The sex symbol.

Jeez, Farrah Fawcett was 62? Groan. How the time do fly. For the record, I was young when she was young (but older!), and I lived through the era of the Poster. This poster, of course:


In about five minutes, Farrah’s poster replaced Carly Simon’s cover photo on “No Secrets” as the erect-nippled fantasy queen of the dorm room. It was time. American boys might go for a brunette from time to time, but sooner or later they always come back to the archetype of the California blonde. (Fawcett was from Texas, but then, many of the blondes in California are from elsewhere.) I argued over that poster many a night, always met by the same implacable male shit-eating grin: But I like it. OK, fine. Farrah was blot-out-the-sun beautiful and sold a million blow dryers to a million women who aped her haircut, but she was never really threatening. Take note, Angelina. It’s possible to be a sex symbol without making other women want to put a tack on your chair.

It was the smile, of course. And the fact that nothing but the hair looked excessively fussed-over. Since every woman fusses over her hair, it bound her to us, instead of pushing us away, the way breast implants and see-through blouses do. She isn’t showing an acre of skin, only the results of a healthy, athletic lifestyle and the sort of thoroughbred good looks that some people get through the luck of the genetic draw. You know what that poster says? Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful. It wasn’t something she could help.

Farrah also wasn’t a man-eater. There was that unfortunate early marriage, after which she dropped the -Majors from her name and apparently swore off matrimony forever, even as she settled down with one man, Ryan O’Neal, for nearly 20 years. And while she had many ups and more downs, most apparently of her own making, she always seemed to be carrying her own weight. She worked in crap and quality, she went off the rails for a while, she had too much plastic surgery, but she was writing her own story, not depending on others to take care of her. Is it possible the girl in the poster, who angered so many feminists, turned out to be one herself?

I am thinking of another picture of Farrah, which you probably won’t see in the obit roundups. It was from a book I bought from a remainder table, “Cheap Chic,” by the editors of Rags magazine, now defunct. The picture looks like it dates from her pre-famous, modeling days, and features her in plain old Levis, white sneakers and a man’s white shirt, tails knotted at the waist. She’s posing on a skateboard, showing evidence of skateboard competence and the customary sunny smile. She looks great, of course, the essence of the American blonde beauty but warm, not Grace Kelly cool, fresh and clean and scrubbed. Don’t hate her because she’s beautiful. She was just one of the lucky ones.

Posted at 2:25 pm in Current events, Popculch |

35 responses to “The sex symbol.”

  1. derwood said on June 25, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    I still have that poster somewhere in my attic…rescued from my parents attic. I think I was in sixth or seventh grade.


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  2. Danny said on June 25, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    RIP, Farrah. You were an icon and will be missed. An era has ended.

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  3. MichaelG said on June 25, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    Nicely done, Nance.

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  4. Dexter said on June 25, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    Many have fought cancer with a passion, but I have never heard of anyone who fought like FF fought. Her endless flights to and from Germany, her quest for knowledge of her disease…she was a warrior in the battle.

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  5. Rana said on June 25, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    My memories of Ms. Fawcett are dominated by her hair, and my utter failure as a fine-haired teenager to reproduce anything like it. Her “feathers” were big (literally and figuratively) at my high school, and I had my hair cut to emulate them. Alas, my skills with curling iron and mousse were not up to the task, and so the style lasted only 20 minutes after leaving the salon.

    A wonderful tribute, Nancy – simply wonderful.

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  6. moe99 said on June 25, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    I too felt the same way about Farrah.

    But I got a kick out of our hostesses’ posting this so soon after inviting commentary on Sanford. For those of you who have seen “UP,” I think it was her “squirrel” moment.

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  7. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on June 25, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    She was very impressive in a small but vital role in Robert Duvall’s “The Apostle,” which is a great movie to show in a church basement and get a discussion going. It can get you fired, too, but sometimes [SQUIRREL!] you’re OK with that. It also includes Billy Bob Thornton caught actually acting, and June Carter’s last, unforgettable film role.

