a parody out of time
She became in time a capable actress, too late
By Ed Robertson
the annals of pop culture, Farrah Fawcett will always evoke images
of dazzling white teeth, a hot swimsuit poster, a hair style
imitated by millions, and of course “Charlie’s Angels.”
When we think of Fawcett,
these thoughts come to mind: pretty face, head full mostly of
air. As we jog our memory further, we recall her meltdown on
The last thing that comes
to mind is an actress of some depth
and talent. Yet
Fawcett is very much that.
When we watch Fawcett in “Chasing Farrah,” the
pseudo-reality series that airs Wednesdays at 10 on TV Land, we are
witnessing a living example of a talented actress whose career has
been turned into a parody through very poor decisions. What good
work she has done, on TV and on the stage, has been mulched in with
the worst moments of her career. And it is those worst moments she
is remembered by.
Looking back, one
wonders how such a promising career could get sideswiped.
Fawcett had everything going for her in 1977.
She was starring in “Angels,” the No. 1 show on
television, she had the top-selling poster in the country, and her
face was plastered all over newsstands.
In a national survey, more than 14,000 high school students named
Fawcett their No. 1 hero, topping world leaders such as President
But early on Fawcett
was paying a price for her fame, and it was in the strain her career was putting on her marriage to “Six Million
Dollar Man” star Lee Majors. She
was unhappy over the long hours "Angels" demanded, hours that kept
her away from her husband. Things were not helped by the fact that
Majors was distressed to see his wife's career suddenly eclipse his
Fawcett, acting on bum advice from her manager,
announced she would leave “Charlie’s Angels” after one season
to pursue a career in movies.
That was Bad Decision
No. 1. “Angels”
producer Aaron Spelling immediately sued Fawcett for breaching her
contract. The court eventually ordered the actress back to the show
But the damage to Fawcett's
career was already done. Critics excoriated her for
leaving the show.
In any case, Fawcett was not ready for the movies. Though
she had shown some promise as an actress prior to “Angels,”
notably playing opposite David Janssen in “Harry O,” Fawcett’s
resume at that point consisted primarily of bit parts and TV
commercials. Given the hit
status of “Angels,” it would have made far more sense for her to
stick it out as she honed her craft as an actress. The movies could
predicted, Fawcett failed spectacularly as a film actress in
her early films. Her acting was bad, and the movies she chose
But Fawcett kept at it. She got better, much
better. In 1984 she won acclaim as an abused housewife in
“The Burning Bed.” It was the first in a string of projects in
the ‘80s and ‘90s that established Fawcett as a credible,
competent actress: “Extremities,” “Margaret Bourke-White,”
Now comes Bad
Decision No. 2. In 1997, Fawcett turned
50, and the actress chose to mark the occasion by posing nude
in a video for Playboy called “Farrah Fawcett: All of Me.”
But that wasn't the bad decision, as questionable as it must
have seemed to many.
Bad Decision No. 2 was showing up on 'The Late
Show with David Letterman” to promote the video.
She should have been prepared. She was not.
She came across dazed, confused, easily rattled and pretty
much out of it. This became the famous meltdown, and it tails after
Fawcett to this day as a piece of toilet paper stuck to a shoe, a
moment in pop culture.
since earned raves for her performances in “The Apostle” and
“Dr. T and the Women.” It matters not. She's still the fading
airhead actress who lost it on "Letterman."
Now to Bad
Decision No. 3. Turn on your TV set tonight for “Chasing Farrah.”
Why would an actress who
has spent decades working to be taken seriously appear in a series
that is little more than a spoof of the pop culture
phenomenon she's become?
The series follows Fawcett as she makes various media
appearances celebrating her earlier self and her encounters with
devoted fans. Like “The Anna Nicole Show” and “Fat Actress,”
the series mixes actors with actual people.
Most of the dialogue ad-libbed. Unlike its predecessors, “Farrah” is less sitcom-like in
structure. The vignettes
that comprise each show are loosely tied to the overall theme of A Day
in the Life of Farrah, making the series episodic in the truest
sense of the word.
But there’s a scattered sense to the series.
The gimmick is that some admirers
are genuine while others are played by actors. To keep Fawcett’s reactions as real as possible, the
producers don’t always tell her which admirers are which. The
result: Fawcett comes off as clueless, reinforcing her image as
aging space cadet.
Yet in an odd and likely unintended way, “Chasing
Farrah” contributes to our pop cultural understanding. It reminds
us of how deeply rooted television has become in our memories. In the early days, a show premiered, ran its course, and was
replaced by another series. If
the show went into reruns, it stayed in the public eye for a while.
Once the reruns ran their course, the show disappeared
We now seem to remember it
all, down to the UltraBrite commercials and Wella Balsam
spots that made Farrah so appealing in the first place.
The effect is an
odd one. While enormously forgiving in some ways, we are less
forgetful. And when it comes to Farrah Fawcett, sadly, the memories
are particularly unkind.
April 13, 2005
Robertson is a television historian and a regular contributor to Media