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Tuesday, September 8, 2009
RETROALITY.TV EXCLUSIVE Farrah's producer/confidant on Ryan O'Neal's alleged death threats & "self-proclaimed best friend" Alana Stewart's "betrayal"
Craig Nevius interview: part two of a two-part Retroality.TV exclusive leading up to the Creative Arts Emmys on Sept. 12
By Chris Mann
Less than three months after losing her brave three-year battle with anal cancer, Farrah Fawcett may win her first Emmy this month for her groundbreaking final act, NBC’s controversial documentary Farrah’s Story. But for the late icon’s co-nominated exec producer, the legal war to tell Fawcett’s full fight-for-life story has only just begun.
In the second half of his explosive two-part interview, Fawcett’s business partner, Craig Nevius, tells Retroality.TV how he came to “protect” Fawcett only to lose control of their NBC project to her longtime lover, Ryan O’Neal, Fawcett pal Alana Stewart and O'Neal's business manager. Nevius sued all three for interfering in Farrah's proposed "video diary" as Fawcett lay dying last spring. The beloved actress passed away on June 25, six weeks after NBC aired Farrah's Story to nearly 9 million viewers and mixed reviews.
Click here to read part one of this interview.
Ryan told the New York Post that Farrah had you “booted” off the project because you were “obsessed” with the idea that the media and paparazzi were killing Farrah. Your thoughts?
That was the first I’d heard of that, by the way. And the last I heard of it until you just asked. As I said before, we chose to try to focus the media on how some of them were improperly obtaining Farrah’s private information (and sometimes pictures). We did this rather than to confirm or deny the improperly obtained information, which would have been a further invasion of her privacy. It was a defensive strategy in terms of dealing with the tabloids and paparazzi, as Farrah sought medical treatment that she was not ready to discuss with the world. Which is not to say that some of overly-aggressive paparazzi and tabloids were not a real issue for Farrah. They were. And that was the “subplot” of Farrah’s documentary. So I am not quite sure where Ryan’s “obsession” accusation comes from.
But don’t take my word for it; take Farrah’s. Read the one and only sit-down interview she gave about her cancer since her first diagnosis in 2006. It was conducted by Charles Ornstein of the Los Angeles Times. He’s the investigative journalist who broke the story of Farrah’s medical information having been breached by an employee of UCLA and leaked to the National Enquirer. The story ran on the front page of the Los Angeles Times with the headline “Farrah Fawcett: Under a Microscope and Holding onto Hope.”
As for Farrah wanting me “booted” off the project? Well, suddenly there are an awful lot of people speaking for her—and stating with absolute certainty as to what it was that Farrah wanted. And, perhaps even more importantly, when she wanted it: around the time she was checked into the hospital, a day or two after returning from Germany in that wheelchair. Ryan picked her up and “wheeled” her into her condo. After that she was bedridden and he ... well ... he just “moved in” ... so to speak. The rest of the story I probably should refrain from talking about right now.
What happened earlier—in September 2008? According to your lawsuit, Ryan tried to pull the plug on your involvement with the documentary. And what was the dialogue between you, Farrah and Ryan in the ensuing six or seven months?
Because Ryan had been asking to see it, Farrah showed him our work-in-progress on A Wing & A Prayer. A day or two later, he called to tell me that he thought it was “pretty good” and that he remained “haunted” by many of he scenes.
But he did have one suggestion: “How about changing the title to Bare Bones?” Because, as Ryan saw it, the footage was “raw” and Farrah was “raw” from treatment. The documentary itself would be the “bare bones” of cancer. I politely told Ryan that it was an “interesting” idea and that I would speak to Farrah about it. I did. And she said no. It was a short conversation. The documentary was to be called A Wing & A Prayer. Thank God.
But then came Ryan’s next suggestion for a title change: Farrah’s Story. But this time he had made the suggestion directly to Farrah. However I knew the answer before she gave it to him: This was not to be Love Story. And it was not to be about her relationship—either on or off—with him. She and I had already had that conversation when I included a similar reference in an early synopsis (proposing their relationship) as the “C Story” behind the “A Story” of cancer and the “B Story” of protecting her privacy. Farrah had very quickly corrected me that “this” wasn’t “that.” For a lot of reasons.
