Though Hollywood is always looking for new content to produce, some stories never get old. As of 2020, the Charlie’s Angels franchise is still going strong, due to its action packed, woman-power narrative and its studio-friendly high energy.
As is common with movie reboots, today’s cast of Angels is a little stylistically different from that of the original 1970s TV show. While it’s normal that actors get replaced for long-standing roles, this changeover wasn’t always easy. In fact, when Cheryl Ladd first took over for Farrah Fawcett in the ’70s, no one knew if the franchise would survive.
Ladd was an outsider, and didn’t even originally come from Hollywood. She was born in South Dakota to parents who weren’t in entertainment: her mom was a waitress, and her dad worked as a railroad engineer.
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Though her small city was founded around the agriculture and manufacturing industries, Ladd always knew it wasn’t for her. From the time she was three, she says her “bag was half packed” to leave.
Since she was born, Ladd wanted to be up on stage — singing, dancing, acting, you name it. She felt it was her destiny, and little did she know what was coming down the path ahead.
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After high school, she joined a band called The Music Shop and left South Dakota to go on tour. The band played all over the midwest and ended up in Los Angeles in 1970. This was Ladd’s moment: she would put roots down in California.
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Now that she was there, though, things wouldn’t be easy. Ladd didn’t have any Hollywood connections, and no family money. Se had to pay her own way. The aspiring star went out to auditions, only to compete with 30 other experienced actors for any given role.
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This lack of experience got to Ladd’s psyche at first. She was so green, so innocent, that insecurity trampled over any talent or confidence she had. Unfortunately, walking into the audition room an anxious mess cost her many of those first roles.
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But as she got used to auditioning, Ladd realized she’d have to get used to competition, too. Rather than let fear keep paralyzing her, she decided to focus only on her own preparation and lines, and as soon as she walked out of auditions, she put them out of her mind.
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This new focus, coupled with a drive to audition as much as she could, made a dramatic change in Ladd’s career. She began showing confidence, and landed her first role as Melody in the cartoon Josie and the Pussycats.
Other roles soon followed. She made guest appearances on the classic show The Partridge Family and other contemporary hits like Happy Days and Police Woman. Each time, Ladd buckled down and did her best, which would lead her to the biggest role of her lifetime.
One day in 1977, news began to circulate that Farah Fawcett of Charlie’s Angels fame was leaving the show to seek a movie career. Aaron Spelling, the show’s producer, needed a replacement for Fawcett — and he knew just the one.
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Spelling got in touch with Ladd. She had the right look and vibe for an Angel, and of all the actors he could choose, he felt she’d be right. But Ladd was intimidated; how could she possibly fill Fawcett’s shoes?
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So, against better judgement, Ladd told Spelling no. She didn’t want to be the person to come onboard and try to be Farrah Fawcett. It just couldn’t be done. She could feel her old insecurity creeping back in.
“First of all, what [style of character] would I play? Nobody can walk in there and replace Farrah,” Ladd remembers saying. She couldn’t see a way for it to work. But Spelling was persistent.
He finally convinced Ladd to come in for an in-person meeting. “Why don’t you want to do it? This is for you,” he said. Together, they tried to figure out how Ladd could fit into the show.
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“Maybe my character could be funny,” Ladd suggested. She didn’t want to try to play the same character Fawcett had played. Then Spelling had an idea: Ladd could come onboard as Fawcett’s character’s little sister, Kris. There would be room for both of them in audience’s hearts.
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As Kris, Ladd would play a rookie, still trying to learn what her older sister Jill already knew, and the audience would love her for being an underdog. The other Angels on the team would accept her character, since she was related to Jill.
It was a brilliant plan. Before Ladd left the meeting with Spelling that day, she had changed her mind and decided to take the part of Kris Monroe, and the rest was history. Working with Fawcett was an experience.
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The only thing left to do was begin working, and before long, Ladd would film scenes with Fawcett herself, as the former Angel transitioned out of the story. “[She was] a highly professional, terrific actress,” Ladd remembers.
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She said, “When I look back and I [watch] the scenes we did together, I could see us both going, ‘This is going to work no matter what.’ We’re here to do our work, and we really look like sisters. And that was very rewarding.”
And when Charlie’s Angels catapulted her to stardom, Ladd never forgot her roots. “It’s nice to go to the Academy Awards and get out of a limousine all dolled up,” she said. “But I’m very much the same person that left South Dakota.”
