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 sweater, and a gray knit jacket with fur epaulets. Her hair, an equal mixture of tan and blonde, was a glorious mess. She wore no lipstick or eye shadow or nail polish or any other visible makeup except for an almost imperceptible bit of cover-up to camouflage a small blemish near her mouth. Her only jewelry was two diamond rings on the fourth finger of her left hand. The smaller of the two was the size of the nail on my little finger; the larger, the size of the nail on my thumb.
We were in a conference room in the offices of her publicist, Paul Bloch. I had been ushered in earlier by a secretary, given some tea, and allowed to wait for a while. Finally a door on one side of the room opened, and in came Bloch, a hefty man with a round jack-o’-lantern face wearing slacks and a knit shirt.
“Hello, hello,” he said. “How are you? Good to see you. How’re you doing? I’ll bring Farrah in in a minute.” And then he disappeared through a door on the opposite side of the room.
A few minutes later he did bring her in, and when we were settled on the couch, he asked Farrah if she wanted anything to drink.
“Oh, just a soda.”
“Well, I don’t think you’ll have it.”
“You name it,” Paul Bloch said, “and I’ll find it.”
“Dr Pepper,” she said with the confidence of a woman who feels certain of her audience. And Bloch disappeared out the door again.
I mentioned that first appearance on The Flying Nun. “Let me tell you a cute story about that,” she said and rushed into a solo performance. She ejected out of the couch into the middle of the room and, with much waving of her arms and wide modulations of her voice, proceeded to do all the parts in this minor drama. “They told me they were ready,” she said, gesturing toward her now vacant place on the couch. Then she turned, shaking her arms as if she were frustrated and confused. “The people doing my makeup had put one of my false eyelashes on crooked. I said, ‘But what about my eyelash?’ And they said, ‘We don’t care about your eyelash. Sit there.’” Now she was looking frantically around waving her arms, little girl lost. “I said, ‘Sit where? Here?’”
There was nothing to do but watch all this. Her energy kept building, but where was the punch line? At this point Paul Bloch rushed back in carrying a paper cup with a plastic straw and handed it to Farrah. She took a sip. “It is Dr Pepper,” she said with an immense smile. She sat back down and put the cup on the coffee table in front of the couch. “And that,” she said, “is when I