In a matter of days, I received another call from Ryan. He wanted me to pack up all the cuts, footage and contracts, specifically the NBC contract, and deliver them to a producer of his choosing. And he wanted it done right then, at that moment. He said: “Don’t even call the office. You don’t need an appointment; you’re just dropping everything off. Go now.” Obviously, I didn’t do it. Instead, I called Farrah. She seemed surprised and a bit angry—especially about his demand for our contract. That’s when she made it very clear to me: “Never give anyone—including Ryan—the footage or the contract.” I asked her if that was the “official answer” she wanted me to give him. She said, “No.” This was something she would handle herself .
Farrah did “speak” with Ryan but I’m not sure how much good it did. Because their conversation prompted yet another phone call from him. He was furious with me for “disobeying” him—which was a little odd considering I didn’t work for him or even with him. He had no contract and was never a producer on this project as per Farrah. So he tried to take a different kind of authority by telling me that I was causing Farrah pain and I needed to do everything that he was telling me to do—for her sake. I tried to calm him down but it was no use. He yelled: “You’re not going to win this one!” I still don’t know what that means.
Ryan and I had never fought, at least not to my knowledge. In fact, Farrah was always amazed that we got along because she said that Ryan didn’t like most of the people in her life. Anyway, he was going on and on. But I never raised my voice—again, as far as I was concerned we had nothing to fight about. But Ryan saw it differently. His final words to me that day were the final words he has ever spoken to me: “If you take me on, I’ll kill you. I’ll kill you in Farrah’s life and then I’ll kill you in real life!” Then he hung up.
I told Farrah everything except the part about him threatening to kill me. I did not have the heart to burden her with that kind of information given what she was already dealing with. My gut was to file a police report given Ryan’s violent past. But I didn’t. Because that would have meant Farrah’s name would be mentioned—which would have guaranteed more headlines. Instead, I made a point of telling several others about the threat, in detail. And kept looking back over my shoulder for awhile.
In the meantime, Farrah and I went on as we always had: on a wing and a prayer.
What were Farrah’s intentions with this documentary that she articulated to you? And did she go into this with the wisdom of, “There’s a reason I got cancer, and there’s a reason I’m a celebrity, and I’m gonna do something to change policies and change people’s lives”?
No, not at first. But it became that very quickly.
The documentary began with Farrah taking her own camera to get her test results from her doctors at UCLA. She wasn’t sure why she did it. And she wasn’t sure it was something she would ever want to watch again since it was bad news (her cancer had recurred after slightly less than three months). But about week later, Farrah asked her assistant, Mike Pingel, to burn a copy of the tape to a DVD for me. She said, “Take it, watch it. Maybe it’s something.” I said, “What do you mean?” She said, “I don’t know. Isn’t that your job to figure out?” I said, “Oh, like a PSA or something?” She said, “I don’t know. But I like that I’m not in it.” What she meant is that you could hear her voice but you couldn’t see her (because she was behind the camera). So it was her POV of the three doctors giving her the grim news. A couple of weeks later, after Farrah had given me that original footage she shot, she made the decision to go to Germany.
And that was because she didn’t want the colostomy bag that her doctors at UCLA recommended?
That’s actually not the reason. But a lot of people believe it was based on some very misleading and irresponsible narration that was shoehorned in by “other producers” and read, inexplicably, by Dr. (Lawrence) Piro (Farrah’s American oncologist). What “somehow” got obscured from our cut to the broadcast version was this crucial information: When cancer metastasizes from the anus/rectum into the liver, as it did with Farrah, a colostomy bag would have simply been a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. Because the cancer in the liver—which was still anal cancer—couldn’t be dealt with or removed and replaced by a colostomy bag.
Both Farrah and I were told (by her doctors in Germany) that once cancer spreads from one organ to another, most American doctors give up. They simply tell the patient to spend time with loved ones and make themselves as comfortable as possible. This was reinforced by the lack of a pro-active plan from Farrah’s doctors at UCLA. Farrah said repeatedly that they did not, could not, offer her any options. When they recommended the colostomy bag, they had not yet discovered that the cancer had spread to the liver. So for the record: Farrah did not choose to leave the country in order to avoid (surgery to receive) a colostomy bag. That option ceased to be an option when the next set of scans came in.
