‘Charlie’s Angels’: Divine secrets from the set
When Farrah Fawcett, Kate Jackson, and Jaclyn Smith signed up to play three crime-fighting agents known on television as “Charlie’s Angels,” they had no idea that it would become a cultural phenomenon.
Let’s take a trip back to when feathered hair and platforms were the norm, and take a peek behind the scenes of Charlie’s Angels.
ABC hated the idea of the show
When ABC network executives Barry Diller and Michael Eisner were presented with an hour-long action show about three butt-kicking female leads. The execs immediately wrote it off.
Between fits of laughter, they deemed it “the worst idea we have ever heard,” but producer Aaron Spelling had a deal from a previous movie arrangement that guaranteed him $25,000 to create a new pilot.
Spelling argued with Eisner that they might as well get their money’s worth, so Eisner reluctantly agreed, and ABC wrote up a script. (We bet Diller and Eisner eventually stopped laughing when they saw the ratings.) The show, obviously, was insanely successful and was a top 10 hit in Nielsen ratings for two seasons.
The original Charlie was fired for obscene behavior
When the idea of the faceless Charlie Townsend was created, producers immediately contacted well-known actor, Gig Young to read for the role. When Young showed up to do the voice-over, he was inebriated, leaving producers in a panic.
A hysterical Aaron Spelling called John Forsythe, begging him to read for the pilot, which had to be turned into network executives the next day. Forsythe made his way down to 20th Century Fox in his pajamas and read for the part. He remained the now-iconic voice of Charlie Townsend for all five years of the series.
Farrah Fawcett had strict rules in her contract
At the time of Charlie’s Angels, Farrah Fawcett was married to The Six Million Dollar Man, Lee Majors. While we all know that Fawcett became a household name because of the show, she prioritized her marriage over fame and fortune.
Fawcett was adamant that her work schedule not interfere with her home life so, in her contract with Spelling, she made sure that shooting ended every day at 7:00 pm, so she could be home in time to cook dinner for her husband.
The budget for costumes per episode was insane
We’re betting that the producers for the show had the “go big or go home” mentality here, seeing as they spent a small fortune on costumes alone for the Angels. (After all, if you’re going to fight crime, you might as well be dressed to the nines while doing so.)
They had a hefty budget of $20,000 PER episode to spend on clothes. The Angel’s costumes were changed at least eight times per hour, and Farrah Fawcett broke the show’s record when she changed into 12 different outfits during one of her guest appearances.
Many people believed there was a ‘Charlie’s Angels’ curse
After taking a deep look into the personal lives of the actors, many fans began thinking that there was a curse that plagued the cast. It all started when Farrah Fawcett was sadly laid to rest in 2009, following a long battle with cancer.
Jaclyn Smith and Kate Jackson have BOTH had cancer scares and faced three divorces since appearing on the show. This was followed by the devastating death of Smith’s stepson. Cheryl Ladd, who appeared on the show for only a season, was plagued by medical issues her whole life and went through a tough separation during the `80s.
Cheryl Ladd believed the ‘curse’ was stardom
The “Charlie’s Angels curse” that wreaked havoc on the lives and relationships of the cast was a topic of conversation in the media. But, as Cheryl Ladd puts it, it was mainly a consequence of superstardom, stating, “Doing that kind of show, filled with long hours, heavy emphasis on appearance and lots of media attention, brought to the surface the weaknesses in relationships.”
She continued, “It is really confusing. It really puts a strain on good marriages because husbands are going, ‘What on earth is the matter with you?’ I didn’t know what the heck was happening. I wasn’t sleeping at all and I was so sensitive emotionally.”
Critics deemed the show ‘anti-feminist’
The fans and the actresses of the show were quick to celebrate the feminist undertones of the premise, with Jaclyn Smith describing it as “groundbreaking” and “inspirational” during an interview with People magazine. However, critics believed otherwise, chastising everything from the surface-level plots to skimpy wardrobe.
Aaron Spelling apparently wanted bikinis in every scene. Farah Fawcett stated, “When [the show] got to be number one, I decided it could only be because none of us wears a bra.” Critics believed that, in comparison to other female-centric shows at the time like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Charlie’s Angels fell short.
