Farrah Fawcett Forever: How blonde bombshell created the poster that broke several taboos and record for highest selling pin-up of all time
The Charlie's Angels star etched her name in the hearts of generations to come with her iconic swimsuit poster released in 1976.
Aside from her unmatched beauty and sex appeal, the late Farrah Fawcett was best known for living life on her own terms.
After achieving breakout success as one of Charlie's Angels, Fawcett became a Hollywood icon making an unprecedented jump from TV to the silver screen with the 1984 blockbuster 'The Burning Bed'.
But while many typecasted the stunning blonde as just another pin-up girl, Fawcett was incredibly smart and a treasure trove of rare talents. Aside from being a gifted sculptor, she often cracked better deals for herself than her agents did, leaving them utterly embarrassed.
1976 was a big year for the American actress. At the time, her role as private investigator Jill Munroe in Charlie's Angels had already dropped a gazillion jaws on the floor, but the bombshell etched her name in the hearts of generations to come with her iconic swimsuit poster that was released the same year.
The poster would go on to grace millions of bedroom and dorm room walls across the globe, becoming the best-selling poster of all time. As explored in the special 'Biography: Farrah Fawcett Forever', premiering on Tuesday, July 9 at 9 pm ET/PT on A&E, the photograph became a defining phenomenon of the 1970s, and sealed her position as the queen of Hollywood.
What's more? Fawcett was the genius behind the sensational photoshoot. After being disappointed by the work of two photographers, she decided, "I'll just do it the way I want."
The idea for the poster was first floated by Ted Trikilis of poster manufacturing company Pro Arts Inc, who identified a potential business opportunity in 1976 after learning from a friend that men in his dorm were so smitten by Fawcett that they were buying women's magazines just because she was featured in their shampoo ads.
He immediately reached out to her about appearing in a poster.
Fawcett quickly agreed to the idea, later explaining, "If you don't sign a deal to do one, somebody does one anyway, and then you get nothing."
The budding actress exerted control over her photos right from the get-go. She told Pro Arts that she was not impressed by the work of previous photographers they had sent, and recommended freelance photographer Bruce McBroom for the assignment, having worked with him in the past.
While Pro Arts wanted her to sport a bikini for the shoot, she opted for a one-piece swimsuit. Many have claimed this was to conceal a scar on her stomach from childhood.
Fawcett, who was married to actor Lee Majors at the time, conducted the photoshoot at their Los Angeles mansion on a hot summer day in 1976. Wanting to do her own hair and makeup, she chose not to bring in any stylists. Furthermore, the swimsuits she tried on were not provided by designers, but instead came from her own closet. Also, she defied directions given to create "sexy" images, and chose to "do it the way I want."
The photoshoot went well, and Fawcett looked lush throughout the day. However, McBroom felt he was yet to take the perfect shot.
Fawcett then picked out a form-fitting red swimsuit from her own collection, and when she returned to the set, the photographer was spellbound. He soon realized he had a designer blanket from Mexico that would superbly complement her look and so he asked the star to get comfortable with it. McBroom later began shooting the stunner with his final roll of film.
But even at this juncture, it was Fawcett who hand-picked the image that would ultimately make the poster.
From a gallery of McBroom's favorite shots, the actress chose her favorite. Amid her wavy golden locks, her glimmering smile and perfect tan stole every man's heart. The red fabric of her one-piece swimwear outlined her nipples in all their glory, thereby redefining sexuality while breaking several taboos in the industry.
The poster became an instant hit after going on sale in 1976. Over five million copies had been sold by March 1977, with many of her passionate fans claiming they could see the word "sex" spelled by the sultry waves of Fawcett's hair.
“I have tried over the years to understand why the Farrah poster attracted so much interest from so many people," McBroom told American Photo. "I think it was a lucky combination of this wholesome, beautiful, all-American girl looking directly at you with a dazzling smile and a red suit that covered a lot but revealed a little.”
He later told Time magazine that Fawcett deserved most of the credit.
"It was Farrah's pose, Farrah's suit, Farrah's idea. She picked that shot," he asserted.
And just like that, Fawcett made history. Her swimsuit poster went on to become a boundary-breaking bestseller, with over 12 million copies sold across the globe. She made over $400,000 in royalties, overshadowing the $5,000 she received per episode during her one-season stint with the Angels.
That said, the poster-sales record is unlikely to ever be broken, especially after the advent of the Internet.