I’d also like to correct some similar medical misinformation about why Farrah lost her hair. As I understand it, the chemo used to treat anal cancer usually does not make one’s hair fall out. However, a chemo that had not been available for Farrah when she was first diagnosed suddenly became available for her later. That’s why—and when—she lost her hair, because of this newly available chemo. To my knowledge, she never avoided a recommended chemo to spare her hair.
I don’t know why that misinformation was “written” into the documentary—other than (because) Alexandra Gleysteen, the former Dateline NBC producer who came on to oversee post production about a month before broadcast, seemed intent to make whatever statement she ended up making about people getting their sense of self or power from their hair. That was Ms. Gleysteen’s opinion, as expressed to me in my living room, not Farrah’s opinion. So why did Dr. Piro read that “script?” Perhaps that’s a question that he should answer himself.
At any rate, as I was saying, Farrah made the medical decision to go to Germany to seek the help and hope that she couldn’t find in America.
Trying to leave the country, ironically, subjected Farrah to more paparrazi than perhaps doing anything else in and around Los Angeles. The airport is a hassle for anybody. But it always seemed to be a particular hassle for Farrah.
Which is why I started following her to the airport with my camera. I did this for two reasons. The National Enquirer had already outed her condition and it was basically open season on Farrah in terms of the tabloid press and paparazzi. So if anyone crossed the line with her, invaded the privacy of her personal space on her way to the doctor, even via LAX, then we were going to make them the story. That’s the conversation I had with Farrah. And that’s the approach she decided she wanted to take during her cancer fight—which is why she asked me to release the statement that I did on her behalf (see image below).
In other words, if anyone invaded her privacy they would become the story. Not her cancer. It’s ironic. I went from chasing Farrah with my camera to protecting Farrah with my camera. If you look back at the coverage of Farrah from May 2007 on, you’ll see variation after variation on this theme. Of course it all came to a head with the ultimate invasion—at least at the time—of Farrah’s privacy (when) an employee of UCLA sold Farrah’s medical information to the National Enquirer. But we were able to turn that one around on them, too. But for that we needed the help of investigative journalist Charles Ornstein (then of the Los Angeles Times), U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the State Health Department, and the FBI.
The second reason I filmed Farrah at the airport was because she had previously asked me to see if her early footage (shot at UCLA) was “something.” I thought it was but I wasn’t sure what. But I knew that whatever it was, it wasn’t enough by itself. So I shot Farrah leaving the United States for Germany. Beat by beat, a story began unfolding.
However, leaving the country wasn’t quite as easy for Farrah as she thought it would be. In the past her passports had been stolen and sold. As a result of recovering some of the old ones, she accidentally grabbed the wrong one from her safe. This outdated passport was not going to get her to Germany. So she went back home to get the current one. In the meantime, Ryan and I waited for her and her friend Joan Dangerfield, who went to Germany with Farrah on this first trip, at the bar. I turned on my camera—this is in the show—and talked to Ryan about the purpose of the trip. He explained it was to try to find a cure for her cancer. He was real, he was honest, he was touching. It was the complete opposite of how he came off when he decided to step in and try to make A Wing & A Prayer into a sequel to Love Story called Farrah’s Story.
What communication did you have with Farrah during her trips to Germany?
Farrah called me from Germany every three or four days if she could. But it was only a couple days into her trip that she told me, “You know, I think there are things here, treatments, people need to hear about. I don’t know why we (in America) don’t do some of these tests. I don’t know why we don’t know about some of these treatments. And you know what? It’s all on film. Alana and Joan have been filming everything with my little camera.” I said, “It sounds like what we’re talking about is a documentary or special.” She said, “Oh, I don’t like the term ‘special.’” I told her, “We’ll find another term.”
Of course the term we eventually came up with for the documentary was “video diary”— which we would base on her real cancer diary. Before she left for Germany I gave her several blank, faux leather journals to write and draw in during her trip. I gave these to her for her own artistic therapy, as I knew she would be in bed much of the time. And when she came back and showed me what she had done, I said, “This is it. This and the home movies (combined) are the project.” She said, “See? I told you I’d figure out.” I laughed and said, “I thought I just figured that out?” And she said, “But I figured out that I should let you figure it out!”
