Thursday, July 02, 2009

Farrah Fawcett:
The Actress, Artist, and Inspiration
B. February 2, 1947; D. June 25, 2009

Farrah Fawcett died last week and was buried Tuesday. Most articles have focused on her obvious sex appeal, but Farrah and the other Angels as well as Lynda Carter in Wonder Woman and Lindsay Wagner in The Bionic Woman were very formative role models as a girl in the seventies without liberated parents. Farrah was the face of the Angels, a group of smart, liberated, and powerful women who solved crime and put bad guys in jail. They and the other two I mentioned gave me a belief that women could in fact, do anything that men can do. I realize it was cheesy television, but to a six or seven year-old it wasn't. Farrah also went on to act in films like the TV movies Double Exposure: The Story of Margaret Bourke-White, The Burning Bed, Nazi Hunter: The Beate Klarsfeld Story, and Extremities. Margaret Bourke-White was an adventurous female photographer in the 30s and 40s who took the famous photo of the men at the fence at the liberation of Buchenwald. In The Burning Bed, she fixes her abusive husband's wagon by burning down the house with him in it. In Nazi Hunter, she "plays real-life Beate Klarsfeld, a German Protestant housewife who, with the help of her Jewish law-student husband, Serge, began an unrelenting campaign after World War II to bring Nazi war criminals to justice, most of which is centered on Klaus Barbie." (1) And in Extremities, she turns the tables on her would-be rapist. No other Angel consistently chose powerful women as her characters of choice. In a world of Lifetime TV (as I call it, Victim Television) that romanticizes women in their socialized victim role, she raised the bar for female empowerment and her characters refused to be victims.

One thing the reader may not know about Farrah is that she was an artist. (2) In 1999 she paired up with another artist, Keith Edmier, to embark on a very postmodern, post-Warhol project. (3) (4) She acted as his "muse" and he hers, and they made nude sculptures of one another. Her figure was in marble and his in bronze. The talent Farrah possessed in the handling of the material and in expressing her vision is undeniable.

Farrah working on her sculpture of Edmier.

Farrah Fawcett's sculpture of Keith Edmier

Detail of the sculpture of Edmier

She possessed enough talent to be recognized as an artist in an exhibit with Keith Edmier at the Andy Warhol Museum. (5)

Of course, what she is remembered for in the media and our pop culture world is her 70s bra-less-ness, her much-copied hairdo, and famous poster donning the childhood walls of men in their late 30s and early 40s today. She is a study in contrasts in our image-obsessed culture. Even today, after the age of women's liberation in which she burst into her fame, women are still noticed for their appearance, not for what they do or produce. Farrah Fawcett is remembered for her "Jiggle TV" role in Charlie's Angels, but not for the characteristics of the role of Jill Munroe. Fawcett's character in the show was a tough, karate-chopping gumshoe who was the most athletic, as well as giving back her time to coach a girl's basketball team during the early years of Title IX. (6)

Farrah is also remembered for playing "victims" in highly charged TV dramas--or at least, that's what the media would have you believe. The Burning Bed put Farrah back on the map in terms of notoriety. But, during the last week, clips from the film have been shown on various news outlets showing a bedraggled, worn-down, beaten and battered wife, not the woman who lit the match. Likewise, the clips shown from Extremities, (7) show a woman being overwhelmed by a would-be rapist, when the point of the film is that she captures and tortures him--particularly HIS extremity. This observation is also true of an image search for film stills on the internet. 99.9% of the images show a different picture of these two films' plots. What constitutes good acting for a woman is playing a character who is victimized, not triumphant or focused on strength, adventure, and justice.

Scene from The Burning Bed

Scene from the play, Extremities (7)

It's not very often that art actually has a measurable impact on life. A lot of attention was brought to the issues of domestic violence and rape due to Farrah's famous roles in the 1980s. The Burning Bed won top ratings in 1984, obviously demonstrating a resonance with society. (8)

I was very sad about Farrah's death this last week, not only because she was one of a few pivotal role models from my childhood TV viewing, but that she is being remembered for only the superficial things. It is typically American to celebrate form over substance. But, Farrah was a substantial individual even to the end of her life. The last part of her substance she decided to share with us was her battle with cancer. The documentary, Farrah's Story documented her struggles with the disease and its treatment, touching many people's lives in a REAL way. It is my hope that some day, when and if we become more enlightened and grown-up as a culture, that she will be remembered for this, giving young girls the dream of competency and capability, empowering women, and her personal artwork. Even if the culture never does, it is how I will remember her.

© Stephanie Lewis, 2009






(5) _Supermarket.pdf


(7) Fawcett was also in the play, Extremities.


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