Angel for the ages

The Farrah Fawcett poster, perhaps the most famed college form decoration (at least for men), turns 30 this year

August 29, 2006|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,sun reporter

A young publicity photographer shows up on Mulholland Drive with his '37 Chevy truck and Nikon-F reflex camera to shoot pictures of an angel in a rusty red swimsuit. She chose a one-piece. When she smiles, 32 teeth radiate at an inviting angle. When she tilts her head, flips of hair gather on her tan shoulders - a look that would launch a hairstyle fad for a generation.

In the time after Betty Grable's World War II pinups and Marilyn Monroe, before the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue mania and Pamela Anderson, the original swimsuit poster of Farrah Fawcett ruled gym lockers, offices and bedrooms.

Could you pass a guy's college dorm room in the 1970s and not see it? Orthodontists hung her poster under the guise of promoting oral hygiene! A lawyer in Baltimore used to conceal the poster behind an Oriental scatter rug hung in his law office, and the younger guys would steal a peek.

Thousands of the "Farrah Fawcett Red Swimsuit Original Posters" decorated the walls of boys. Did they not think their names were spelled out in her locks? See, they could get the poster past mom and dad (easily) because Fawcett looked like the girl next door - if you happened to live in Malibu, Calif.

"She was just this sweet, innocent, beautiful, young girl," says the poster's photographer, Bruce McBroom, who has since traded up to a '51 Chevy.

"This was before Hollywood took her."

We're taking her back today.

It's the 30th anniversary of the Farrah poster, copies of which are sold all over the Internet. Dozens are offered on eBay for $10 a pop. Alternate poses from the same shoot - including the "cookie shot" of Fawcett nibbling a cookie - are also popular among poster collectors. But there was only one frame that became priceless to a booming generation of men.

A high school junior in 1976, Mike O'Meara had Fawcett in his bedroom, so to speak.

"You were a real man if you had her poster. She was our pinup girl," says O'Meara, co-host of The Don and Mike Show on WHFS-FM in Baltimore, who discussed Fawcett on a recent show.

This month, a younger generation of dudes has begun moving into dorm rooms. But their walls will not be graced with the toothy, hot, wholesome image of Fawcett. She is ancient poster history. At the University of Maryland, College Park, soccer, lacrosse, movie and Terp posters are popular among guys.

"The students center most of their things on their walls around their likes, dislikes and their identities - as opposed to cultural icons," says Tracy Kiras at the university's resident life department. "However, some of the men did say they have people like Brooke Burke and Jenna Jameson on their walls. I believe they are like, you know, from risque magazines."

Upon researching said names, the college guys do have a point. But the Farrah poster was classically risque. Maybe the freshman class at UM needs to take a little field trip to, say, Federal Hill. There's something there they need to study in great detail.

At MaGerk's Pub at Charles and Cross streets, owners Paul and John Dolaway have a guest of honor hanging on the wall near the bar and over the sushi area. It's a framed Farrah poster belonging to?

"I'm too young," says Paul, 30.

OK, it must belong to John, who is 40. Indeed, he got his Farrah poster 30 years ago.

"I was 10, and we actually had a Farrah Fawcett fan club," he says. "We had a doghouse in the backyard with Farrah posters and candles. We would light the candles and sit in there.

"That's a little weird. I can't believe I told you that."

No, go on.

"Two years ago, I was going through stuff in the attic. I was looking around for my baseball card collection. There was my Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots. And there she was, preserved, my Farrah poster rolled up in a tube. I thought it would be perfect for over the bar."

What makes it perfect?

"It's her hair and teeth and the smile," Dolaway says.

`All Farrah'

And? Well, long before wardrobe malfunctions, McBroom's photo of Fawcett achieved a salacious distinction in celebrity photography. Stories about the poster have contended that ice was used to facilitate the image's more prominent features. But McBroom, who has photographed a who's who of rock stars, never grows weary of dousing the water rumor.

"It was all Farrah," he says.

At the time, McBroom was a freelance photographer who had already taken head shots for Fawcett, a familiar face on TV from her Noxzema and Wella Balsam shampoo ads. She had not yet signed on to play Jill Munroe on the TV hit Charlie's Angels when McBroom was hired again to photograph her. Until that time, he says, he couldn't give away her head shots.

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