She was kidding—but not. That’s the way she and I worked. Just like our first meeting about what would become Chasing Farrah: I listened to her thoughts and feelings. Then I repeated them back to her in my own words or terms. After that, she would then adjust my adjustment. It was a true, creative collaboration. But don’t misunderstand. The work I did with Farrah always began with her and ended with her. We spoke the same language: her language. Fortunately, I was a good listener and a fast learner when it came to “Farrah Speak.”
So this project started out in somewhat of a free form? And on good faith?
That’s right. But about nine months later, when we had a significant 40-minute presentation reel, Farrah decided it was time for us to show it to a few select broadcasters. The higher-ups at NBC made it clear they wanted A Wing & A Prayer on their network after I screened it for Doug Vaughan, the vice-president of alternative programming and specials, in my living room. (Farrah didn’t want the footage sent out). Up until that point Farrah and I were working free form, in private, and on good faith. I would describe it as working on a handshake—except that not even a hand-shake was necessary between us.
Why do you think that was?
It all goes back to the reality series we did. She said yes to me after saying no to everyone else who pitched her for three years. Producers and companies much bigger than me—FOX, VH1 and E!, for example—had tried but couldn’t get her to say yes. And when she said yes to me, I thought, “Wow! This is great! Farrah is really going to help my career!”
But much later, about halfway through her cancer fight, I realized that Chasing Farrah wasn’t really about her helping me. It was about putting me in the position to be able to help her. So that she could help others. She was comfortable with me shooting her or having others turn over footage they had shot to me. My company had already filmed her and Ryan together in his home, something that they had never allowed anyone else to do—before or after. I had filmed Farrah with her parents in their home in Texas. And again, as Farrah herself had previously told me, “I don’t let a lot of people in. And once you get in, there’s no getting out.” She was right.
I’m not saying that she didn’t want Alana and others (including Joan Dangerfield and Kate Jackson) to film her. She did. Farrah was comfortable with that idea—as long as all the footage was turned over to me for protecting, vetting and editing. At the time, both Farrah and I thought that’s what Alana was doing: turning over the home videos, shot on one of several cameras that Farrah owned, to me. It turns out we were wrong. According to Ryan’s comments to the New York Post, he ordered Alana to stop cooperating with me —even though he was not a producer on the video diary and had nothing to do with its production. ("Almost a year ago, we started to lose faith in this guy. Stewart stopped turning over things to him on my instruction," O’Neal told the New York Post.)
I’m not saying that Farrah didn’t love Ryan and Alana but I know she had trust issues with both of them.
What kind of trust issues did she have with them?
Farrah didn’t enter into business partnerships with either of them. Well, I guess that’s not completely true. According to Farrah, she had tried twice with Ryan before and both times were a disaster. They were owners or investors in a gym but she ended up selling him her piece of it. Farrah told me that she wanted out because she found Ryan too difficult to work with, too controlling. The other time was when they co-starred in Good Sports, which, by all accounts, was turbulent at best.
As far as I know, Farrah never again entered into any contract with him as a business partner. She certainly was adamant about not entering into a marriage contract with him—in spite of his boasts to Barbara Walters that that she had said yes to his proposal on her deathbed and he would “nod her head” for her at the ceremony. Meanwhile, they hadn’t lived together in over a decade. And according to those I’ve spoken with, including Farrah, Ryan was not named in her will and would have no control over their son’s inheritance or her trust.
And trust issues with Alana?
Farrah was very aware that Alana used her name to get freebies or discounts wherever and whenever she could. Like those designer pajamas that they’re both wearing on the cover of People Magazine (to promote yet another use of Farrah’s name by Alana: her new book called My Journey with Farrah.). Anyway, Alana would call a store or a company and use Farrah’s name to get free products—everything in sets of two, of course. That’s why you see Alana dressed so similarly to Farrah so often. I heard other, similar stories about cosmetics, jewelery, trips, etc.
The more public Alana was with the use of Farrah’s name, the more it seemed to bother her. Which is not to say that Farrah wasn’t generous with her. She was. Farrah would help out her from time to time over the years, using her influence to get her hired in a bit part or paying her an inflated fee for running the video camera during parts of her cancer fight. I’m not going to deny that Farrah had fun shopping and gossiping with Alana. But Farrah sometimes wondered if Alana would really want to be her friend if she was not famous. In fact, Farrah sometimes joked about it. She said that after being Mrs Rod Stewart and Mrs. George Hamilton, the only thing left for Alana was to be “Mr. Farrah Fawcett.” It was a very funny comment. But at the same time, it wasn’t funny at all.
