Growing up in Texas, I knew a lot of girls like Farrah Fawcett, and I hated them. They had everything I didn’t: blond hair, blue eyes, the power, seemingly, to get anything and everything they wanted in my small public high school — boys, head cheerleader, the ability to decide, in a twinkling, who was cool and who wasn’t.
My mother told me not to worry — my time would come, she said — but what did she know? I was a dark, brooding teenager, and everywhere I turned there was a poster of a beaming woman with wild blond hair, her smile as wide as the Texas sky, in a low-cut scarlet bathing suit that, every man now over the age of 40 can tell you, revealed what was in 1976 the scandalous hint of a nipple.
Texas has produced a lot of beauties, but Farrah Fawcett of Corpus Christi was the one who dominated my late adolescence. Sometime after my mother tried — O.K., at my behest — to give me a Farrah feather-cut that wilted immediately in the summer heat, she came to stand for everything I wanted to escape in my home state. The oppressiveness, the conformity, the vanity, the insincerity required of Texas women — smiling when you didn’t mean it, looking happy to see someone you really weren’t happy to see, never appearing in public without your face on (hers was a brilliantly contrived natural look) — acting, in general, as if you were always giving the best party in the world. It always seemed to me to be too much work.
Of course, I had it wrong about Farrah Fawcett. For a while she did get everything she must have wanted, or that people thought she should have wanted. She was the iconic beauty of her time and her various acting comebacks — instead of a go-for-it crime fighter she became a battered woman, a Nazi hunter and Robert Duvall’s unforgiving wife in “The Apostle” — proved that she was more than that.
But by then, no one cared. I wrote a magazine profile of her in 2000, and she spent a lot of time avoiding my softball questions by locking herself for extended periods in various bathrooms: at the Beverly Hills Hotel, at her home high atop Beverly Hills, in a movie theater restroom in Century City, where we’d gone for some premiere. She was a tiny thing, fragile as a sparrow, disoriented. I rode with her to the doctor for some kind of much-needed injection, and took no pleasure in the trip.
Maybe, as some have suggested, this was all an act — being flighty Farrah Fawcett was her best role — but even if that were true, her choice of that act was instructive. It made you want to take care of her, to be careful in your approach, not to push or probe too much, because she might break.
Over time, I’ve made peace with the blond beauties of my childhood, and see that they have some essential qualities she lacked: an instinct for self-preservation, an ability to laugh through the worst of it, toughness and self-respect — these might have helped Farrah Fawcett get by after her beauty faded and the crowd moved on. But by then she was a creature of Hollywood, not Texas, and, unlike me, had left home for good.
Mimi Swartz, an executive editor at Texas Monthly magazine.