She joined Farrah Fawcett as one of Hollywood’s most iconic ladies. Just like Ladd, Fawcett wasn’t born with all her star power, and life off the set was never as effortless as she made it seem.
In the late 1960s, Fawcett started dating Lee Majors; they officially tied the knot in 1973 but separated a few years later. She was ready to start clean. That was when one of Major’s friends started to take an interest in Farrah.
That man was Ryan O’Neal. Majors had asked his pal to check in on his former lover to make sure she was doing alright on her own. O’Neal came back with some shocking news.
Fawcett was doing well, he reported, but he’d immediately fallen in love with her. So infatuated, he pursued her, which cost him a friendship with Majors. But to Ryan’s delight, he and Fawcett struck up a relationship. There was another catch, however.
Fawcett and Majors were separated, but the couple was still legally married. A divorce would officially be finalized in 1982, removing the only official roadblock between Farrah and O’Neal’s relationship.
While the relationship drama was finally settled, things weren’t smooth sailing. As often happens in Hollywood, personal and professional struggles were lurking behind the happiest moments. This couple was no exception.
Fawcett had begun to tire of the celebrity life; being constantly recognized and chased down by the paparazzi was taking an especially heavy toll on her. She devised a sneaky way to insulate herself.
Her iconic hair actually acted like blinders, keeping the constant crowds out of eye shot. “I can’t see to the right or left, and that way I don’t have to see people looking at me,” she explained.
That was a stunning revelation from a woman who seemed so at home in the spotlight. Her looks, which ultimately attracted too much attention, were so iconic that they, as she pointed out, helped her professional success.
“When [Charlie’s Angels] was number three, I thought it was our acting,” she told TV Guide. “When we got to be number one, I decided it could only be because none of us wears a bra.”
Fawcett also tried to prove she was more than a pretty face and could act in more serious roles. Those performances, however, didn’t always win the praise that she desperately craved.
In 1978, for example, she landed a starring role opposite Jeff Bridges in Somebody Killed Her Husband. Unfortunately, critics felt that the film would should have been called “Somebody Killed Her Career.” Ouch.
Meanwhile, O’Neal was dealing with some on-screen issues of his own; they weren’t isolated, however, and conflicts of his career threatened to bleed into his fragile personal life.
For instance, O’Neal starred in Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 period drama Barry Lyndon. The movie was met with mixed reviews, which the actor felt damaged his career. At home, other forces were wearing him down.
O’Neal was frustrated with Fawcett as she was just living her life. He complained, for example, about how long it took her to do her hair and makeup before leaving the house. Annoyed, he took regrettable next steps.
He began an affair with actress Leslie Stefanson; it wouldn’t remain a secret for long, however. Word always spreads fast in Hollywood. The news wasn’t broken to Fawcett via rumor or tabloid. She found out in an even worse way.
Rather, Fawcett walked in on the pair in bed! She didn’t explode in rage. She simply asked the woman’s name and left the room. Her trust was broken. The relationship was over.
But in 2001, O’Neal was diagnosed with leukemia. That news inspired he and Fawcett to reconnect. Facing a potentially deadly illness, they put the past behind them and began to rebuild their relationship.
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This time, the couple went slowly and took pains to reestablish their trust. They maintained separate homes but spent evenings and weekends together, rekindling the spark they once felt. Things were still far from perfect, however.
Farrah’s older sister died of lung cancer in 2001; a couple of years later, her mother died at age 91. Still, another heart-breaking diagnosis was around the corner for the actress to grapple with.
She fought her own battle with cancer in 2006. While she underwent treatment and was declared cancer-free, the disease returned with vengeance in 2007. Just one year removed from the disease, she was back in a fight for her life.
Fawcett tried a variety of therapies and treatments, but none of them worked. Even as she shaved off her iconic hair, however, she remained hopeful. Options were running out with each passing day, though.
O’Neal had been spending a great deal of time with Fawcett as she fought cancer, becoming a constant fixture at her bedside. He even hatched a plan to make her final days special.
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O’Neal wanted to finally make their relationship official; nearly 40 years after they first started dating, he asked Fawcett to marry him. She agreed, but the couple had to race against the clock.
Tragically, Fawcett died on June 25, 2009 before the couple could exchange vows. “The priest at St. John’s Hospital arrives to marry us but administered the last rites instead,” O’Neal wrote in 2012.