It's easy enough to dismiss Farrah Fawcett, who died of cancer Thursday at age 62, as a gaudy but useless ornament of 1970s -- all teeth and hair; like old disco records stacked in the attic, a faintly embarassing relic of an era when appearance was everything and substance, nothing. Certainly feminists will shudder at the memory of Charlie's Angels, the television show that made Fawcett famous: three female detectives who took all their orders from a disembodied male voice and were notable mainly for their lack of foundation garments.
But in their own jiggly, half-baked way, the Angels were feminist. They were television's first frankly sexual female characters, women who could be hunters as well as prey. Before Jill, Sabrina and Kelly came along, female sexuality could be acknowledged only in non-human characters: the robot played by Julie Newmar in My Living Doll, Barbara Eden's don't-show-your-navel genie in I Dream Of Jeannie. The idea that women might have erotic impulses beyond those commanded by male masters was, whether feminists want to acknowledge it or not, a form of liberation.
It's also worth noting that Farrah was a much better actress than she ever got to show in Charlie's Angels. Her career always seemed to be tangled in contract disputes and poor choices, but when she hooked up with a good role -- the murderously vengeful rape victim in the 1986 film Extremities is my favorite -- she made the most of it. Still, what she'll probably be most remembered for is that poster. She seemed philosophical about it. "The reason that the all-American boy prefers beauty to brains," she once said, "is that he can see better than he can think." So long, darlin'.