But you felt Farrah trusted you?
Farrah once said to the vice-president of TV Land, with a completely straight face: “Are you sure Craig’s really a producer? Because he doesn’t seem to lie to me. Hmmm. So I guess that means he’s not an agent or a manager either. I don’t know what he is. Can ya’all look into it and get back to me?” Of course what she was really doing was complimenting me in front of my network bosses. She was just doing it in her own entertaining, inimitable style.
But Farrah was never confused about our relationship. Not professionally and not personally. I really can’t explain it because we don’t appear to have much in common. But we worked well together and had fun doing it. We became friends as well as producing partners. But, by the way, that doesn’t mean we were equal partners. Farrah was always the boss—although she rarely pulled rank. I guess I never gave her reason. So, yes, there was trust and good faith between us. Five years worth, actually: two and a half years when she was healthy and then two and a half years while she was sick.
But you did enter into a formal agreement with Farrah in April 2008, forming a production company. Why was that?
That was at the point when NBC said they wanted to license A Wing & A Prayer. Knowing that it was not appropriate for my company, Windmill Entertainment, to own the documentary—even though we were producing it—I suggested that we form a separate company in which Farrah would be the majority owner. So we formed Sweetened By Risk LLC.
It sounds like you had a solid relationship and a solid contract with Farrah. So what caused you to file a lawsuit against Ryan O’Neal, his business manager and Alana Stewart? What went wrong?
Farrah’s cancer went wrong. She got sicker in February 2009. She didn’t feel any sicker but her test results showed otherwise. So she left for Germany and came back in a wheelchair at the end of March. A few days later, she checked into a hospital. The news that she was “dying” went around the world and back again. Without a source. She became a most popular search or read on many Internet sites. That’s what prompted NBC to say, “She really is still one of the most famous people in the world. We need this show on the air now. As soon as possible.”
But Farrah had given me the contractual right to make all business and creative decisions if she was unable to for health reasons. And that would include the air date, which had to be mutually approved by our company and the network. However, I wasn’t going to ‘OK’ an air date without seeing her—which Ryan and his business manager wouldn’t allow me to do. They banned me from seeing or talking to Farrah for what turned out to be the rest of her life.
And it was about this time, when they isolated her from me, that Ryan and Alana took steps to take over the documentary through his business manager and Farrah’s and my former attorneys who filed our company’s Articles of Organization with the state. Suddenly, Ryan and his business manager claimed to have Farrah’s “Power of Attorney”—although they refused to show it to me.
To this day, I haven’t seen any document entitled “Power of Attorney.” Although I have seen other documents which they claim negate the operating agreement that Farrah and I signed when we formed Sweetened By Risk LLC. They claim the other documents also void the rights Farrah invested with me on her behalf and on our company’s behalf should health events interfere with her ability to continue the work. These new documents were signed with a scrawled, scrunched signature that they claim is Farrah’s.
And it was on the basis of at least one of these documents that NBC proceeded to broadcast the program, changing its title to Farrah’s Story—how ironic—and drop in sound bite interviews that primarily focused on Ryan’s and Alana’s heartbreak and hope, and what effects Farrah’s cancer had on them. I was embarrassed for all of us—including Ryan and Alana, who seem to have become blissfully disconnected to the effect that their narcissistic monologues have on Farrah’s legacy or even their own reputations. But don’t take my opinion for it. Read Ryan’s interview with Vanity Fair or Alana’s recent book, both of which were supposed to have been tributes to Farrah, and decide for yourself.
Your suit in part aims to regain creative control of Farrah’s Story and the 100 hours or so of footage shot for it. What are your goals with this project?
My goals are the same as they have always been: to execute Farrah’s artistic vision and deliver the message that she wanted delivered. In short, I want to fix the damage that was done to our film by restoring all the work that Farrah and I did and then finish it. The rest of the world has yet to see the film and there is a beneficial afterlife for it on cable, on DVD and for healthcare facilities. Also for various charities if they would like to hold screenings and such to raise money.
By the way, your original title, A Wing and a Prayer, was so much better.
Thanks. Farrah liked the imagery and what it said—and fact that it referenced or implied hope, faith, angels and the idea of flying in order to find safety.
