It dawned on me this morning, as I was watching Farrah Fawcett in Extremities (1986), that her performance functions as a rebuttal to her earlier image as a sex symbol, where once she was taking the abuse, now she can dish it out.
I need to see The Burning Bed (1984) once again, because it operates in a similar manner, turning her ’70s image upside down. Ironic as it, in spite of these efforts, the poster idol still sticks on the wall!
Yesterday I read that the red swimsuit of Farrah Fawcett (the Saks Fifth Avenue one she wore in the 1976 poster) is being donated to the Smithsonian Institution’s popular culture history collections. The public can view it for themselves this coming summer. I would love to go to Washington and view the faded red bathing suit, along with other ephemera of Farrah’s, such as her Charlie’s Angels scripts, many magazines with her on the cover, and even Farrah dolls.
The news of these Farrah donations surprised me more than what might be thought of as normal. Yesterday was my birthday, and I was waxing nostalgic anyhow, and spent the entire day drifting in and out of consciousness, locked in a 1970s time-warp with Farrah on my mind BIGTIME. Pipedreams of the Pinup Queen swept my mind; why (I thought to myself) is she the quintessential model of femininity for that decade-the Disco-Centric-Charlie-Matic-Bell-Bottom-Addict-Foosball-Raddy-1970s?
Sensibilities returned to me today. I’m taking a much more systematic look at the life and career of Farrah Fawcett. Upside and downside. Extremities was an eye-opener, but it made me want to back track to her earlier days, to see how she carved out her image by the time she gets to Charlie’s Angels, which debuted on September 22, 1976. YouTube has many of the early TV commercials and cameos in sitcoms, such as her 1970 appearance on The Partridge Family as Pretty Girl.
As I watched these clips, I noticed a curious thing. Farrah’s hairdo wasn’t quite up to snuff in early TV ads, such as the Ultra Bright toothpaste commercial or the Noxema Shaving Cream ad with Broadway Joe Namath. However, her teeth are picture perfect. Eureka! The light came on in my teeny noggin. Farrah’s hairdo didn’t come together completely until this 1976 red swimsuit poster shoot, that yielded a picture/poster that is purported to have sold 12 million copies (this number is in dispute, apparently).
Okay, so what’s such a big deal about Farrah’s curlicue, streaky bleach-blond, feathery HairDo anyhow? On the day of the shoot, Fawcett makes up her own hair without a vanity mirror and squeezes some lemon in her hair to electrify it with natural highlights. If you say so, so… so what! What Farrah did, my friend, was a pure act of glamour genius!
When the camera bulb flashes this is the Renaissance moment of the ’70s; this freezes the 1970s perfectly in one twinkling. Shimmering crystal white teeth, smile brimming radiantly, upwardly turned head, and floating, swirling hair follicles against a Mexican poncho pattern. Whole ball of wax by way of ’70s culture captured in this rare instant.
Farrah creates the 1970s, then spends much of her time later on in her career trying to unravel this synthetic image, by showing the downside to being a ravishing beauty of a pinup queen. So one has to give her credit on both accounts; on the one hand, for creating an image of women that shows the ecstasy of feminine image-making, and on the other hand, for showcasing the malignancy of exploitation by a handful of obloquious blokes.
I haven’t heard that her role as Francine Hughes in The Burning Bed was in any way autobiographical, but it can be praised as a landmark in terms of making a strong case to the American public about the tremendous problem of domestic abuse. I’m going to put The Burning Bed to the top of my Netflix queue, it’s that important.
The last point I want to make has to do with the popularity of the Farrah poster again. One must remember the hermetic fact that there was no internet around in the 1970s. Therefore, people, or better yet, men, …had to physically collect this poster, frame it, and mount it on their bedroom wall (or gym locker), so they could ogle it night and day, while they watched Charlie’s Angels. The history of abuse begins right here.
This is why it sold so well. You couldn’t Google Farrah at four in the morning like you can today. Can you still order that poster? Rapidimente! Send me a link so I can relive the pre-internet past. A University of Texas Coed makes it to the BIGTIME and single-handedly defines an entire decade! “Morning Angels.”
See ya in line at the Smithsonian next summer.