Remembering Farrah

Thursday, February 3, 2011

There was a poignant little shrine on display at the National Museum of American History on Wednesday: a leather-bound book of "Charlie's Angels" scripts; the 1976 Time with the Angels on the cover; a vintage 1977 "Farrah's Glamour Center" toy beauty kit; that famous Farrah-in-the-red-swimsuit poster.

And saddest of all: Farrah Fawcett's actual famous red swimsuit, without Farrah in it.

It seemed more than Ryan O'Neal could bear.

"I don't think that Farrah realized the impact that poster would have on the world," said the late actress's longtime love, tearing up as he handed over a set of Fawcett artifacts to the Smithsonian's pop-culture collection on what would have been her 64th birthday. "She was one of a kind. She had energy and an aura I have never seen before or since. She was magnificent."

Then he choked out a few halting words of thanks to the museum, reports our colleague Aaron Leitko, and, seemingly overcome by emotion, bolted from the room and stayed out of sight for a few minutes.

Listen, we know we've raised an eyebrow or two over the years about some of the show-biz stuff the Smithsonian's been taking in these days (Chuck Mangione's hat - really? "America's Funniest Home Videos" props?) and whether they deserve a place alongside Dorothy's ruby slippers. But, hey, that ship has sailed. Would any pop-cult scholar argue there's anything more American 1976-iconic than The Farrah Poster?

Was there the faint scent of marketing opportunity in the room? There always is with these things, and O'Neal was accompanied by not just his tabloid-bruised children - Tatum, his Oscar-winning daughter from a previous marriage, and Redmond, his in-and-out-of-rehab son with Fawcett - but a camera crew shooting footage for their forthcoming reality show on Oprah's OWN.

But there's no denying the power of the swimsuit; Dwight Blocker Bowers, curator for the museum's entertainment history division, said the Smithsonian had sought it for years before Fawcett's death from cancer in 2009.

The swimsuit - which her publicist later found in a box of her things - is among a small collection of items donated by O'Neal and Fawcett's nephew, Greg Walls, including magazine covers, Farrah toys and her TV scripts. But back to the poster, please? Fortunately, a witness to the famous photo shoot - pal and tennis coach Nels Van Patten - was also on hand for the Smithsonian ceremony.

It was a totally casual thing, explained Van Patten (yes, one of Dick's sons). He was headed over to her place for a game of tennis, but first she had to do this shoot - It won't be long, she said. "It was just me and the photographer," he said. "Farrah did her own makeup, did her own hair. She didn't even have a mirror. . . . And then she'd say to me, so blase, so nonchalant about the shoot, she said, 'Nels, will you get me a Coke. Lots of ice,' with a Southern accent. Then she'd say, 'Nels, will you get me a lemon?' Lemon for the ice? 'No, a lemon for the hair.' " So he plucked one off a tree in that California backyard, and squeezed it into her incredible mane.

"That's her secret," said Van Patten. "The lemon, Coke with a lot of ice."


Tatum, did you ever try on the red bathing suit? Not that one, but "I mean, I tried on some of her other bathing suits," she said, "and sort of wished I looked like her."

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