If you regain control of this project, would you pitch a new version to NBC?
No. Um, no. Not unless I had to, contractually.
What changes would you make to NBC’s cut? Would you cut out some of the more graphic “death” scenes?
Absolutely. Because that’s sinking to the levels of the tabloids. It’s what Farrah was against. Like the scene with her son, Redmond, in chains and shackles, when he comes to visit Farrah, who does not appear to be conscious. And the various scenes from her last trip to Germany, which Alana withheld in order to try to get more money and a better credit. Farrah doesn’t appear to be completely lucid in that footage. And since neither Farrah nor I was ever shown that video to approve its inclusion, well, I think it was in bad taste and totally exploitative of everyone.
Again, Alessandra Stanley makes the point for me in her New York Times review. She writes, “It was clear that Ms. Fawcett wanted to take back her story from the paparazzi and the celebrity magazines and have some control over its telling. Yet sadly, her film stylistically mirrors some of the worst excesses of our tabloid culture.”
Why did you file suit two days before NBC aired the special in May?
I didn’t need to wait for the reviews to know that what Ryan and Alana did to Farrah’s real story was cheap and exploitative. That’s why I filed suit before the program aired and before it was reviewed. I didn’t want to be accused of “sour grapes” or making excuses to justify the work Farrah and I had done—in other words claiming that what was considered powerful or even artistic about the film was our work and what was considered to be awful and artless was theirs.
Although others advised me to hold off filing suit until later, perhaps waiting until after Farrah passed away and the documentary had aired, I knew that I couldn’t. I needed to demonstrate foresight, not hindsight. And I needed to operate as if Farrah would or could rebound. That’s what governed my words and actions: the hope that I would still have Farrah to answer to. Because if I did, if she came out of her medicated haze and downward spiral and truly saw what Ryan and Alana were doing, I firmly believe that she would have instructed me to cut them out of the documentary or at least minimize their presence.
Farrah had a long fuse. But once that fuse burned down and ignited an explosion, she would go nuclear. And I do not say this as a criticism. I never saw her go nuclear on someone without good reason. She was a generous, forgiving and understanding person. But she did not, could not, suffer fools or liars or cowards. If she had recovered, and if I hadn’t acted when I did as I did, I would have had her to explain myself to. Because, in my opinion, she would have tossed Ryan and Alana out on their asses. And then, after she fired or sued everyone who helped them, she would have turned to me and asked: “Where were you?”
But I’m digressing. My point is that I had to act when I did.
Ryan O’Neal’s publicist, Paul Bloch, criticized you for your timing in a statement he gave to TMZ, who broke the story. (Bloch told TMZ, "I am shocked by this type of behavior. Here’s a woman who everyone knows has been ill and to do something like this is horrific. This has been a very difficult time for Ryan O'Neal. When you see something like this you have to question the motives of someone who can be so hurtful during this very sensitive time in a person's life.")
By the way, Mr. Bloch seems to have forgotten to deny any of my allegations about Ryan and Alana. Instead, this veteran publicist at a highly respected and well-established PR firm criticized me for the timing of my lawsuit. The timing. In the same breath he goes on to say what a difficult time this has been—for Ryan!
By the way, this was not such a difficult time as to prevent Ryan from playing multiple games of paddleball and going to a Van Morrison concert in the days immediately preceding my lawsuit. But shouldn’t he have been at Farrah’s bedside? Or maybe in the editing room saving her documentary? Maybe he was counting on Alana to do the re-editing. After all, she seems more than qualified to be the producer in charge because of her experience as a former model, a bit part actress, a failed talk show host, the ex-wife of George Hamilton, the ex-wife of Rod Stewart, and someone who, by her own admission, did not know how to work a home video camera.
But in answer to your original question: Yes, I would restore and then complete A Wing & A Prayer to be Farrah’s complete story. With her true message intact. All of which would mean the tone would be closer to what Farrah expressed she wanted from the start: emphasizing hope and not heartbreak, life and not death. I mean, for Ryan and Alana and the former Dateline NBC producer to cut from Farrah appearing to be half-dead in bed to Melissa Etheridge’s uplifting and inspirational song “I Run for Life”—which was Farrah’s favorite part of the documentary as edited by my team—diminished both that specific sequence and the project as a whole. The juxtaposition made the documentary feel like we were proffering false hope, complete with a smiling and laughing Farrah as the final shot, right before “SPECIAL THANKS TO RYAN O’NEAL” appeared on screen.
