When Amy Wallace interviewed the late Farrah Fawcett by email a few months ago for an article about the history of efforts to produce a film version of Atlas Shrugged, she discovered that the blonde actress had had a special relationship with Ayn Rand and had been Ayn Rand’s choice to play Dagny Taggart (!).
How did you first learn of Ayn Rand’s interest in you? I gather she got in touch in the late ‘70s, when Charlie’s Angels was one of the biggest hit shows ever to appear on TV?
Ayn contacted me with a personal letter (and a copy of Atlas Shrugged) through my agents. Even though we had never met (and never did), she seemed to think we must have a lot in common since we were both born on the same day: February 2nd.
Why did Rand say she was so determined to see you in the role of Dagny Taggart, the female heroine in Atlas Shrugged?
I don’t remember if Ayn’s letter specifically mentioned Charlie’s Angels, but I do remember it saying that she was a fan of my work. A few months later, when we finally spoke on the phone (actually she did most of the speaking and I did most of the listening), she said she never missed an episode of the show. I remember being surprised and flattered by that. I mean, here was this literary genius praising Angels. After all, the show was never popular with critics who dismissed it as “Jiggle TV.” But Ayn saw something that the critics didn’t, something that I didn’t see either (at least not until many years later): She described the show as a “triumph of concept and casting.” Ayn said that while Angels was uniquely American, it was also the exception to American television in that it was the only show to capture true “romanticism”—it intentionally depicted the world not as it was, but as it should be. Aaron Spelling was probably the only other person to see Angels that way, although he referred to it as “comfort television.”
Did Ayn have any favorite episodes of the show?
I have to admit that I don’t think Ayn was a big fan of the stories themselves because she kept saying that someday somebody would offer me a script (and a role) that would give me the chance to “triumph as an actress.” Ayn wanted that script to be Atlas Shrugged and that role to be her heroine, Dagny Taggart. But because of the challenges in adapting and producing the novel for television, several years went by and the script and role that Ayn hoped I would someday be offered turned out to be The Burning Bed and the role of Francine Hughes instead. And so, in an unexpected way, Ayn’s hope or expectation for me did come true. Looking back, she seemed to see something in me that I had not yet seen in myself.
Had you read Atlas Shrugged or any of her other famous books? What was your familiarity with the Rand world view?
At the time that Ayn contacted me about Atlas Shrugged, my only real familiarity with her work was the movie version of her previous novel, The Fountainhead, with Gary Cooper. I remember liking the movie because it was unique in that the characters seemed to be the embodiments of ideas as opposed to real flesh and blood people with interests and lives. Now that I think about it, I think that’s why Ayn was drawn to Charlie’s Angels. Because the characters that Kate, Jaclyn and I played weren’t really characters (the audience never saw us outside of work) as much as personifications of the idea that three sexy women could do all the things that Kojak and Columbo did. Our characters existed only to serve the idea of the show (even “Charlie” was just a faceless voice on a speaker phone).
But I also responded to The Fountainhead because, as an artist (a painter and sculptress) myself, I related to the architect’s resistance to make his work like everyone else’s—which was, of course, what Ayn’s own art was all about. And that resistance to conformity is probably one of the reasons that she was so determined to see me play Dagny: At the time I would have been the completely unexpected choice.
It sounds as if you and Rand got along pretty well.
Later, when I read Atlas Shrugged, I was reminded of my first and only conversation with Ayn and how some of the characters in her novel(s) take an immediate liking to each other, almost as if they had always known each other—at least in spirit. And this was the feeling I got from Ayn herself, from the way she spoke to me. I’ll always think of “Dagny Taggart” as the best role I was supposed to play but never did…