Golden Couple

Golden Couple

If you were living in America and didn’t know who Farrah Fawcett-Majors was in the 1970s, then you must have been off the grid somewhere in the wilds of Alaska. The woman was a sensation, bursting on the scene as an original cast member of the Aaron Spelling ABC TV mega hit, Charlie’s Angels. The role was short lived, but nonetheless she would be forever associated with the show, everyone’s favorite angel. As a result of her newfound fame, an enterprising photographer snapped a beguiling photo of Farrah for a poster.

American Dream Girl

American Dream Girl

Her high wattage smile lit up the lense, and the cash registers. She was undoubtedly a beautiful young woman, but what sent sales skyrocketing were the clearly visible pair of erect nipples, poking against the thin fabric of her red tank top. Those nipples were a vanguard. The poster was a sensation, selling millions. Her image hung on millions of bedroomand dorm walls across the country, inspiring the worship of a generation of young American men. The boys wanted her and young women wanted to look like her. Legions of them demanded to have their hair styled just like Farrah’s golden mane, and hair stylists did their best to comply. Round brushes and blow dryers became a must have component of every young woman’s grooming arsenal.

At the time of the poster and the Charlie’s Angel’s craziness she was married to Lee Majors, who had been enjoying some superstar level success of his own as the Six Million Dollar Man. Two big stars can be too much in a small galaxy, I guess.

Their divorce was without the rancor and drama that is so often seen in Hollywood marriages, and Farrah soon moved onto a new relationship (well, there may have been some overlapping but, hey) with Ryan O’Neal.

Ryan O’Neal became instantly famous when Love Story hit movie theaters in 1970. Based on the novel by Erich Segal the film was a modern day Romeo and Juliet with a twist. Rather than the feuding families of Verona this was about the social differences of a Boston Brahmin and a working class Italian girl from Rhode Island, albeit one with a brain sharp enough to gain her admission to Radcliffe.

Love Story was panned by most critics as being sappy and overly sentimental in it’s telling of the star crossed lovers. Defying his father, Ryan’s character Oliver marries Jenny (a Radcliffe music major), and in so doing finds himself on his own financially for the first time in his life. They make it through the years of law school, struggling but triumphant, flush with the promise of a young successful life in New York City. Madly in love and trying to start a family, things don’t end well.

When Farrah and Ryan began their romance few could argue that they did not make a beautiful couple. This is the time period when their path crossed with mine, on a long ago ferry ride from Woods Hole, Massachusetts to Martha’s Vineyard. It was May, 1984 and I was on my way to the Vineyard to spend the summer with the family of a college friend.

We had driven to the Cape that morning from the western part of the state, and were inordinately proud of ourselves for not having gotten lost. It was a warm, spring day flush with the promise of summer to come. After parking the car in the belly of the ship we made our way to an outside deck. It was about four in the afternoon, the sun was beginning it’s descent and the sky had taken on that tossed up grayness that kept it from being dull, and the wind had freshened.

We stood on the deck closest to the bridge, toward the bow and as we peered ahead waiting for the first sight of the Vineyard, breathing in the thick sea air, I spotted another couple a deck below us. Their eyes were searching for the same thing ours were, an island tucked offshore, a refuge, a paradise. The man was much taller than the woman and his arm reached around her easily, holding her close, it was obvious they were lovers. It was Ryan and Farrah.

Woods Hole Ferry

Woods Hole Ferry

There were few passengers on the ferry that day and they either did not recognize Farrah and Ryan, or they chose to behave as if they were just another couple returning to the island. In the flurry of activity that surrounded our arrival I quickly forgot about them, and don’t even recall bringing up the fact that we’d seen them during dinner later that night.

A few days later while job hunting in Edgartown, I literally bumped into them as they exited a shop. It was on a side street, I think they might have been coming out of a small ice cream shop or clothing boutique. I can easily recall the way they appeared, full of life, she so tiny, much more petite than you would imagine, and he was handsome and fit looking, and not disappointingly short the way that so many leading men are. They both looked incredibly attractive and appeared to glow with happiness in an entirely natural way, without artifice.

This was before the start of the busy season on Martha’s Vineyard, but even so, it was then the sort of place that recognizable people could walk about, and carry on with their lives without attracting too much unwanted attention. I doubt it is still this way, but it is nice to remember how it was.

Whatever has happened over the years between Ryan and Farrah, I can testify that on that day I saw two people who were as seriously in love as two people can be.

During the years that followed Farrah proved herself to have some acting chops under all those wings and waves. She shocked her skeptics with riveting performances on Broadway in the wrenching drama, The Burning Bed. More dramatic praise followed for performances in the television adaption of the Burning Bed, and her portrayal of Diane Dowd in the telemovie, Small Sacrifices to name a few of her more notable roles.

Undoubtedly her final role will be as herself.  Choosing to film her personal  journey with cancer is a profoundly brave act from a woman known first and foremost for her physical beauty.  There are few more ironic examples of the pendulum  arc of record. Here is Farrah, a Charlie’s Angel, a beauty of near cult status, young, beautiful and seemingly without depth (but not really of course), versus this woman of achievement at the age of 62, who belied her critics when she performed on Broadway, and who kept the cameras rolling as she fought a terrible disease, warts and all.
A documentary of her journey is  slated to air May 15th.  Many would have abandoned the project once they realized this was not going to be a story of success.  Instead, she has chosen to soldier on, show people that even a beautiful person who appeared to have it all, is merely flesh and blood in the end, not very different from  other bald headed chemo patients, or you and I.  And that living and dying go hand in hand. 

Brave heart.

Ryan O’Neal has had a life more traumatic and dramatic than any Hollywood screenplay could concoct. I won’t call it a train wreck, but it hasn’t been a walk in the park for him, or his progeny. Sadly that luck did not change with the son that he and Farrah shared, Redmond, now back in rehab for the umpteenth time and facing serious jail time.

Ryan’s relationship with Farrah has waxed and waned over the years, but it seemed that they always fell back together, and he has been with her, and is there now by her bedside. An eerie echo of his role as Oliver Barrett those many years ago. A beautiful and talented woman dying too young, again.

June 25, 2009 Author’s Note: Like many of you visiting here today I am saddened by Farrah’s passing. She will be remembered for many reasons, not the least of which is the courage and grace she displayed during her battle with this awful disease. She was 62 years old.

Art Imitates Life Imitates Art

Art Imitates Life Imitates Art

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