EThey were three. They were beautiful. But that was certainly not their main asset, because they were above all intelligent and capable of solving any investigation entrusted to them by their boss, Charlie Townsend, via his small intercom. They were called Jill, Sabrina and Kelly and, when they appeared on the small screen in 1976, they brought a little vanilla-scented breeze to American detective series. Paramount has been broadcasting the entirety of Funny ladies. One thing is certain, these 115 outrageously but deliciously kitsch episodes have taken more wrinkles than the actresses, always dressed to the nines.
“Once upon a time there were three beautiful girls who decided to join the police. But they had been confined to work that was not very exciting. So I, Charlie, pulled them out of this nightmare to hire them. And I don’t regret it, because these are really Charlie’s Angels. This little introductory text repeated by a slightly outdated male voice gave the go for each episode of funny ladies, in case some subtleties of the concept have escaped us. Then followed an energetic and glamorous credits, presenting our three heroines in poses of top-model more than of detective, all on the now famous musical theme, composed by Allyn Ferguson and Jack Elliott.
Place for women
In the language of Shakespeare, the “three beautiful girls” are “angels” and the narrator ends his pitch by introducing himself: ” My name is Charlie. Hence the original title of the series: Charlie’s Angels (understand Charlie’s Angels). But in France, fashion is for creativity when it comes to titles. The game is all about bonding with a popular reference. Here the funny drama de Carné will serve as a model. A wacky idea that borders on genius as the expression “ladies’ funny” has entered common parlance.
It was not until January 1978 that these three tornadoes light up the Sunday afternoons of Antenne 2. Success is there. The three young women flanked by their darling Bosley, the right arm of a Charlie who we will never see in five seasons, take possession of the front pages of magazines and quickly become a phenomenon of society, as was already the case in their original homeland.
If today the intrigues of Charlie’s Angels They seem nunuches to us, at the time, they come to give a gloss to the sacrosanct detective genre hitherto squatted by heroes smelling good after-shave and very large deodorant stick. Mannix, Iron Man, Very Special Agents, Starsky and Hutch… There are countless heroes, as irreproachable as they are effective, who thrill American television audiences. Alone since 1974, the Sergeant Anderson worn by the blonde Angie Dickinson manages to play brushing to get a place in this court of males. The heroine, a divorced woman totally devoted to her career, will remain a reference in terms of detective series, and will have the honor of being “President Ford’s favorite series”, but will never be a popular success.
After Super Jamie and wonder woman
When “Charlie’s Angels” land on ABC, the field is occupied by Super Jamie and wonder womanwho managed to seduce the channel bosses… But question of identification, we will come back, their superpowers giving them a place of their own in the universe of series which at the time eyed cheap science fiction, often laughable .
However, the public seems to be asking for more. Super Jamie (Lindsay Wagner) was initially just a guest character on the show The 3 Billion Man, and also passed the weapon on the left after two small episodes. It was reckoning without the plebiscite of the viewers, which forced the production to “resurrect” it to entrust it with its own show.
Aaron Spelling, as a well-inspired producer, seeks to ride this emerging feminine wave. His detective series The Rookies (unpublished in France) and Starsky and Hutch offer great evenings at ABC, but his goal remains to find a new goose to boost his rising career. He will therefore find three of them, with his famous Charlie’s angels. And to rush to the direction of the chain to propose his project. In vain.
Our man not being the type to be discouraged, two years later, he tried his luck again with Fred Silverman, freshly appointed to the direction of ABC Entertainment with the mission of finding the novelties that will allow him to catch up on NBC and CBS. It is therefore thanks to him that our ladies will finally come to life. A single watchword: our brilliant detectives will have to be smart and shrewd, of course, but above all they will be responsible for making the housewife in charge of purchases dream… and her husband if possible.
Casting launched. Michelle Pfeiffer and Kim Basinger fail, but the production gets their hands on Kate Jackson, Jaclyn Smith and Farrah Fawcett. The first is not a total unknown and Spelling has already worked with her on The Rookies. Sharp physique, elegant histrionics, she will be Sabrina Duncan, the “brain” of the band. The second is unknown. A model in her spare time, she has lit up TV commercials for soap or shampoo with her smoldering gaze. Spelling entrusts her with the role of Kelly Garrett (she will be the only one to appear in the credits of the five seasons). Jill Munroe, meanwhile, will be played by Farrah Fawcett Majors and we can say that her undeniable charisma coupled with her blonde mane will be instrumental in the immediate take-off of the audiences. Charlie’s Angels was the most watched series of the 1976-1977 season.
