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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

"FARRAH'S STORY" EMMY EXCLUSIVE: Producer Craig Nevius tells why he sued Farrah's lover, Ryan O'Neal, and "self-proclaimed best friend" Alana Stewart



Craig Nevius interview: part one of a two-part Retroality.TV exclusive leading up to the Creative Arts Emmys on Sept. 12

By Chris Mann
Retroality.TV Editor

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 this 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 for part two of this interview.

You shared quite a journey with Farrah. Both of you had varied backgrounds—film, TV, stage, drama, comedy—that intersected on Chasing Farrah. And with the groundbreaking cancer documentary, which ironically became the role of her lifetime, she really completed the circle. Would she agree that she did it all?

I had that conversation with her once in her kitchen. I’m not sure she saw it that way. She seemed to have some passing regret about opportunities she didn’t take in terms of accepting some roles in some blockbuster, critically-acclaimed movies. I remember telling her that I thought her place in pop culture was already more firmly established than those couple missed roles in the movies could have ever established. To millions of people around the world she was something bigger than a movie star: She was a pop culture icon. And as a television star, she came into our homes. As a poster, she was taped to a lot of bedroom walls.

During this conversation, which was before she was ever ill, I told her: “You’re going to be remembered for the role you were born to play: ‘Farrah.’” She said, “Oh, no! Don’t say that! I don’t want to be remembered for that!” I laughed and said, “I don’t think you have a choice. Yes, you’ll be remembered for Charlie’s Angels, the poster, the hair and the teeth. And The Burning Bed, Extremities, Small Sacrifices and The Apostle. Maybe even some of the commercials. And Letterman”—which she never really minded because she liked Dave; she did his show more than any other besides Johnny Carson.

I tried to express to her that she would be remembered for more than the sum of her parts. I shared my opinion that “‘Farrah’ is the role of your lifetime.” At the time, I didn’t know how right I would be in terms of how she would touch the world with her cancer documentary.


She told you in Chasing Farrah that she didn’t like people to “put (her) in a box.” And though she often transcended the medium as an artist, America liked Farrah just fine in the ultimate box—television.
I don’t look at television as the poor second cousin to movies. I’ve done some movies. My first writing job in Hollywood was a theatrical release: Happy Together, which starred Patrick Dempsey and Helen Slater. And it was Brad Pitt’s first movie. It came right at the end of the whole teen movie craze that John Hughes had started. That was ‘89/’90 and I was barely out of high school myself.

But I have always preferred television, for all the reasons I discussed with Farrah that day in her kitchen. And she was a true product of the medium, although she was more partial to art films and foreign movies growing up. When you think about it, Farrah did almost everything there was to do in television: influential commercials (Noxzema, Ultra-Brite and Mercury-Cougar), memorable guest spots on classic sitcoms (I Dream of Jeannie, The Flying Nun and The Partridge Family), blockbuster series (Charlie’s Angels), groundbreaking movies (The Burning Bed, Small Sacrifices), public service announcements (for the American Cancer Society and against Domestic Violence), talk show appearances worthy of both ratings and reviews (The Late Show with David Letterman), a controversial pay-per-view special (Playboy’s All of Me), recurring roles on popular series (Spin City and Ally McBeal), cartoon voices (Johnny Bravo and The Brave Little Toaster) and a reality series (Chasing Farrah). She had even done a documentary (Prisoners of Wedlock). Little did I know that day in her kitchen that she would have another documentary in her, unfortunately.

Sadly, her first and only Emmy, if Farrah’s Story wins Best Nonfiction Special, will be awarded posthumously.
As I think about it, Farrah didn’t really do all there was to do in television. The one thing she never did was to be honored by the medium she worked in for 40 years. Yes, she’s been nominated for three acting Emmys (for The Burning Bed, Small Sacrifices and The Guardian), but she’s never won. It’s something we talked about. I told her, I promised her, once before she got sick and then again after her diagnosis: “You’re gonna win an Emmy. And I’m gonna be part of it.” She said, “I hope so, but I don’t know. If they didn’t give it to me for The Burning Bed, I don’t think they ever will.” I asked her if she wanted to bet one of her Warhol paintings.


