Charlie's timeless angels: Women who transformed television

Thirty years after the original series of the late Aaron Spelling's legendary TV show, its three stars paid tribute to him at the Emmy awards. But how has life treated them all since? David Usborne reports

Jilly - Farrah Fawcett

Of the three original stars of Aaron Spelling's 1970's television phenomenon, Charlie's Angels, only one has retained her place in the cultural landscape, despite being the first to abandon the show.

But even Farrah Fawcett herself, who is now 59 years old, might agree that her longevity as a popular icon has had more do with swimsuit fittings than elevated acting abilities.

No scholar of television is going to try to tell you that Charlie's Angels was about anything much beyond sex appeal.

Indeed, it engendered a new industry acronym: T&A TV. (That would be tits and ass.) Farrah Fawcett once said as much. "When the show was number three, I figured it was our acting. When it got to be number one, I decided it could only be because none of us wears a bra."

Though she joined Sunday night's tribute to Spelling, those with long memories will recall that her departure from the Charlie's Angels set was not a happy one. Her decision, motivated by aspirations of a big-star film career, triggered a lawsuit against Spelling and his co-producer Leonard Goldberg, which resulted in her agreeing to make guest appearances in six episodes over the next two years.

The celebrity conferred on Texas-born Fawcett by the Angels in 1976, in which she played Jilly Munroe, was indisputable. Nothing told the story of the loyalty of her fans better than when she agreed that same year to pose for a poster dressed in a swimsuit. It sold 12 million copies, adorning the walls of social clubs, common rooms and lorry cabs from Liverpool to Lima.

Her big-screen dreams never really materialised, however. That is not to say that Fawcett did not go a long way from disproving her braless observations. In 1984, she won the first of three Emmy nominations for her portrayal of a battered wife in a television movie called The Burning Bed. She won similar acclaim for the stage and film version of Extremities, where she played a victim of rape.

Yet the impression will perhaps always linger that her one year on Charlie's Angels represented the peak of her career, at least commercially. Tabloid interest in Farrah Fawcett has never faded. It was fuelled by her nine-year marriage to Lee Majors, the star of the Six Million Dollar Man, which earned her the nickname, "The Bionic Wife". After she split with Majors - and subsequently dropped the hyphenated Majors from her last name - she began a long love affair with Ryan O'Neal. They had one child together, a son called Raymond born in 1982.

In December 1995, Ms Fawcett seemingly gave in to the sex-kitten image she knew she couldn't shake off, agreeing to do a pictorial spread, almost at the age of 50, for Playboy magazine. The issue sold more than four million copies, making it the biggest issue of the magazine for all of the Nineties.

Speculation that Ms Fawcett had somehow jumped the rails in her personal life - or even that she was struggling with drug abuse - has come and gone in recent years, most notably when she appeared unable to string a sentence together appearing on the David Letterman late-night talk show on the NBC network in 1997. She seemed to be similarly incoherent during a roast of William Shatner, the erstwhile Star Trek icon, broadcast earlier this year by Comedy Central.

Meanwhile, Fawcett has routinely dismissed other rumours in recent months over possible cosmetic surgery procedures, triggered by a photograph published two years ago when she hardly looked her glamorous best - as she did once again on Sunday at the Emmy's. The reason for her sudden return to flawless looks, she has said, is simply healthy living. "I have taken time out to look after myself and eat well. Hence, I look better," she said.

Kelly - Jaclyn Smith

Jaclyn Smith, who played Kelly Garrett, was the only one of the three original Angels to make it all the way until 1981, when the programme and the fictional detective agency run by the invisible Charlie - voiced by the actor John Forsyth - was finally retired. At 60, she is also the oldest of the trio.

Originally a model in New York, she also can probably credit Aaron Spelling with giving her the six most successful years of her acting career.

"I'm sure he's looking down on us and smiling, knowing he brought us together as only he could," she said on Sunday.

After the series ended, Smith earned a reputation as the queen of made-for-television films and mini-series in the US. Through the Eighties, she appeared in more than two dozen such productions - of the kind usually screened on a Sunday evening. In 1989, she was given the title role in a network mystery series called Christine Cromwell, but it failed to catch on and closed after one season. More recently she had a recurring co-starring role on the successful law and order series, The District.

She had to turn away some appealing offers while the Angels were riding high in the ratings. Opportunities missed included starring as the female interest in the James Bond film Moonraker starring Roger Moore. (Lois Chiles took that role instead.) Years later, she was also asked to appear with Burt Reynolds in a sequel to The Cannonball Run but she had just had a baby and declined.

