Monday, April 6, 2009

Ailing Farrah Fawcett's six-million-dollar smile

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Ailing Farrah Fawcett's six-million-dollar smile

SUBMITTED PHOTO
Before the infamous red swimsuit photo, Fawcett was perhaps best known as Lee Majors’ wife.
Before she was an Angel, Fawcett burst on the scene with a bestselling poster
April 06, 2009

Hers was the iconic image of the 1970s, a cheesecake pin-up – perhaps the last of its kind – of an unknown aspiring actress. It sold a still-unequalled 12 million copies, adorning countless bedroom walls, propelling millions of enraptured adolescent boys through puberty and girls into adopting that distinctive cascade of waves that survives to this day as "the Farrah flip."

Farrah Fawcett checked back into hospital on Thursday and last night was said to be in critical condition, unconscious but stable, with ex-partner Ryan O'Neal and their son Redmond by her bedside.

The 62-year-old sex symbol was diagnosed with anal cancer three years ago. Though in 2007 she gleefully announced that it was in remission, a malignant polyp reappeared in the same spot just a few months later. She recently returned from Germany, where she could legally seek controversial embryonic stem cell treatments.

Her older sister, Diane, succumbed to lung cancer in 2001.

Fawcett's turn for the worse seems all the more tragic looking back at the sunny innocence of that indelible 29-year-old smile, that of an ambitious young shampoo model hoping to transition into legitimate acting. And in 1976, the Farrah poster proved her ticket.

It was the last shot of a photo session staged by the pool of the Bel Air home she shared with then-husband, Lee "Six Million Dollar Man" Majors. Fawcett herself chose the famous red one-piece bathing suit over the proffered bikini, self-conscious of a childhood scar on her stomach. She also did her own hair and handpicked the famous frame over several slightly more coquettish poses, some suggestively munching a cookie.

The old Indian blanket hanging in the background originally covered the tattered front seat of a '37 Chevy owned by photographer Bruce McBroom, a freelancer Fawcett had worked with before, who was paid a total $1,000 (figures U.S.) for the job.

Fawcett – by then officially hyphenated as "Farrah Fawcett-Majors" – got considerably more out of the deal, including $400,000 in royalties and a role in the hottest Aaron Spelling series ever to hit the air, Charlie's Angels.

Sales of the poster only escalated after that, and one season into the show Fawcett decided she was worth more than the $5,000 per episode the other Angels were paid. She was quickly replaced by Cheryl Ladd, playing her younger sister, Kris, and after a protracted legal battle was required to return to "guest-star" in a half-dozen subsequent episodes.

Ladd, meanwhile, broke the tension on set by showing up for her first day in a T-shirt cheekily emblazoned "Farrah Fawcett-Minor."

Fawcett was finally taken seriously as an actress with her Emmy-nominated portrayal of a battered wife in the 1984 TV-movie The Burning Bed, and again two years later as a vengeance-seeking rape victim in both the stage and screen versions of Extremities.

Fawcett stepped back into the spotlight in 1995, posing nude for the first time in the December issue of Playboy – at four million in sales, its most successful of the decade.

She gained another kind of notoriety in June of 1997, when she made a distracted and largely incoherent appearance on the Late Show With David Letterman. She later claimed to have been pulling his leg, but in 2005, at a press conference I attended for a short-lived reality show, Chasing Farrah, she appeared similarly dazed and confused – the side-effect, she said, of a powerful cold medication.

Fawcett has been filming a documentary for NBC, A Wing and a Prayer, about her battles with cancer. Director Craig Nevius has been quoted as saying, "The film will do what Farrah has always done so well: get people's attention and get them talking." An airdate has not yet been announced.

Rob Salem, the Star's TV columnist, still keeps his old Farrah poster hidden away in his basement.

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