    I had the Kate Jackson poster, actually. Farrah wasn’t my type [SQUIRREL!]; as Billy Crystal would have said in “Harry/Sally,” she looked high maintenance to me.

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  8. Joe Kobiela said on June 25, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    Well that makes two down and one to go. First Ed MCMann, then Farrah, I’m betting Uncle Walter is next to make it three celebrities. On a happier note, 26yrs ago today Mrs Pilot Joe let me marry her. Smaller wedding but a great reception after, highlighted by 7, kegs of ice cold Bud, served in washed out gallon milk jugs we saved for weeks,then decorated with thank you notes to the guess. Dave K who reads this sight was there along with most of the Fort Wayne Rugby Club. The Garrett American Legion took awhile to recover.
    Pilot Joe
    P.S. Nancy,
    Just checked the radar, looks like I might get a little weather tonight a round Detroit.

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  9. Danny said on June 25, 2009 at 5:17 pm

    Wow, looks like it might be Michael Jackson. Reports are that he is in the hospital for cardiac arrest.

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  10. Catherine said on June 25, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    Lovely post-feminist appreciation, thank you!

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  11. nancy said on June 25, 2009 at 5:53 pm

    This isn’t exactly the skateboard picture I’m remembering, but I’m pretty sure it’s from the same session.

    Younger people, give me the names of some more recent sex symbol/pinups. (And yes, I know about Megan Fox.) I have an idea for another essay I might be able to sell for actual greenbacks, but I need some more source material. J-Lo in her prime, yes. Who else?

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  12. mark said on June 25, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    That photo is from her Charlie’s Angels days, but I still get your point.

    I don’t qualify as younger by much, but I’ll offer Madonna, Jennifer Aniston, Neve Campbell (ok, that one’s just a personal favorite), Demi Moore.

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  13. Dorothy said on June 25, 2009 at 6:03 pm

    Michael’s a goner all right. My daughter just phoned me – said TMZ has it and they’re “never wrong” (her words, not mine).

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  14. Jolene said on June 25, 2009 at 6:07 pm

    Other sex symbols: Maybe Scarlett Johansson? I don’t know if there’s a single iconic photo of the FF type, but there are lots of photos in pin-up type poses.

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  15. ROgirl said on June 25, 2009 at 6:08 pm

    God, that skateboard photo reminds me of the countless bad hairdos she was responsible for launching. Long after she changed her hairstyle countless teenage girls in malls across the land sported the pouffy do with the wings that feathered out and back.

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  16. brian stouder said on June 25, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    Jeez, Farrah Fawcett was 62? Groan. How the time do fly. For the record, I was young when she was young (but older!), and I lived through the era of the Poster.

    That opening encapsulates my own response to FF’s passing. If Michael Jackson dies, that opening will paraphrase my reaction, too.

    I remember when the news flash that Elvis was dead came across the TV (this was in pre-cable days, when “BREAKING NEWS” (or was it “SPECIAL REPORT!”?) was much less common!) – and it stopped my mom in her tracks. She literally exclaimed (or ejaculated!) the phrase “OH NO!” – even as it meant almost nothing to me. She had similar reactions to the passing of a select number of comedians (George Carlin leaps to mind), b-movie stars and local notables, over the years.

    Now that I can see 50 coming up (quickly!), I “get it” now. These are my peeps, checking out now. FF wasn’t a fave of mine, but several of my buddies had “the poster”; my older brothers’ friends had the Raquel Welch-on-the-beach poster (was that from a movie? Planet of the Apes?), but my age group had Farrah and Linda Carter (more to my tastes!) and singers like Madonna and Blondie (Deborah Harrie [spelling?] was the one blonde that I’d go all Appalachian Trail over!) and Annie Lenox, etc.

