How Farrah Fawcett Changed the World

Reflections on the Elvis of television.

American music changed on July 6, 1954, when Elvis Presley, just nineteen, walked into the Sun studios in Memphis to make his first commercial record. American television changed on October 15, 1969, during a very brief moment in an episode of The Flying Nun. Alejandro Rey, who played a roguish but lovable casino owner, sat on a couch next to a 22-year-old Texas girl with shiny blonde hair who was dressed in a sailor blouse and miniskirt. “Soon,” he said, “we’ll go out to sea.”

Out to see what?” she said with a dizzy giggle.

Within a year of his modest beginning, Elvis was a national figure. The leading musical stars of the day were people like Rosemary Clooney, Doris Day, and Perry Como, considerable talents all. Elvis’s heat burnt them to cinders. Watching him on Steve Allen, Ed Sullivan, and the couple of lesser-known television shows where he was introduced to the whole country, anyone could see that Elvis was a sexual phenomenon of immense power. But no one could have seen then what ultimately is important about him. He was the originator and the lifelong king of a kind of music that is the most powerful common experience for all those born between World War II and 1960.

Farrah Fawcett took longer to reach the national consciousness. But when she did, in 1976, she became the first person from television to claim the same worshipful adulation and obsessive interest from the public that Elvis received as a rock star. That first appearance on The Flying Nun came too early—at a time when the generation that had made Elvis an icon was either in or just out of college. Farrah’s emotional moment had not yet arrived. The winds of social rebellion were blowing, and rock was the informing idea behind a youth culture whose focus was sex, drugs, and urgent yearnings of either a political or religious kind. It was the era when all that Elvis had begun held sway.

Farrah Fawcett had nothing to do with any of it. She wasn’t interested in drugs or rebellion; she played good tennis. She was fresh and blonde and toothy and tanned. She was all-American and middle American. Her values were those of the sorority house and the country club. By 1976, the year she zoomed to stardom, the country was ready for those values, too. Farrah was a comfort, not a threat. All the demons Elvis had summoned, placed on record, and loosed upon the land, she soothed and sent on their way. She was not rock ‘n’ roll. She was television.

1. The Dr Pepper Perplex—Comedy

Farrah Fawcett asks her publicist (Paul Bloch) for a down-home drink from her native state—but can he find one in Los Angeles?

Farrah Fawcett took one look at me and said, “I’m so unpre pared.” She covered her face with both hands, shook her head, and lightly stamped her foot. Then, composing herself after this practiced gesture or sudden attack of insecurity, she shook my hand, and we sat down at opposite ends of a beige couch. She was wearing tan suede boots, gray slacks, a light tan

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