Were you thinking she’d win an Emmy for acting?
Yes. After Chasing Farrah we started developing other projects to produce together and for her to star in. One of them we actually had set up—and nobody really knows because she got sick before we could sign the deals. It was for an updated version of Auntie Mame. Not the musical; the book. As much as Farrah liked to sing, neither one of us thought that would be a great idea for her. But she did think playing a modern Mame did have potential when I brought the concept to her.

In one of the episodes of Chasing Farrah she talked about getting older. She didn’t seem to mind it, despite what Ryan O’Neal claimed in his Vanity Fair interview that was supposed to be a tribute to her. She always told me she wanted to find different roles than she had ever been allowed to play before. As she put it: “I want my Driving Miss Daisy.”

Would Auntie Mame have been her Driving Miss Daisy?
I don’t know—but it could have been. It’s a great part: Mame is an eccentric, sexy, free-spirited aunt who ends up with custody of her brother’s straight-laced little boy who’s very, very serious-minded. And here’s this wild, immature-for-her-age aunt who suddenly has to learn how to be a grown up while teaching the kid how to be, well, a kid. She teaches him how to live and he teaches her how to grow up—a little.

It’s been a book, a play, a musical, a movie. Most of the actresses who played the part either won awards or were nominated for them: Roslyn Russell, Angela Lansbury, Lucille Ball. Farrah said that she related to the part because it’s essentially about parenthood. Even though every man who met Mame falls in love with her, the love of her life turned out to be a little boy. And that’s how it was in Farrah’s life. The love of Farrah’s life was her son.

Was this a conscious decision on Farrah’s part to move into producing—or at least start to develop roles or material for herself?
I don’t think it was a conscious plan. But it was a good way for us to work together. But Farrah was smart: She knew that as she got older there were less and less great parts for actresses in their late 50s and early 60s. I mean she was offered roles all the time; but they weren’t great parts. She turned almost everything down over the last five years. But she was offered a good part a few months before she passed. It was for a recurring role on John Wells’ series Southland.

How did her rapidly declining health factor into this offer?
They didn’t realize how sick she was because of the footage I had just released of her to the news. It was part of an interview I shot for her documentary where she blasts the paparazzi for trying to get a picture of her in a wheelchair. That (interview footage) was released in (early) April of this year when she returned from what would be her last trip to Germany.

As everyone knows by now, she came back in a wheelchair and was ambushed by the paparazzi at LAX. They got their picture. But I made a deal with the entertainment news shows: I will give you sound bytes of Farrah from her first and only “cancer interview” for free if you do not buy or broadcast those wheelchair pictures. Everyone except Entertainment Tonight took me up on it; they’re bottom feeders, by the way, no better than the National Enquirer, in my opinion.


I had asked Farrah’s self-proclaimed best friend, Alana Stewart, to use her influence at Entertainment Tonight to try to stop them from broadcasting those pictures of Farrah in a wheelchair. The show used to employ Alana’s daughter and Alana gets interviewed on it pretty much every chance she gets. Supposedly, Alana talked to them but they ran the pictures anyway. Later, Alana called me and said: “Well, at least they ran only the ‘good wheelchair pictures.’” I said, “You’ve got to be kidding me. Did that just come out of your mouth?”

Anyway, like I said, the other shows stepped up and decided to respect Farrah’s privacy. EXTRA and Access Hollywood even blasted other shows that did air the pictures. Billy Bush opened Access Hollywood with something along the lines of: “Pictures of Farrah in a wheelchair have caused a feeding frenzy among the usual suspects. You won’t see those pictures here.” I had never seen a show open that way. They basically said: “You’re not going to see tonight’s top story.” Instead they showed the footage I provided of Farrah lashing out against the paparazzi and tabloids for invading her privacy.