Perhaps the documentary’s most stunning image was Farrah getting her famous hair shaved off. Was Farrah fine with filming this?
Farrah was fine filming everything, knowing two things: all footage would be immediately turned over to me for vetting—which I did personally without any editor or assistant present so as to protect her privacy—and she would have final cut. In terms of her hair loss, I was the one in her bathroom filming her close friend (and hair stylist) Mela Murphy cutting her hair. That’s when her hair started coming out. She handled it so great, with good humor and even song. Farrah and Mela sang “I just wanna grow up to be an old woman . . .” Farrah knew she wanted that in even before I had turned the camera off. She was right. It was an inspired and completely original moment between two friends. It showed how they chose to face the enormous uncertainty of the future by grabbing hold of the first thing they could find to offer comfort or normalcy in the present—a song.
But in terms of her bald head, she warned me before I saw that footage that she was on the fence about it. On the one hand, she thought it was important. On the other hand, she didn’t know if it was too exploitative. She wondered if just showing the hair thinning (with Mela) was enough. Farrah decided that she wanted to see it in context after I edited it. But ultimately, she was 90 percent sure it needed to be there. But 90 percent is not 100 percent. She never got to make that final decision. Alana made the decision for her. And it was never, under any circumstances, Alana’s decision to make. In Farrah’s absence, for health-related reasons, she had signed over her creative and business authority to me regarding our company and the documentary.
Now, in this case, Alana happened to make the right call, in my opinion. Farrah was leaning toward including the footage, and I planned on urging her to do the same. But she never got the chance to make that decision or even see that footage. Alana ignored Farrah’s wishes as to who she entrusted to make decisions and violated her right to privacy in doing so. Nowhere is that more evident than when she shot Farrah barely conscious—if she was conscious at all—in her bedroom. Her own bedroom. Again, Farrah was fine with having everything (related to cancer) filmed in order to consider its use. But that was only with the knowledge that the footage was going directly to me and no one else, including NBC. It was a betrayal.
What do you think Farrah would’ve said about filming her son visiting her in shackles?
Ryan and Alana had always planned to film Redmond coming to say goodbye to his mother on what appeared to be her death bed. After all, Ryan and Alana were serious “filmmakers” now. To my dying day I will insist, no matter who may claim otherwise, that Farrah would not have approved of shooting Redmond in a prison jumpsuit and chains. His challenges were not directly relevant to her cancer or its potential cure.
Farrah would also not have approved of many of the vidcaps that were released to promote the documentary. Do an internet image search. Close-ups of Farrah as she is vomiting. Close-ups of her shaved head. Close-ups of her crying. Farrah preferred mystery, revelation. She wanted viewers to tune in and experience her journey with her as she was experiencing it. She never would have allowed Ryan to do interviews with People Magazine or to promote her most personal of projects by saying: "The hair is gone. Her famous hair. I have it at home. She didn't care. I rub her head. It's kind of fun, actually, this tiny little head.” I was stunned.
After fighting to protect her medical privacy until she herself chose when and how to release such information—even going so far as to set up a “sting” in order to prove to UCLA that one of their employees was leaking her records to the National Enquirer—she was betrayed by those who claimed to know her best and have her best interests at heart. With friends like these, who needs the tabloids?
Doesn’t sound like you’re going to drop your lawsuit anytime soon?
I’m not. I can’t. Farrah trusted me. She was a good partner and a good person. A lot of fun as a friend. She was a talented actress and artist. And an inspiration to millions around the world—not just fans but also her fellow cancer patients and their families.
Of course Farrah’s also been an icon since 1976. And it’s not every day—or even every lifetime—that you get the chance to know an icon. Let alone protect one.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This interview is an expression of free speech. The subjects and events discussed are newsworthy in that they are currently of interest and concern to the public, if not already public record (in whole or in part). The opinions expressed herein are just that: opinions. One person’s point-of-view based on that person’s own knowledge, experience and relationships. If you have an opposing opinion based on your own personal experience with the specific subject matter and/or events discussed above, I would gladly consider your request to be interviewed concerning the same material.
Copyright 2009, Retroality.TV/Chris Mann