Farrah Fawcett ran into trouble when she left the show
From the moment the show kicked off, it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. Charlie’s Angels delivered ratings the network had never seen before, and fans were completely enamored by the trio. This is why it was such a huge issue when fan-favorite, Farrah Fawcett, wanted to leave after the first season.
It was rumored that Fawcett wanted to leave to focus on her marital issues and to expand into film. Well, ABC, who had a strict verbal agreement with Fawcett, took legal action. Eventually, Fawcett was released from her permanent Angel duties, but she had to continue to make guest appearances over the next two seasons.
Kate Jackson was originally paid more than the others
When the show first went on air, Farrah Fawcett and Jaclyn Smith were basically nobodies in the eyes of Hollywood. Due to their inexperience in the `biz, the actresses were paid a meager $5,000 per episode.
Kate Jackson, who had a bigger claim to fame, was paid $10,000 an episode. Eventually, Jaclyn Smith’s salary was raised to $40,000 over the next few seasons. Of course, the actor with the biggest salary on set was John Forsythe (which is absurd, considering his job was talking in a recording booth).
Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood were silent partners of the show
In 1973, Aaron Spelling worked as executive producer on a film called The Affair, which starred Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood. While working on the film, Spelling gave them an offer they couldn’t refuse.
He promised that the three of them would co-own a future series together and, although the couple was never credited, their deal gave them 50% of the profits. The deal became public knowledge when Wagner accused Spelling/Goldberg productions of using his Charlie’s Angels funding to make Starsky and Hutch. The scandal was referred to as “Angelgate.”
The cast changes were pretty problematic
Farrah Fawcett quitting the series triggered even bigger issues, as her replacement, Cheryl Ladd, found it difficult to get along with some of the other Angels. Ladd and Kate Jackson never really got along, and when asked about their relationship, Ladd would only describe it as “complex.”
As audiences began tuning out during the third season, Jackson began to complain about the quality of the storylines, saying, “The scripts are so light it would take a week to get to the floor if you dropped it from the ceiling.”
The original title was very different
During an interview with the Archive of American Television, Aaron Spelling explained, “When we pitched this idea to Barry Diller, it was called Alley Cats, and he said, ‘You should be ashamed of yourself. Three gorgeous girls are Alley Cats? No.'”
It was Kate Jackson who recommended the name Charlie’s Angels to Aaron Spelling. It turns out she was inspired by an angel painting that sat in Spelling’s office, which he inherited from Frank Sinatra. Looks like we have Ol’ Blue Eyes to thank for the famous name.
Kate Jackson was difficult on set
Kate Jackson already had one foot out the door when she was offered the opportunity to star in Kramer vs. Kramer opposite Dustin Hoffman. Jackson ended up not taking the part, and it went to Meryl Streep, who won an Oscar.
A begrudged Jackson became difficult on the Angels set, which gave producers no other choice but to let her go before ramping up for the fourth season. Shelley Hack was eventually brought in to replace Jackson, and she was fired after a single season.
That Farrah Fawcett photo was shot before ‘Charlie’s Angels’ even started
Remember that famous Farrah Fawcett photo? You know the one. During the 1970s, the notorious poster of Farrah Fawcett in a red one-piece adorned the walls of thousands of young teens’ bedrooms. The photographer, Bruce McBloom, was hired by ABC to take the publicity shots for the show. The only Angel who agreed to pose was Fawcett.
The photo was taken at the actress’ house, and it was her idea to slip into a red one-piece instead of the initially suggested bikini. The photo sold over 12 million copies and, in 2009, the suit was donated to the Smithsonian.
The network always wanted to show Charlie
We became familiar with the enigma that was Charlie Townsend by the sound of his voice, but had ABC had their way, we would’ve actually gotten a glimpse of the man behind the curtain.
Producer Leonard Goldberg told the Archive of American Television that the network “talked often about the episode where you got to see Charlie. Every year the network would say, ‘Sweeps are coming. Let’s show Charlie.'”
