The end of Farrah Fawcett's life may have played out in the tabloids, but she belonged to us first. And by "us" I mean Generation X, generally, and the boys who cut their teeth chewing the plastic wrap off her rolled-up posters.
She was our "first" -- the leggy blond model from Texas imprinted on our brains eons before the likes of Jerry Hall or Anna Nicole Smith sashayed into our field of vision. The first with a hairstyle so remarkable that feathered "Farrah hair" defined a decade the way Jennifer Aniston's "Rachel" cut could only dream about. Fawcett's braless escapades on "Charlie's Angels" (and tight-shirted shenanigans on "Battle of the Network Stars") became the benchmark for all the jiggle TV to follow.
She was the reason some of us opened an atlas for the first time -- to find her hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas, on the map -- and the reason others bought Wella Balsam shampoo or suffered through "Logan's Run." Her marriage to "The Six Million Dollar Man" star Lee Majors was one of the first celebrity marriages we cared about, and it served as incontrovertible evidence to a fair number of preteen boys that bionic limbs were most likely a powerful aphrodisiac.
The face-framing feathered tresses she wore when she met the world as one of "Charlie's Angels" came by way of Beverly Hills stylist José Eber. And as that signature look took off, it kicked his career into high gear.
"I got calls from women all over the U.S., Europe, even Saudi Arabia, who wanted to get the Farrah hairdo," Eber noted in a published interview. But he gave his client due credit: "It was the way Farrah moved her head, the way she ran her fingers through her hair, her natural sex appeal."
Anyone doubting her influence on fashion need only pick up any prom picture or leaf through any high school yearbook from 1977 to 1985 to see the inordinate number of women (and more than a few men) sporting some variation on Fawcett's hair.
But her legacy in the pop culture canon will always begin and end with that poster -- the one many consider to be the bestselling poster of all time, the one that gave some of us our first inkling that there was more to life than comic books. The woman on that poster was Gen X's first crush.
Farrah Leni Fawcett-Majors (at the time, her hyphenation made her seem only more unattainable and therefore, more desirable) also was a guardian angel of sorts, watching us from the walls of our bedrooms, listening as we stumbled through first forays into adulthood: young love, illicit sips of beer. It was easy to pretend that the radiant blond with the mouthful of pearly whites was tossing her head back and effortlessly laughing at something we'd said.
It's impossible to imagine a poster today being as beguiling and mysterious. The photo seemed as if it had been taken almost surreptitiously, a woven blanket in the background. The rust-red, one-piece swimsuit seemed damp and noticeably cool, and a thin gold chain around her neck dipped into her decolletage. She was seated, her left arm resting on her left knee, her left hand tousling her hair, her head tilted back at a 45-degree angle from the camera, a smile so wide and bright that by today's standards it is full-on caricature. The shot looks ever so slightly exploded -- as if someone had enlarged what should have been a much smaller print.
Today we know that the poster image was shot by freelance photographer Bruce McBroom on behalf of a now-defunct Ohio company called Pro Arts Inc., using a Nikon-F camera. He took it in early 1976 near the pool at the Bel-Air home that Fawcett-Majors shared with her then-husband, when she was 29 and had not yet made her TV debut as "Charlie's Angels" crime-fighter Jill Munroe (that debut came on Sept. 22, 1976, around the same time the poster was released).
There was no stylist -- Fawcett-Majors did her own hair and makeup. And the Indian-blanket backdrop was a last-minute addition that the photographer grabbed from the front seat of his '37 Chevy. The subject of the photos decided which shot would become the poster. She eventually would own the copyright to the image as well.
By March 1977, it had sold 5 million copies. Today that number is north of 12 million, and no one else of her era has come close to being a swimsuited paragon of pinup pulchritude -- not Bo Derek running on the beach to the strains of Ravel's "Bolero," not Cheryl Tiegs in her see-through fishnet suit and not Pamela Anderson and her pneumatic ilk prancing through the waves. In 2007, GQ magazine named the poster "the most influential piece of men's art of the last 50 years," and a copy of it is among the holdings of the Smithsonian.
But for years now, she has been enshrined someplace much more intimate and meaningful: in the bedrooms, prom pictures and salon chairs of an entire generation that grew up with a definition of female beauty defined by the blond with the tousled mane and megawatt smile. She will always be our favorite Angel.