The Farrah Effect
Married then to actor Lee Majors (the famous 3 billion man), Farrah Fawcett toured in pubs and made a few appearances in the cinema, notably in A man I like by Claude Lelouch. But it is above all a poster sold all over the world, in a red one-piece swimsuit (exhibited today at the Museum of American History in Washington), dazzling smile and perfect brushing, which caught the attention of this old Spelling’s wolf, convinced he got his hands on a star seed.
Again, he is not mistaken. Farrah Fawcett becomes a pop icon in a few months. His brushing, always adored by Hollywood stars, even bears the name of “Fawcett Flip”. Her outfits have been combed through by fashion magazines. Behind the scenes of the series, it is Jean-Charles de Castelbajac who dresses Queen Farrah.
Immediate success, therefore. Yet the critics degummed the series and pointed out its bad taste and its intrigues, which it considered astoundingly stupid. It must be admitted that at the end of the 1970s, the productions Spelling – Cruising is Fun, Fantasy Island, For the Love of Risk – do not shine by the finesse of their scenarios. Yes, Spelling is among the general public, the very general public, he is proud of it and does not hesitate to reuse proven recipes over and over again.
Its mark could be summed up in three points: sympathetic characters immediately arousing the empathy of the public, rather basic scenarios and stories doped with good feelings that end well. And it works…
Behind this cheerfully colored showcase, Aaron Spelling shows an undeniable flair when it comes to smelling the spirit of the times. As such, he even allows himself some audacity for the time. By slipping an African-American character into the main cast of The cruise has fun (Isaac, the bartender), giving the leading role to a short person (Hervé Villechaize, who plays the role of Tatoo in Fantasy Island), by imposing the first gay character in prime-time series (Steven Carrington in Dynasty). But above all, he offers leading female roles to actresses tired of playing the potiches, the wives of… or the victims.
Sexist and/or feminist
Thereby, funny ladies, despite its flaws, has allowed television to take a small step towards greater representation of women. From there to qualifying it as a feminist series, there is a giant leap difficult to cross… so much the characters will have difficulty in moving away from certain very tenacious sexist clichés.
To be convinced of this, one only has to look closely at the credits of the series, in which our three charming detectives, supposed to solve investigations and fight like their male counterparts, compete in glamorous poses based on statement hair, mischievous smiles and fiery glances. As for Charlie, he still has a long way to go before entering the deconstruction phase. If we never see his face, the invisible boss is always represented from behind, surrounded by pretty pin-ups more or less naked, all busy pouring him a drink, massaging him or splashing him in a swimming pool.
It’s that Charlie’s Angels tripping over her kindly feminist discourse. If Sabrina and her friends do not hesitate to play the pitchers to better appease the clumsies that they will end up apprehending, they are not spoiled by the scenarios, which never forget to make them objects of fantasy. Their investigations are also used as pretexts to disguise them: here as an air hostess, there as a dancer, a nurse or an assistant magician, like Martine at the beach and in winter sports. Not to mention those scenes that end each episode, often spiced up with a choral chuckle not always to their advantage.
In reality, the slightest opportunity is good to highlight their qualities… perfect plastics. A more sexist than feminist approach which led Farrah Fawcett to slam the door of the series – among other reasons – after only one season, while her contract provided for two. This success, we owed it to the fact that “none of the actresses wore underwear”, she let go years later in an interview.
Still, Charlie’s small business will last for five years. And will see a total of six angels follow one another, whose backstage bun crepes will rightly or wrongly feed the columns of the tabloids. If the arrival of Kris, from season 2, played by Cheryl Ladd, will not weaken the audiences, that of Tiffany Welles in season 4 in place of Sabrina Duncan will mark the beginning of the end, resulting in the immediate dismissal of the actress Shelley Hack. The production may well hire a former muse Ultrabrite and future James Bond Girl in the person of Tanya Roberts to bail her out, Charlie Townsend’s agency closed its doors in 1981 amid almost general indifference.
However Charlie’s Angels paved the way for many other heroines. Every TV cop will now have their partner (Rick Hunter and Dee-Dee McCall, Matt Houston and CJ Parson, Jonathan and Jennifer Hart – able to blind a rival with a squirt of perfume). Without forgetting The Adventures of Remington Steele where, let’s remember, a female detective accepts that a fop endorses her identity to give more credibility to her agency. Will come in 1982 Cagney and Lacey, two female cops who will rise to the top of the hearings. Without brushing. No swimsuit. Thank you who? Thanks Charlie!
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“Charlie’s Angels”: Charlie’s angels have taken a few wrinkles
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