As Farrah Fawcett moved inevitably toward death, I have thought a lot about how different her life might have been had she not fallen prey to a myth of show-business success.
That myth, of course, is that it is better to be a star in the movies than in TV. ...
It was the lure of the movies which drew Farrah from her secure, highly popular berth on "Charlie's Angels." She might well have stayed with that show for many years, then made an easy transition into TV-movies or another long-lasting series. I know, plenty of stars fail to match their early success. But there are other examples of repeat succeeders. And she might just as easily have settled into movies and miniseries (where she returned when the movie career did not materialize); "The Burning Bed" is still possible in this scenario.
More important, Farrah was a star made for television. This isn't just a factor of her repeated returns to the medium that was warmest to her -- even providing a home for a documentary about her illness. Especially as her star rose in the '70s, she had qualities best suited to TV.
She was, as was said of Doris Day at times, "clean sexy." She conveyed a joy, a California brightness, a promise of being the best girlfriend you could ever take to a prom. The sexy part of that was understated -- even the notorious nipple bump on her bathing suit was counterbalanced by that flowing hair and big grin -- and left for the most part to the audience's imagination. It was, indeed, "jiggle" -- teasing, hinting, suggesting but never too explicit.
Although TV in her era was inching toward greater realism, she was still part of a period where the mass audience preferred a certain naivete -- they wanted their "Happy Days." She was perfect for that. But that didn't translate into movies, where the Coppolas and Scorseses were part of a movement toward a grimmer, more graphic world. Early in her movie shift, Farrah could be glimpsed topless, because that's what the movies demanded -- and because she had to give moviegoers something they couldn't get on TV.
But Farrah was never meant for the graphic. She was meant to be an angel. Once she stopped being one, her career was never quite the same. She did respectable work here and there. She fed the tabloids with a complicated, difficult, too-much-in-public personal life. The personal issues might well have arisen had she stayed in TV, but they would have been in the context of a safer environment. If she only she hadn't believed in the myth.
And it is a myth. The money to be made in TV is enormous. The attention is as vast as that for a movie star. Jennifer Aniston, to make an obvious parallel to Farrah, appears in movies but is still best known because she is a TV star still viewable in reruns, and she was smart enough to stay with her show until its end. If, as Farrah grew older, she had wanted more demanding or explicit roles, she could have found them. With the broad blanket of TV including things like FX, AMC, Showtime and HBO as well as the broadcast-networks, you can still do mature, edgy work while reaching millions more in a single night than a film might get to in its entire run.
And she still could have been a star.