The point being, she looked so good in the footage (shot in 2008) that John Wells’ people didn’t think she was as ill as she was when they offered her a terrific part. So, Farrah was in demand up until the end. She remained relevant as an actress and as, well, “Farrah”—as our documentary proved.


How did you and Farrah end up working together?
There was absolutely no reason why we should have. We had a rocky, unsuccessful start in 2003. My company wanted to produce a Charlie’s Angels reunion. We had a unique approach to bringing the ladies back together that would not require working with the original producers or rights holders to the franchise. I guess you could call it “scripted reality.”

We approached Kate Jackson first and, after putting us through our paces, she said yes. And Jaclyn Smith was on board if Farrah and Kate were. So it all seemed to come down to Farrah saying yes after having said no to doing a reunion for 30 years. Kate introduced me to her and, by the end of our first meeting, Farrah was on board. CBS wanted the project but the deals proved very difficult to close and the project went south.

But afterwards I got a call from Farrah. She said she was sorry it didn’t work out the way we had all hoped but she thought I had handled everything fairly and treated everyone with respect. She also said she liked that I held firm and was willing to fight for what I believed was right. This was an amazing phone call considering the project just went down in flames. Farrah ended the call by telling me she would be open to listening to any other project I wanted to bring her in the future. Six or seven months later I contacted her about a project that would eventually be called Chasing Farrah.

And how did that come about?
I had just produced a pilot for TV Land when Sal Maniaci, the vice president of the network, happened to mention that they had been trying to sign Farrah to do a reality show for two or three years. I said, “Oh, really? Let me try.” He said, “Okay. But we’ve already pitched her, wined her and dined her, sent her gifts. We’ve offered her lots of money. She doesn’t want to do it. She just hates reality shows.”

When I met with Farrah she said the same thing. In fact the first hour or so of our meeting was spent with me listening in silence as she recited a laundry list of the reasons she would never do a reality series. Including the fact that she didn’t find reality series real. She said, “How can it be real if you don’t acknowledge the camera in your face? I mean, no one walks around being followed by cameras in real life. Well, unless you’re me I guess.” I said, “Exactly. And that’s the show.” She asked, “What’s the show?”

And I said, “You don’t want to do a reality show. Why would you? You’re one of the most famous and photographed women in the world, why would you let cameras further into your life? Why would you open yourself up to that kind of invasion of privacy that could spawn more headlines in the tabloids? The answer is: You’re not going to open yourself up to us. At least not at first and not easily. How far can we get into your life? If we cross a line, you’ll tell us by acknowledging the camera and slamming a door in our face. It’ll be a reality show about the making of reality show—that just happens to star Farrah Fawcett.” She thought about it for a second and then clarified it for both us: “So ya’all are in the show, too? And you’re chasing me?” I said yes: “The show is Chasing Farrah.” She was silent again for a few moments—something by all accounts, including her own, she rarely was—and then said, “I like that.”

And that really set the tone for how Farrah and I worked together. How we collaborated, creatively. It was give and take. Later I admitted to her: “I couldn’t believe you said yes. I hardly said anything at the meeting.” And she said, “But you listened real good.”


So she appreciated that you clearly took her words seriously.
As we got to know each other I realized that this was a big issue with her. Farrah often felt like those around her didn’t listen or simply pacified her. I always listened and I never bullshitted her. I respected her as both a celebrity and as an artist. And she trusted me as a result.

In fact, when Chasing Farrah wrapped production she said to me, “Just so you know, I’m a lot like the mob. I don’t let a lot of people in. And once you get in, there’s no getting out.” I laughed and asked her if that was a threat or a compliment. She said, “A little bit of both.”


What were you initial impressions of Farrah?

My initial impression of Farrah were other people’s impressions of her (in that) my agent and manager warned me about her. They said she was a diva. I had seen headlines in the tabloids at the checkout stand. Then of course there was the first Letterman appearance. Kate Jackson told me Farrah was tough. I can tell you, in all honesty, that everybody and everything I heard was wrong. Except for what Kate said. Farrah was tough. But in a good way.