It was almost a completely different show
If critics weren’t fans of the Charlie’s Angels we wound up with, then they would have detested the one we almost got. Newsweek writes that producer Leonard Goldberg originally wanted the three Angels to be female cops who wore all-leather arrangements in every episode.
When presented with this possible scenario, actress Kate Jackson immediately shot it down. It was Jackson’s idea that the three ladies be secret agents instead of police officers. Even though the cast and crew labeled Jackson as intolerable, it seems we have her to thank for the premise of the show.
The male spin-off failed, terribly
After seeing the success of Charlie’s Angels, producers attempted to create a spin-off called Toni’s Boys, featuring all males. Instead of a male “Charlie,” they had a (you guessed it) female “Toni,” played by Barbara Stanwyck.
The pilot featured three men going undercover at the whim of their employer, as they get themselves into dangerous situations. Aaron Spelling promised to work on a full series if the public enjoyed the pilot. Plot twist, they didn’t. And thus, Toni’s Boys remains lost in time (probably for the best).
The Angels did a Crossover with ‘The Love Boat’
When Kate Jackson got the boot after the third season wrapped, producers needed the new actress, Shelly Hack, to start the new season on a high note. ABC devised a big crossover episode between Charlie’s Angels and The Love Boat, which certainly made a splash.
The episode, “Love Boat Angels,” revolves around the new trio taking a cruise on the Love Boat to catch a thief. It received top ratings and positive responses from audiences, but the rest of the season just couldn’t measure up. Ratings dropped immensely, and Hack was eventually let go and replaced by Tanya Roberts.
Not all of the remakes have been able to go the distance
Since Charlie’s Angels first premiered, the world has remained fascinated by the secret agent trio. This is why many attempts have been made to recreate the original magic. The first attempt was made in 1988, with Angels ’88, but it never took flight the way the original did.
The show was rebooted in 2011, but it lasted only four episodes before it was taken off the air. Perhaps the most successful remake was the 2000 movie, Charlie’s Angels, and its remake Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, starring Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu.
Cheryl Ladd struggled to fill Farrah Fawcett’s shoes
When Cheryl Ladd was chosen to fill Farrah Fawcett’s platforms, as she found herself drowning in the pressure. Hilariously, on her first day, Ladd wore a “Farrah Fawcett Minor” t-shirt to the Charlie’s Angels set. Before joining the cast, Ladd said, “Nobody cared what I ate, how I exercised, what clothes I wore.”
After joining the cast, Ladd admitted, “Everything I said was interesting.” Ladd took advantage of her new popularity to help further her music career. She guest-starred in multiple musical variety series, performed the national anthem at Super Bowl XIV in 1980, and released three albums.
They played the pilot twice
Pilot episodes are a great way for television networks to gauge the success of a show with audiences. The pilot for Charlie’s Angels first aired in 1976. Ratings were so high, ABC producers believed it was a fluke. Still skeptical, the network decided to play the pilot again the following week, only to get the same numbers.
The pilot was a little different from the series that followed. It aired as a 2-hour film and featured M*A*S*H actor David Ogden Stiers as Scott Woodville, a friend of Charlie’s. The character was dropped, as it didn’t seem necessary for Charlie to have two male sidekicks. Bosley was kept on to add humor to the show.
The Prince of Wales was a big fan
When Prince Charles visited Hollywood in 1977, it was a pretty big deal. Leonard Goldberg told the Archive of American Television that, during dinner with the Prince of Wales, an aide walked over and said, “His Highness would like to visit the Angels.” Then, “He stands up, and of course, everyone stands up, and even though he hasn’t eaten, he walked out.”
The aide continued, “And everybody’s staring, so Aaron and I, we walk him over to the set, followed by about 75 photographers, the international press. He goes inside and spends a few minutes talking to the girls, and then he came out, he put his arms around the girls and said to the press, ‘Now you know why they call them Charlie’s Angels.'”