There was one notable appearance recently, however - Smith did a small cameo of her old self as Angel Garrett in the most recent movie version of the show, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (2003). Both film versions of the series, made by Sony, featured a new trio of angels in the form of Lucy Liu, Drew Barrymore and Cameron Diaz.

Like Kate Jackson, a fellow Angel, Smith has fought breast cancer. She has not had anything close to a stable personal life, with three failed marriages behind her. Today, however, she lives happily with her fourth husband, a surgeon, Brad Allen. Smith spends more time nowadays as a spokeswoman for linens and household goods sold by the K-Mart chain of discount shops in the US, and also sells her own line of soft home furnishings.

Sabrina - Kate Jackson

For Kate Jackson, Charlie's Angels was at least as much a curse as a blessing. Of the three women, she was the first to become involved, working with Aaron Spelling on conceiving the programme even before the first pilot was made. It was eventually decided that Jackson would play the "smart" angel of the trio, named Sabrina Duncan, cracking cases as much with her brain as her sex appeal.

Jackson lasted slightly longer than Fawcett in the show. She gave up on it after three years, however, and again the mood on the set was sour. She had earlier been offered the lead role in the film Kramer vs Kramer and Spelling had refused to let her go. The Kramer part, which could have been the biggest of her career, went instead to a fast-rising young actress at the time, Meryl Streep. From 1983 to 1987 Jackson starred in the highly successful series Scarecrow and Mrs King, revolving around a housewife sleuthing.

Her acting career had gone into hiatus in the late 1980s, however, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She chose to make her fight with the disease a public one, joining the campaign to persuade women of the importance of cancer prevention and mammograms. In 1995, she adopted a child as a single mother after three failed marriages.

At the Emmy's, Ms Jackson, 58, spoke of the well-reported family feud that has pitted Spelling's daughter, Tori, against his widow, Candy, with Tori reportedly claiming that she has been unfairly squeezed out of Aaron's will, with only $800,000 coming to her from a fortune worth $500m. Candy rejects the allegations.

"It's a Machiavellian thing that's going on that Aaron would write himself," Jackson told reporters at the ceremony. "It is brilliant in its treachery and maliciousness; morally reprehensible." She recalled knowing the Spelling family in happier times, including when Tori was first born. "I saw a look of love in his eyes that I had never seen before in anyone's," she said.

She also offered another nugget of gossip. It could be that a reunion TV film, featuring all three women and perhaps the three others who at different times played one of the angels, is in the offing. "Yes, there is going to be something very, very exciting," she divulged, but refused to say more.

Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
tvReview: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
Review: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
football Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Manchester United manager David Moyes looks on during his side's defeat to Everton
footballBaines and Mirallas score against United as Everton keep alive hopes of a top-four finish
Tour de France 2014Sir Rodney Walker on organising the UK stages of this year’s race
Arts & Entertainment
Jessica Brown Findlay as Mary Yellan in ‘Jamaica Inn’
TVJessica Brown Findlay on playing the spirited heroine of Jamaica Inn
YouTube clocks up more than a billion users a month
mediaEuropean rival Dailymotion certainly thinks so
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents The ad shows Prince Charles attired for his coronation in a crown and fur mantle with his mouth covered by a criss-cross of white duct tape
Arts & Entertainment
‘Self-Portrait Worshipping Christ’ (c943-57) by St Dunstan
books How British artists perfected the art of the self-portrait
Luis Suarez celebrates after scoring in Liverpool's 3-2 win over Norwich
Football Vine shows Suarez writhing in pain before launching counter attack
People White House officials refuse to make comment on 275,000 signatures that want Justin Bieber's US visa revoked
Sir Cliff Richard is to release his hundredth album at age 72
Lukas Podolski celebrates one of his two goals in Arsenal's win over Hull
Arts & Entertainment
Quentin Tarantino, director
The speeding train nearly hit this US politican during a lecture on rail safety
news As the saying goes, you have to practice what you preach
Mercedes Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain (front) drives ahead of Red Bull Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia during the Chinese F1 Grand Prix at the Shanghai International circuit
Arts & Entertainment
Billie Jean King, who won the women’s Wimbledon title in 1967, when the first colour pictures were broadcast
Snow has no plans to step back or reduce his workload
mediaIt's 25 years since Jon Snow first presented Channel 4 News, and his drive shows no sign of diminishing
Life & Style
food + drinkWhat’s not to like?
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Online Advertising Account Executive , St Pauls , London

£26K-30k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Advertising Account Executive - Online, Central London

£25K-28k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

NGO and Community Development in Cambodia

Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: There are many small development projects in ...

Business, Marketing and Tourism Volunteer Projects

Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: As part of an ongoing effort to support local...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit