When Charlie’s Angels debuted in 1976, the executives at ABC were doubtful that a show with only female leads would be successful. Not only was it practically unheard of for women to be the sole focus of a television show, it was designed as a crime drama no less. Charlie’s Angels could almost be said to be characterized by cast changes, as year by year, actors left and had to be replaced. Jaclyn Smith is the only one of the original ladies to have acted in all five seasons of the show. Now, she has a few things to say about what went on behind the scenes.
As popular as the show was, it almost didn’t get made, as the studio couldn’t imagine that audiences would want to watch a female driven show.
The idea of a female action show was radical at the time, but the ladies would go on to prove the executives wrong.
The Moving Pieces
The way the show was shot definitely tended to hone in on the women’s physical assets. One executive from rival NBC, Paul Klein, called Charlie’s Angels and it’s peers, “jiggle TV.”
His distaste for these TV shows, which are shot for the benefit of men, was so strong that he likened it to adult entertainment. The adult movies industry was facing a fair amount of backlash at the time, so comparing Charlie’s Angels to that industry was harsh criticism.
Cheryl Ladd joined the show in the second season in order to fulfill the show’s need for a beautiful blonde bombshell once Farrah Fawcett had departed.
However, it seemed that Cheryl Ladd and Kate Jackson never quite melded into a good working relationship. Ladd would only publicly say that Jackson was “complex” when asked about their onset relationship. According to some reports, Jackson felt that Ladd lowered ratings and wouldn’t talk to her co-star for days on end.
Farrah Fawcett, who was billed under her married name, Fawcett-Majors at the time, was the first of the ladies to say goodbye to the Angels.
When the show debuted, she quickly became the most popular of the Angels, especially after the release of her famous red bathing suit photo. As her celebrity skyrocketed, Fawcett wanted to realize her film ambitions and broke her contract with the show. This did not go over well with producer Aaron Spelling, who took legal action against her.
A Financial Disparity
When Charlie’s Angels first began airing in 1976, both Jaclyn Smith and Farrah Fawcett were relatively inexperienced actresses, especially in comparison to Kate Jackson.
As their first contracts were negotiated, both Smith and Fawcett were only offered $5,000 per episode, while Jackson’s salary was double, at $10,000 per episode. Eventually though, Smith would receive a raise that brought her per episode salary to $40,000 an episode, which the producers did in order to convince her to continue acting on the show.
In the late 1970s, Kate Jackson won the role of Joanna Kramer opposite Dustin Hoffman in Kramer vs. Kramer. However, Aaron Spelling refused director Robert Benton’s request to adjust Jackson’s shooting schedule so she could appear in the movie.
Jackson had to subsequently give up the film role, a career decision she resented all the more after Meryl Streep received an Academy Award for her part. In the aftermath of her giving up the film, Jackson supposedly became even more unpleasant on set.
Farrah’s Bizarre Request
When Farrah Fawcett negotiated her contract for Charlie’s Angels, she had a very specific request about its stipulations.
At the time she was married to the actor Lee Majors, a union she was so devoted to that she wanted to be sure to nurture it. For those reasons, she requested that her hours on set conclude by 7 pm sharp, in order to have time to cook her husband dinner every night. Despite this early devotion, Farrah’s marriage still wouldn’t last.
Though the character of Charlie was never seen on screen, the character was voiced from afar by John Forsythe, who was famous for his role on Dynasty. Forsythe wasn’t the original choice for Charlie’s voice.
Aaron Spelling had first given the role to Gig Young, who showed up to record his lines under the influence of alcohol. Spelling was frantic, as it was clear that Young was unable to perform and ended up calling in the favor from Forsythe.
When Fawcett decided to leave the show prematurely, ABC went on to sue her for breach of contract. In order to settle her claims with them, Fawcett agreed to guest star in six episodes spread over the next two seasons.
Farrah’s departure was not taken lightly, as she left when the show was gaining significant steam. Not only had the show become popular, Farrah had managed to become its biggest star, in part due to her scrupulous publicist who put her on magazine covers everywhere.
Whispers began circulating even during the show’s run about a possible curse on the women who played the Angels. At first it seemed to mostly be related to their relationships, as each one, Fawcett, Jackson, and Smith, all saw their marriages break down after the show.
However, the curse goes even further, as all three of the main actresses were diagnosed with cancer later in their careers. Sadly, only Farrah couldn’t seem to beat the illness, though the other ladies have since made full recoveries.
Peaking Too Early
Despite their overnight fame from Charlie’s Angels, the actresses who portrayed the private investigators found it difficult to recreate the success they found with ABC.
Though all of them managed to continue working – Jaclyn Smith even received a Golden Globe nomination for her depiction of Jackie Onassis in the 1980s – none of their other ventures could ever match the popularity of Charlie’s Angels. It’s never easy to always live in the shadow of your previous work.
By 1980, the show’s ratings had begun to decline, but they were about to receive another, more fatal blow. The Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists would go on strike in July 1980.
The show was forced to pause production, which meant a dearth of episodes that they could air in order to continue to hold their audiences interests. New actresses and renewed filming couldn’t save the Angels from the brutal reality that everything comes down to ratings.
On The Prowl
When Aaron Spelling originally proposed the female driven crime show, his working title was Alley Cats.
Though the show was intended to be ground breaking as one of the first female led TV series ever, the title wasn’t well received by actress Kate Jackson, nor was the concept of the women fighting crime in a back alley. It was Jackson who suggested that the ladies should be angels, inspired by a poster on Aaron Spelling’s wall.
Spelling In Hot Water
At a certain point after the series aired it was revealed that the late Natalie Wood and her husband Robert Wagner had been silent investors in the show.
Wagner opened a lawsuit against Spelling claiming that Spelling had misused money Wagner had given him for TV series outside of those that Wagner and Wood had stipulated. The media had a field day with the ensuing battle, naming the legal battle, “Angel-Gate.” It would not be the only time Wagner would sue Spelling for revenue money.
In an attempt to piggyback off of the success of the original female centric series, ABC executives developed a male-lead spin off of Charlie’s Angels, which they named Toni’s Boys.
The men were seen in a backdoor pilot where the Angels ran into some trouble, and Charlie’s female counterpart, Toni – who was played by Barbara Stanwyck – requested help from the three men. The episode was not well received, however, so plans were scrapped to further develop the spin off into a vehicle of its own.
Though Charlie’s Angels was intended to be a feminist show, empowering women by placing them front and center, many critics took issue with the different professions that ladies had to take on when they went undercover.
Many of the jobs they performed were occupations that were considered distinctly female at the time, from stewardesses to figure skaters, or even massage therapists. Max Allen Collins would state that Charlie’s Angels did “more damage to the cause of feminism than the Susan B. Anthony dollar.”
Flaunting Her Brains
Kate Jackson might have been the biggest star of the original three Angels, however, despite her previous popularity, compared to Farrah and Jaclyn, Kate was considered the homeliest of the three.
The writers and producers shoehorned Jackson’s character, Sabrina into the role of the intelligent, but less attractive member of the gang.. Fawcett and Smith on the other hand were presented as the show’s heartthrobs. Farrah’s place was cemented in this role when she became the face of the best selling poster of all time.
High Crimes Of Fashion
The show was never conceived as high brow entertainment in the way that many of the top rated television shows are today.
Instead, the producers wanted to make a lot of money, which required the ladies to look exceptionally glamorous while they were fighting crime. To that end, the budget for wardrobe was exceptionally high at $20,000 per episode. The Angels were always clad in top end designer clothing, even down to the shoes that audiences rarely saw.
A Minor Star
When Cheryl Ladd was brought on to replace Farrah Fawcett in season two, she appeared on set with the humility of knowing she was replacing the biggest star of the show.
In order to lighten to mood, she wore a shirt on her first day that read “Farrah Fawcett Minor,” an homage to Farrah’s stage name at the time, Farrah Fawcett-Majors. Prior to being cast as Kris Munro, Fawcett’s character’s sister, Ladd had been a singer who did voiceover work for Josie and the Pussycat Dolls.
Shelley Hack was introduced to the series when Kate Jackson left before the 1979 season. Spelling wanted her introduction to start off with a bang, so he included her in a crossover episode with his other popular show, The Love Boat, but it didn’t help.
Hack never seemed to gel with her costars the way the show demanded, and she was fired from Charlie’s Angels before the end of her first season. Hack’s replacement didn’t fare much better than she did.
Even during the early days of the show, there was a rotating slate of script writers, none of whom seemed to stick around for very long.
Rumor had it that the ladies kept demanding better scripts, a suggestion producers surprisingly took to heart. Though the show was billed as a crime drama, it was never intended to be a seriously good show. The only important thing was that it continued to make them money. Luckily the ladies had higher standards.
Farrah Takes Some Hits
Working on Charlie’s Angels proved to be an exhausting task. Not only that, but Farrah suffered some on set injuries early in the filming. In 1976, Farrah was hit by a stunt car, which severely bruised her leg.
Luckily, the leg wasn’t broken as it was originally thought, but it’s definitely a fear inducing experience to go through on one of your first TV sets. Farrah made a full recovery, but the stress got to her in many other ways.
Worked To The Bone
The three main stars of the show had a grueling schedule to keep up with. In a report by People magazine from 1976 that profiled Charlie’s three main stars, the magazine shared what their shooting schedule was like with fans.
The ladies told the magazine they were generally picked up from their homes at 5:30 in the morning, and would be working for at least 12 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s no wonder they all began to struggle with their personal relationships.
Running In Heels
As the women were further cemented into the pantheon of style icons, costume designers grappled with how to create shoes that looked fabulous, but also allowed for the action sequences private investigators on TV tended to find themselves in.
Rather than putting the women in stilettos, the designers had them wear platform shoes, so they still maintained the height audiences expected, but were able to move around without the fear of stumbling while they ran in high end footwear.
Ladd’s Striking Confession
In a recent interview with Express in 2017, Ladd shared some deeply personal regrets from her days on set. While she too was struck by the relationship and health curse that plagued the other Angels as well, it was her failings as a mother that really stayed with her.
She told the online magazine, “I missed out on a part of my daughter Jordan’s childhood. She was just two when I joined Charlie’s Angels and I was working 14-hour days.”
Down And Out On Luck
Kate Jackson recently confessed about a different sort of struggle she has found herself embroiled in of late. In 2010, she opened up about becoming bankrupt, which she claimed was due to receiving bad financial advice.
Kate had followed up her success in Charlie’s Angels with well paid roles that made her a highly profitable actress in the 1980s. In fact, Kate was the only one of the Angels to ever receive any sort of awards recognition for her work on the show.
Declining The Angels
After Farrah’s departure, Aaron Spelling went straight to Cheryl Ladd to ask her to take over as the show’s blonde bombshell. In a retrospective published by People celebrating Charlie’s Angels’ 40th anniversary, Ladd revealed that she initially turned him down.
Ladd explained her hesitancy, “Several reasons. Primarily that I don’t know who was going to go in there and try to replace Farrah Fawcett. What maniac would try that? But also that I didn’t have a sense of who I would be, what I would play.”
Jackson Gets The Boot
Jackson’s disposition supposedly soured significantly after having to give up Kramer vs Kramer. Reports had always surfaced that she was the difficult one, but in an interview with TV Guide in 1978, Jackson countered the claims.
“I have been mistagged by the press,” she said. “I have been called the difficult one. And I’m not!” Kate’s mood didn’t bounce back, however, and it was clear to producers that it was time for her to move on for the show, both for her sake, and for theirs.
There was more to Farrah’s early departure from the show than just a desire to be a movie star. People reported that the stress of the show had caused her to drop a noticeable amount of weight in the early days of filming.
When she decided to exit the show after only one season, she found that even with her contract allowing her to cook dinner for her husband every night, her marriage was still being put through the ringer.
Jaclyn Opens Up
Smith kept her cards close to her chest while she was working on Angels, but years later, she revealed how she really felt about Farrah’s departure.
The two became very close late in Farrah’s life, but Smith still wasn’t impressed by Farrah’s early departure from the show. In one interview, she eventually confessed her true feelings about the casting shake up, saying, “I didn’t think it was the right thing to do. I mean, you have a contract.”