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When it comes to having one more conversation about a job she had for a mere five years but continues to make her famous around the world, Jaclyn Smith can’t help but be amused: “I’m still talking about ‘Charlie’s Angels’ – and I don’t want to say how many years later!”
After a few small film and television roles in her early career, Smith made an unforgettable star turn alongside co-stars Farrah Fawcett and Kate Jackson as the then-revolutionary all-female team of detectives who took on assignments from their mysterious employer Charlie, a disembodied voice on the office speaker phone.
With a blend of reliably potent sex appeal and progressive female empowerment, “Charlie’s Angels” became an instant - and ultimately iconic - TV hit. And through a regularly rotating lineup of beautiful ladies wielding Smith & Wessons, Smith played Kelly Garrett from 1976 to 1981, becoming the only Angel to appear on the series through its entirety.
With “Charlie’s Angels: The Complete Series” now available in a deluxe DVD box set, Smith takes one more look back at the show that changed her life – and the face of television – forever.
Is it still fun to reminisce about that time in your life?
It’s a lot of things. It’s not just fun – times have changed and it was sort of about beginnings. And it was a lovely time: I had both my parents, it was life-changing, and you get to another place. It was fun to be with Cheryl [Ladd] on ‘The Talk’ the other day, and see where she is in life. We stay close, but time marches on and there’s great things to replace it, but it’s a mix of things: It’s fun but yet, also, ‘Hey, wow, a lot of things have happened.’ A lot good, but some sad things, too: We went through Farrah’s illness, and David Doyle’s passing, so that’s the story.
What was your earliest memory of ‘Charlie’s Angels’ becoming a huge part of your life?
I think the first time it went on the air, Aaron Spelling came down to the makeup room and said ‘Girls – it went through the roof! It’s unbelievable!’ And I didn’t even think about ratings then. I just thought about the work, and it was a new thing for me, being on a series. I’d done ‘McCloud’ and ‘Switch,’ but being day-to-day on a series and having it be your series. So that was like ‘Oh, wow – the ratings were good! People like to watch us!’ And from time to time he’d come down and say things like ‘You beat “Gone With the Wind!’”
Could you speak about, in that first season, the connection that you ladies made, both establishing your chemistry for the show, and then just amongst yourselves?
Kate [Jackson] had done a series, and Farrah and I had not, so she was sort of the strong leader, saying ‘You don’t do this and this and this…’ You learn a lot from that first season – it was an education. We were Southern girls: Farrah and I were from Texas, Kate’s from the South, and there was sort of a bond among the girls where it wasn’t really competitive at all. We just really liked each other, we got along, and we fought as much for our free day and unstructured time as for screen time.
So I think that made it work, that we were not overly driving, ambitious girls. We were having fun, and I think that showed up on the screen. You start something together and there is a bond, and it’s a hit – and hits are not as commonplace as we think they are, so that was special in itself. The show really took off and it was really unique and different, and it was not three men, it was three women. And the prototype for women had been June Cleaver, the prototypical housewife, and here we were getting the bad guy, and emotional and financially independent women.
When did the impact of the show on the culture really become apparent to you?
In the first season when all of a sudden you have barricades so people can’t get to you, where you don’t stand in line at a movie, where you enter through the kitchen, and they give you bodyguards. When we went to Hawaii there was security outside our doors, because people were knocking on our doors 24 hours a day. Because there were just three networks – there wasn’t cable yet – so the amount of people who were into us was pretty amazing. The second season when we went to Hawaii to open our show – and that’s when Cheryl came in – and then, wow – we just took off! And it was at home, too, before we went, during the first season. It was pretty great taking my nephews to Disneyland and there were no lines - we just popped to the front! So there were perks. [Laughs].
At the time of the show it was interesting because society had definitely been feeling of the full flower of the feminist spirit, and yet you ladies were also required to be in sexy situations on the show. There was a debate: ‘Well, they’re empowered, but they’re also sex symbols…” How did you feel about all of that?
I think it was kind of silly, because it was so innocent and so pure. We wore a bikini on the beach, and Kate never wore a bikini, Farrah never wore a bikini. But a bikini doesn’t designate sex appeal anyway – I mean, Farrah was sexy in shorts and Nike tennis shoes! So I think Kate certainly fought against that. It wasn’t her thing. Me and Cheryl, we thought ‘Hey, why not wear a bikini on the beach?’ But it wasn’t that provocative. The thing is yes, we were somewhat, in the public’s eye, glamorous – I mean, we weren’t character actresses. So they judged us in sort of a very unfair way.
If you look at our show compared to what’s happening today, we look like we were a show from the ‘50s. That’s the difference. It was really the bond of the girls. I don’t know why the feminists would be angry because we were doing our thing, making our way, supporting ourselves, getting the bad guy, and it was never meant to be over-analyzed. It was meant for pure entertainment. There was a glamour element, there were pretty locations, but – nah. I think [the idea] that we were sexually exploited was ridiculous. And I never felt sexually exploited…We felt that we were independent women, strong women, empowered women.
There have been a couple television revival attempts that didn’t quite take off, and we’ve had two movies that were phenomenally successful. Why do you think ‘Charlie’s Angels’ remains something that people are always going to have some interest in taking another look at?
It was a winning concept. It was a first of its kind. It was iconic in that it introduced women coming onto TV in strong roles, and in leads. I guess people loved it from young to old, and to remain in people’s memory, it was family entertainment. It had to have some joy for people to want to watch it – it brought pleasure to people. And I think when things bring pleasure, you want to reacquaint with them, you want to see it again.
Behind the scenes do you have a very favorite memory of making that show that always brings a smile to your face?
By the prison show in the first season, I think we knew we had something special, that we were friends, we knew we had a bond, and we knew that we were doing something that was going to change our lives. Certainly, would I have my K-Mart contract without ‘Charlie’s Angels?’ That’s been 27 years and it’s a part of my history, too. I’ve been able to give back, been able to take a portion of my sales and give to breast cancer research. A lot of good things happened from ‘Charlie’s Angels.’ In that show, the prison show, Kim Basinger was in that show, James Woods was in that show – we got great guest stars. It was a lot of things: it opened up doors, friendships were made, it was an education – it changed our lives. I think I knew by that show, I knew that it was unique and it was special and we were fortunate to have it.