The above clip, from The Partridge Family, set a celebratory impulse into motion. Farrah Fawcett was 23. And even within the seemingly vanilla universe of the Partridges, she still wore a dress that revealed her tawny anatomy, which was always offset by her bubbly voice. Fawcett, of course, would become best-known for Charlie’s Angels for these qualities. And as I was to understand from friends who had surfed along the raging tide of puberty ten to fifteen years before me, Fawcett was the picture you had on the inside of your high school locker.
My generation viewed Fawcett as the sad and flighty space cadet past her prime making frequent appearances on David Letterman. The older woman who bared all in Playboy just as the term MILF was gaining popular usage. Robert Duvall’s troubled wife in The Apostle. Even Robert Altman exploited her as Richard Gere’s mentally afflicted wife in Dr. T and the Women. You couldn’t really make fun of Fawcett, because doing so would mean perceiving her through this troubling misogynistic prism. But if you empathized, would you fall into the same trap? Fawcett, unlike Marilyn Monroe, didn’t have the brains to match her beauty. What was the solution? Directors casting her in roles as the aging ditz? Celebrating her as a kitschy icon?
The cancer encouraged public sympathy. That 1970s pinup was dying. And so too was a sentiment that had lingered long after Third Wave feminism had settled the score. Fawcett carried this additional burden of public scrutiny, one that we can possibly never know, and thus deserves our condolences.
It’s rather horrifying to think that her last months of life were spent trying to figure out who at her hospital was divulging her medical records to the tabloids.
She did find out who it was…and, in a strange turn, that person who profited off sharing Fawcett’s most personal information to the celebrity media ended up dying of cancer herself before Fawcett did.
She was able to die in peace and privacy, of course.
Early Fawcett is representative only so far as a song like Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit In The Sky” was representative of 60’s music: something manufactured and not a product of organic art sprung from the culture. I don’t know how smart or not Fawcett was, but the “poor little sex symbol who got no respect” angle became overplayed by the media. In the 80’s I was part of a playwright group in Philadelphia that previous to my arrival had workshopped William Mastrosimone’s Extremities. There and elsewhere there was no lack of respect for Fawcett’s more serious work. The way she was perceived by the Joe Blows who owned her poster vs. those with even a small place in the theater/art/film world was poles apart.