    But then, one gets on the other side of the cultural curve (so to speak) – and the new hot women aren’t ‘mine’; the women on Friends (Anniston, Kudlow and Cox), for example, weren’t speaking my language.

    I think the First Lady is hot, for heaven’s sake!

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  17. Joe Kobiela said on June 25, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    I was wrong,
    Michel Jackson,

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  18. Hexdecimal said on June 25, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    As a budding teenager circa 1969, my poster was of Raquel Welch – From the 1967 movie “One Million Years BC”. I just loved that fuzzy rabbit bikini that she wore. That poster stayed on the wall for 3 years – Then Ozzy/Black Sabbath took over the walls for almost as long. I should have stuck with Raquel as I might have most of my hearing back if I had…

    As for FF’s poster, a bud had her poster on the ceiling over his bed. I never understood why his wife put up with it.

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  19. Jeff Borden said on June 25, 2009 at 6:54 pm


    Racquel Welch in a fur bikini was the poster for “One Million B.C.” I can’t recall her name in the film, but she came from a tribe of blondes who lived near the sea, but fell for a member of the brunette tribe, who lived in caves. Lots of stop-action monsters and the sight of Racquel squirming in the clutches of a pterodactyl in addition to a catfight over a dinosaur tooth with Martine Beswick, who was one of the famous fighting gypsy girls in “From Russia With Love.”

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  20. Deborah said on June 25, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    The director of design interrupted an important meeting with the news of Michael Jackson’s death. We all gasped.

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  21. Catherine said on June 25, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    Jeez, NOW who is People going to put on their cover this week?

    (If you caught the Melissa Joan Hart kerfluffle a few weeks ago, you’ll know what I mean. She was caught on an open mike at KTLA here saying that she hoped Farrah wouldn’t die and knock her off the cover)

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  22. deb said on June 25, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    one of the things i remember about the farrah poster was the claim — perhaps urban legend — that the curls over her bosom had been either artfully arranged or altered in some pre-photoshop fashion to spell out “sex.” it took me a while to find it, but damn hell, there it is.

    re mj, i always figured him for an untimely demise, but i never dreamed he would pass from something as pedestrian as a heart attack. something tells me more is yet to be revealed.

    and i’d just like to point out that while TMZ called it first, MSNBC didn’t utter the words “michael jackson is dead” until it was reported in the LA times. newspapers may be a dying industry, but they’re still the source of record.

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  23. moe99 said on June 25, 2009 at 7:04 pm

    Bet the governor of S. Carolina is relieved by this [SQUIRREL].

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  24. Jolene said on June 25, 2009 at 7:13 pm

    and i’d just like to point out that while TMZ called it first, MSNBC didn’t utter the words “michael jackson is dead” until it was reported in the LA times. newspapers may be a dying industry, but they’re still the source of record.

    Actually, I think they said they were reporting on the basis of info from “city and law enforcement authorities”.

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  25. Dorothy said on June 25, 2009 at 7:45 pm

    Nancy would Jessica Alba meet your criteria? It’s a stretch, but still…And I was thinking of Jessica Simpson, Beyonce, Charlize Theron, Halle Berry, Pamela Anderson, Penelope Cruz. (Okay I admit – I got the last few names from But am I on the right track?

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  26. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on June 25, 2009 at 7:46 pm

    Nancy, there’s an Eva Mendes that apparently is da bomb with older boys; i keep hearing about how hot Danica Patrick is, so i’m guessing she’s been photographed in more than the kevlar suit i’ve seen her in. The boys on the bench also mention Megan Fox quite often. ‘Zat help?

    (I think i meant “less than” that kevlar driving suit.)

    My friend Doug Ross just noted at Facebook, editor that he is — ” The news gods have been very generous today.”

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  27. crinoidgirl said on June 25, 2009 at 7:48 pm

    “famous fighting gypsy girls” (snort)

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  28. nancy said on June 25, 2009 at 7:49 pm

    Mark, Dorothy — Yes. It helps.

