s The Burning Bed and 1986’s Extremities (in both of which she pioneered bringing domestic violence and sexual abuse to the forefront of the media) allowed Farrah to expand on her growing body of work. Of The Burning Bed, executive producer Jon Avnet commented, ”When we bought the book, we knew that Farrah was interested in playing the part, and we talked to her about it. We told her it would mean working with no makeup, going completely against her image, but she was willing to risk it.” Farrah’s dedication paid off, earning her four milestone nominations and awards: the 1985 Golden Globe for “Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV,” the 1985 Television Critics Association Award for both “Outstanding Achievement in Movies, Miniseries and Specials” and “Outstanding Achievement in Drama,” and the 1985 Primetime Emmy Award for “Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or a Special.”
In Extremities, Farrah had the opportunity to reprise her role from the 1983 off-Broadway play. In a 1986 New York Times article, Farrah described the role as ”the most grueling, the most intense, the most physically demanding and emotionally exhausting” of her career. The performance earned her a 1987 Golden Globe nomination for “Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama.” Farrah was no longer just a pretty face…but the National emblem of women’s rights.
Award nominations seemed to follow Farrah wherever she went. The same year as her Extremities nomination, Farrah was also nominated for “Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV” for her lead role in Nazi Hunter: The Beate Klarsfeld Story. In 1988, Farrah received yet another Golden Globe Award nomination for “Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV” for 1987’s Poor Little Rich Girl: The Barbara Hutton Story. Two years later, she received a 1990 Primetime Emmy Award nod as “Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Special” and the 1990 Golden Globe Award nomination as “Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV,” for 1989’s Small Sacrifices. Farrah’s role in the 1997 Oscar-nominated film The Apostle alongside Robert Duvall earned her an Independent Spirit Award nod as “Best Supporting Female,” and finally in 2003, she received a Primetime Emmy Award nomination as “Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series” for playing Mary Gressler in 2001’s The Guardian.
Farrah had now guaranteed her place in the parthenon of television and film.
In addition to her acting career, Farrah was also an exceptionally gifted artist. Before her move to California, Farrah attended the University of Texas (1965-1968), where she studied sculpture and life drawing under renowned sculptor (and University art professor) Charles Umlauf.
On occasion, Farrah would model for her fellow classmates in Umlauf’s classes, and also for Umlauf himself. He sculpted several head studies of Farrah, one of which was the now-famous bronze sculpture, simply titled Portrait of Farrah Fawcett, currently residing at the Blanton Museum of Art.
Throughout her life, Farrah continued to draw and sculpt; and for years, she sent plaster models of her sculptures for Mr. Umlauf to oversee their bronze casting on his annual trips to Italy. Farrah and Charles Umlauf remained lifelong friends. When Umlauf was honored in 1985 by the Houston Art Guild as “Texas Artist of the Year,” Farrah traveled to Houston with partner Ryan O’Neal to present the award.
In late 1987 and early 1988, Farrah commissioned Umlauf to make several stoneware studies of her young son Redmond. Over the years she amassed a nice collection of Umlauf’s drawings and prints. Farrah’s final visit with Umlauf was shortly before his passing in November 1994. During a stroll through the UMLAUF garden, they discussed the different processes (original clay or plaster) for each of Umlauf’s pieces, and the reasoning behind his chosen mediums. Farrah continued to visit the UMLAUF on her trips through Austin for years after.
Contemporary artist Keith Edmier was introduced to Farrah in 2000 and invited her to collaborate on artwork in a Los Angeles studio. Edmier had long been an admirer of Farrah from her early television work and wanted to create a sculpture that captured her essence. Farrah agreed; and what began as a simple idea became a two-year collaboration that resulted in six sculptures, numerous drawings and photographs, and a book titled Keith Edmier and Farrah Fawcett: Recasting Pygmalion. Both Farrah and Edmier worked on the sculpture of Farrah, but Farrah soon suggested she create a sculpture of Edmier to compliment it. She worked tirelessly on her life-size, bronze representation of Edmier, which depicts him leaning back against a large stone, eyes closed, right arm slightly outstretched while his left arm rests calmly beside him. The sculpture of Farrah, by comparison, is like a modern-day Venus. She reclines, the fingers of her left hand resting softly in her famous hair as she stares directly at her admirers with a slight smile. The figure was cast in fiberglass and sent to Italy to be copied in marble. As a whole, Farrah and Edmier’s collaboration is titled Keith Edmier and Farrah Fawcett, 2000. At the conclusion of their efforts in 2002, Farrah and Edmier’s work was recognized with a two person exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
By 2002, Farrah’s high rise apartment on Wilshire Boulevard was filled with her art projects in different stages of completion, including a terra-cotta head of Jesus she restored after it was damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. During the restoration process, Farrah learned to apply a patina that made terra-cotta appear bronze, a process discovered during her time at the Tallix Fine Art Foundry in Rock Tavern, N.Y.
“Farrah wanted the best for the people she loved.”
Farrah’s Texas upbringing instilled values that lasted throughout her life. Despite achieving international fame and superstar status, her loyalty to friends and family eclipsed all Hollywood notoriety. Those who knew her best remember her sweet disposition – a beaming smile, the willingness to help wherever and whenever she could, and above all, the truly beautiful person beneath a lovely exterior.
Aside from painting and sculpting, Farrah enjoyed playing tennis at her home on Mulholland Drive. A lifelong fan of sports, her athleticism began to take off in the early 1970s. While doing a guest spot in 1974 on the television show Apple’s Way with Vincent Van Patten (the son of noted actor Dick Van Patten), Farrah learned of Vincent’s tennis skills and asked him to teach her the game. A long friendship followed; Farrah visited the Van Patten family often and never missed an opportunity to get on the court, not only playing against Vincent, but with Vincent’s mother Pat Van Patten. Pat remembered Farrah as a kind and gentle soul, extremely funny, and wonderfully down-to-earth.
Farrah also had a penchant for cooking on a gourmet level; German chocolate cake was among her favorite things to make. Naturally, the desire to become a mother was strong; and when her friends became parents, Farrah’s excitement was the same as if the children had been her own. In 1985, when her son Redmond was born, Farrah often called upon her closest girlfriends for advice, to borrow baby clothes, and to share in the joys of motherhood. As a hands-on mother, Farrah relished the opportunity to help her son with his homework. She never relied on a nanny or caretaker to assist her.
“Our boys went to school together and she just wanted to be one of the moms. We did lunch at school and shopped for orchids. She loved to hang out. She would send me new things she found, or that had her name or that were given to her, like a lipstick, the new small cell phone, or tennis shoes. She was so thoughtful and loved to share, very giving. I feel that when she was with my family and friends, she was just one of the girls. Our friendship was ‘normal’ and not Hollywood.” – Sylvia Dorsey, Farrah’s friend and classmate at the University of Texas
Courage in the Face of Tragedy
In 2006, Farrah was diagnosed with cancer. For its staggering effect, the initial shock was relatively short-lived, with Farrah being declared cancer-free one year later on her 60th birthday. Three months after, a routine visit to the doctor resulted in the tragic news that Farrah’s cancer had returned. Still, her determination to beat the illness inspired everyone around her.
“Farrah approached her battle with cancer as she did every other challenge in her life – with strength, courage, and determination. It amazed me to see how she kept her spirits and optimism even through the most debilitating parts of her treatments. She was an inspiration to so many people.” – Alana Stewart, Farrah’s close friend
Numerous trips to Germany followed. Farrah sought alternative methods of treatment that were unavailable in the United States. Close friend Alana Stewart accompanied Farrah and, at Farrah’s request, began documenting Farrah’s journey on video over the next two years. Originally Farrah wanted to document her treatment for herself, but eventually realized that by sharing her story she might be able to help others. Farrah insisted that the world should see the real effects of cancer. These clips became Farrah’s Story, a television movie/documentary that aired to nine million viewers on NBC in May 2009. It was nominated for a 2009 Primetime Emmy Award.
Farrah passed away on June 25, 2009.