The network had no choice but to cancel
When Season 2 rolled out, Charlie’s Angels moved up an hour to the Wednesday time slot at 9:00 pm, where it remained for three years. While the series dropped in ratings, during the second and third seasons after losing Fawcett, it still remained in the top five from 1977-78.
When Kate Jackson left the show, the fourth season again saw a major decline in ratings, and it sank to the 17th spot for the 1979-80 season. After five seasons and 110 episodes, ABC had no choice but to cancel the show.
Kate Jackson experienced some trouble after ‘Charlie’s Angels’
After Charlie’s Angels, Jackson went on to star alongside Harry Hamlin in the 1982 film Making Love, but it did poorly at the box office. Jackson then starred in the show, Scarecrow and Mrs. King, where she became interested in directing. During the fourth season, she checked into a hospital due to a tumor found in her breast, which led to a partial mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.
Following the operation, Jackson continued to star in several TV movies while advocating for breast cancer awareness. In 2003, Jackson was awarded the Power of Love award by the American Heart Association for her philanthropy. In 2010, it was reported that Jackson was in the midst of a legal battle with her financial advisor, Richard B. Francis, whom she claims bankrupted her.
Jaclyn Smith after ‘Angels’
As mentioned, Jaclyn Smith, who played Kelly Garrett, was the only actress to remain on the show for the entirety of its run. Smith had quite a successful acting career after Charlie’s Angels.
She was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Miniseries or TV Film for her role in Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, and she continued to star in TV films and miniseries over the next two decades. She reprised the role of Kelly Garrett in the 2003 film, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, as the only Angel from the original series to appear in the movie.
Farrah Fawcett after ‘Angels’
Farrah Fawcett left the show after just one season, but she remains the most famous Angel to date. Fawcett’s first post-Angels project was the film, Somebody Killed Her Husband, which didn’t exactly receive rave reviews. She continued to work in television, appearing in multiple TV movies, which received positive reviews, and appeared on popular shows Ally McBeal, Spin City, and The Guardian.
In 1979, she began dating Ryan O’Neal, and the pair had a son named Redmond James Fawcett O’Neal. The pair’s relationship was said to be toxic and destructive, which led to their separation in 1997. In 2006, Fawcett was diagnosed with cancer and, after countless treatments, she succumbed to the disease in 2009.
Shelley Hack after ‘Angels’
Shelley Hack made her film debut in 1977 in Woody Allen’s film, Annie Hall. Shortly after, she replaced Kate Jackson on Charlie’s Angels, playing the former sorority girl turned Angel, Tiffany Welles, beating out Michelle Pfeiffer and Barbara Bach for the role.
In an interview with People magazine, Welles said:
“They can say I didn’t work out, but it isn’t true. What happened was a network war. A business decision was made. Change the time slot or bring on some new publicity. How to get publicity? A new Angel hunt. Who is the obvious person to replace? I am – the new kid on the block. I never expected to be there more than a year and I wasn’t. I did my year and I moved on.”
John Forsythe after ‘Angels’
John Forsythe is an actor who already had an illustrious career before playing the voice of Charlie Townsend. He got his start with Warner Bros. at 25, starring in films like The Captive City, It Happens Every Thursday, and The Trouble with Harry.
Forsythe reprised his role as the voice of Charlie Townsend for the film version of Charlie’s Angels starring Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu, and Cameron Diaz, along with the sequel, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. In 2002, Forsythe married Nicole Carter, and the pair remained together up until his death in 2010.
David Doyle after ‘Angels’
David Doyle is remembered for his role as the comedic John Bosley, and he is only one of the two actors who appeared in every episode of the series.
Following Charlie’s Angels, Doyle made appearances on game shows such as Match Game, Password Plus, Super Password, and Tattletales. Doyle died of a heart attack in 1997 at the age of 67 in Los Angeles, California.
Michelle Pfeiffer: Almost Angel
At the end of Season 3 when Kate Jackson was fired, there were many up-and-coming actresses who were considered for the role of new Angel, Sabrina Duncan.
Some of the actresses who were considered included Bo Derek, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Melanie Griffith. Pfeiffer was very close to being cast, but producers believed that she lacked acting experience. Whoops.