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  29. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on June 25, 2009 at 8:55 pm

    Total mental health break from celebrity death — — language alert, but semi-appropriate in context. Do not, DO NOT have a mouthful of coffee or lite beer in your mouth if you play it unless you’re shopping for a monitor tomorrow at BestBuy.

    [HTML doesn’t love me right now for embedding purposes, and i’m just going to paste this up and then shut down because there is one mean looking squall line with lightning bearing down on us here in Brigadoon.]

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  30. Denise said on June 25, 2009 at 9:25 pm

    I am 5 yrs. younger than she. I wore the FF hairdo [designed by Jose Eber]. It made me feel as beautiful as she was! She was genetically gifted. I was genetically average!

    “Is it possible the girl in the poster, who angered so many feminists, turned out to be one herself?” YES!

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  31. Joe Kobiela said on June 25, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    I Think they’ll say the same thing about Michel Jackson as they said about Elvis.
    Brilliant career move.
    He will be more popular dead than alive.
    Graceland West.
    Pilot Joe

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  32. beb said on June 25, 2009 at 10:17 pm

    When Marilyn Chambers died a couple months back my first reaction was to her age – 53. She was younger than I am but she was in and out of making porno before I started watching so I always assumed she was older than me.

    A third death today is Don Coldsmith author of the Spanish Bit series of Frontier American fiction. I never was part of the Jackson crowd so I am totally gobsmacked to find that Oblermann has been pre-empted to minute by minute commentary as MSNBC followed the helicopter ferrying Jackson’s body to the coroner’s office. In effect there is no news today. Iraq doesn’t exist, Iran doesn’t exist. Bank of America doesn’t exist. It’s one long [SQUIRREL].

    I don’t think there is one iconic woman out there these days to compare to Farrah Fawcett’s or Racqel Welch’s posters. There is either a surfeit of pretty women or a lack of a studio system to invest heavy PR into creating an iconic poster. It could be that I’m just too old, because the last really hot woman I can think of is Geena Davis. When she walked on in “Tootsie in panty and bra my jaw dropped. That scene could have beem posterized.

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  33. coozledad said on June 25, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    Before the obsequies start to roll in about Michael, I wonder if anyone else found his early adolescent stuff more creepy and harrowing than the death ballads of Geechie Wiley. I remember waiting in a car when I was a kid and hearing a Jackson Brothers song, probably “I’ll Be There” paired with Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On”. They were both bummers to me. I still think it was strange you had kids singing that song. That was around the time a couple of citizens of Oxford, NC, killed a returning black Vietnam War Vet for sport.
    There was an outpouring of sympathy for the perps in my neighborhood. After the King assassination it apparently became de rigueur for fat white guys to patrol the suburbs with guns during “racial incidents”. Fortunately I’ve lived long enough to see a bunch of them slobbering in a wheelchair.
    And I’m sure Ed McMahon is pissed that he had to kick off “Death Week of The Stars”

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  34. peter said on June 25, 2009 at 11:21 pm

    Of course there were zillions of Farrah posters at my college dorm, but one guy went beyond the rest.

    Subodh had dozens of Farrah pictures on his wall, and he constantly wrote to her mentioning that he had an uncle in Bollywood who could get her into films, and wouldn’t they be the hottest couple in the subcontinent. For some odd reason, she never replied, but on the other hand, Subodh didn’t get arrested either, so it’s a wash.

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  35. Ricardo said on June 27, 2009 at 5:54 pm

    Let’s not forget Sky Saxon of the Seeds (“You’re Pushin’ Too Hard”) passed yesterday too. I guess that blows up the theory that celebrity death always happens in threes, something that I heard over and over. Sky wasn’t as popular as Jackson, of course, but played music a lot longer. And who, I ask, would have thought that Keith Richard would outlive them all?

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