Question: With the Charlie's Angels sequel coming out, we got to talking about how much fighting there supposedly was on the set of the first one. And I thought I remembered that the show had a lot of fighting, too. Am I making that up? Becky B., Nephi, Utah
Televisionary: That you aren't, Becky. Though the set of the first Angels film was reportedly chock full of bad will and infighting, the ABC series that spawned it was no slouch in the spat department, either. Matter of fact, it's amazing it enjoyed the five-year run that it had (September 1976 to August 1981), considering all the bad blood and cast turnover.
How bad was it? By the 1978-79 season, Kate Jackson was so unhappy with the show that executive producer Aaron Spelling stopped visiting the set because of "all the cursing and screaming and yelling," he told TV Guide in 1979. "The only thing that keeps me doing television is that it's fun. Last year, it stopped being fun. It was not a happy set, all the bitching and griping."
So much bitching and griping, in fact, that by the time Jackson, whose frustration with scripts and the grind of a weekly show increased exponentially after producers refused to give her time off to shoot the part eventually played by Meryl Streep in Kramer vs. Kramer, asked to be let out of her contract, they let her go.
But the roots of the show's difficulties were apparent from the time it first tasted success. This was Hollywood, after all, and it was no stretch to think that putting three gorgeous women on the same show might quickly lead to tension. Surprise it did.
Take the TV Guide story that ran the week the series debuted. While a reporter watched, Jackson's co-stars Jaclyn Smith and Farrah Fawcett-Majors complained about a scene in which she was to wear high heels while they would be clad in mere sneakers. After "heavy sighs" from the producers, the word came down that Jackson's heels should go so all would be on equal (sorry) footing.
Jackson, for her part, gave as good as she got when put in a race car for an episode. "It's orange," she said. "Who the hell ever thought of painting it orange? It's the most miserable color in the world. What'll I look like in an orange car?" (Moments afterwards, a downcast-looking crewman was heard to say: "I stayed up all night painting it. I thought orange was pretty."
And so it went, particularly after Fawcett-Majors, in a surprise development Hollywood pundits considered her to be the least attractive of the three broke out in a huge way. She quickly became a much bigger star than her castmates, putting out a wildly successful, racy poster (two million copies sold in less than four months) and raking in a fortune in merchandising, none of which went to the Spelling people. Promoting the feel-good spirit even more, she bailed out of the show after her first season and was promptly sued for breach of contract. As part of her settlement with Spelling, she agreed to make three appearances on the series each year until her original pact ran out in exchange for a raise from $5,000 per episode to at least $25,000.
With that, the Angels revolving door began a-spinning. Cheryl Ladd was brought in to replace Fawcett-Majors and was hired even after she refused to shoot any test footage for the role. Jackson left after the '79 season and was replaced by Shelley Hack, who, when asked how long she'd last on the show, gave a joke estimate of "another three hours." Close. She lasted but one season before Tanya Roberts was brought in to take her spot.
And all the while, the gals had publicity troubles that made the gig even more of a challenge. One publication said Smith was having problems with her husband, actor Dennis Cole. "I wanted to sue," she said. "But my lawyer told me I'd have to start going to a psychiatrist, so I could prove I've been emotionally hurt. I couldn't do that." Hack avoided the press after a published account (false, she said) of her canoodling with actor Bo Hopkins in the Caribbean. And Ladd had to sue an adult-entertainment company after its billboards pushed its star as a "Cheryl Ladd lookalike" and ran her name in larger type than all the other words on the layout.
Of everyone, David Doyle, who played Bosley, was the one who helped keep it together. Known as the peacemaker of the set (he called himself an "ambulatory welcome wagon"), he helped smooth the way for Ladd and relieve some of the pressure when she stepped in for the high-profile Fawcett-Majors. "I remember walking out of my trailer one day with a very long face," she said in 1978, "and David simply came up to me and said, 'I suppose if things got any better, you'd cry.' "
Still, even Doyle had his limits, and they came up when Fawcett-Majors announced her departure. "Farrah came up to me and said, 'I hope you won't feel bad if I don't come back,'" he recalled. His reply: "I won't, if the show continues to be a success. I can't promise I won't if we go down the chute."
A pretty measured and fair response by Hollywood standards, I think. Too bad the film version of the role didn't come with quite so long a fuse. Bill Murray played Bosley on the big screen and much of the friction was said to involve him. Whether that's true or not, I can't say. But you'll note he's not back for the sequel.