In the five years I worked with her, as both a producer and director, she never said no to me. But she constantly said, “Why?” She was not a wind-up doll who would blindly do what she was directed to do without knowing the reasons as to why she was doing it. Farrah was an artist and a collaborator. She wanted to see the bigger picture—not just her part in it. Fortunately, I always had an answer for “Why?” which would cause her answer to be “yes.” I think her pre-disposition to ask “Why?” was what was mostly responsible for her getting any kind of reputation as being “difficult.” Most producers and directors don’t like to be asked “Why?” by actors. I never minded.

Farrah asked “why” because she cared about what she was doing. In my experience with her, she never phoned it in. She was hands-on and involved, pushing herself and others to think out of the box. But that doesn’t mean that Farrah felt everything she did was 100 percent successful. But one of her favorite sayings was “Life is sweetened by risk.” And that’s what we eventually named the company we formed (to produce Farrah’s Story): Sweetened By Risk LLC.

Farrah was always a risk-taker. I mean, she left Charlie’s Angels after the first blockbuster season. That was an enormous risk that almost killed her career. But life turned out all the sweeter for it in terms of where it eventually led her.


Even after this month’s Vanity Fair story, I don’t think many people know who Farrah really was. She seemed enigmatic in simultaneously wanting to protect and yet at times exploit her image and her most intimate moments. She obviously had major issues with the paparazzi and tabloids invading her privacy. Did she want to reclaim her image and control of her life?
Not re-claim. But claim from the beginning. If you look back, she retained the rights to her poster. And there wasn’t even a real industry for posters at that time. When she was approached about it, she said, “A what? A poster? Well, what am I selling?” The manufactures said, “Nothing. It’s a poster of you.” And she said, “Oh, well, in that case, I should own it.”

And she did. She owned it. I’ve seen the contract from 1976. It was a licensing agreement from the beginning. For two years the company (Pro Arts) in Ohio got to license it, and upon expiration of the deal the copyright was hers. It was a smart move considering that image is now representative of an entire decade—not to mention one of the most famous photographs in pop culture if not the world.

That kind of take-charge business sense flies in the face of her giggly, girlish image.
Well, her father thought she was going to be a boy. He even had the name picked out: Toby Jo. But the boy turned out to be a girl. And Toby Jo became Farrah, which was her mother’s idea. Still, her father raised her as a boy. But her mother raised her as a girl. She always said she had the best of both worlds: baseball and ballet. Farrah was very much a product of her parents.

Her father, Big Jim, taught her to be extremely competitive in sports. Tennis, racquetball, you name it. She’d play anything, even ping-pong. And she played to win. When I interviewed Farrah’s mother shortly before she passed away, she said, “I told Farrah growing up, ‘You’ve gotta let the boys win sometimes, or they’re gonna stop playin’ with you.’” And Farrah would say, “You mean I have to let the boys win if I want to play with them?” She didn’t like that. And that was her father’s influence. He taught her to play to win in everything, including business. He always told her: “Don’t sign anything unless you know what it says.”


Did you ever see her as enigmatic?
I saw her as more of a contradiction. It’s like, “Are you a sex symbol or serious actress? A tabloid celebrity or a role model?” I think she would agree with my opinion that she was a little bit of everything.

For instance, she loved the lyrics to the theme song we used on Chasing Farrah: “I’m a bitch, I’m a lover, I’m a child, I’m a mother. I’m a sinner, I’m a saint. I’m a little bit of everything all rolled into one. So take me as I am . . .” The funny thing is I had chosen that song but the other producers and her representation (at the time) said, “Oh, no! You can’t use that! You’re calling her a bitch! And a sinner!” I said, “I’m not, she is. If she likes the song and approves it.” They all convinced me not to present it to her. Then, at the group meeting when we were talking about different songs, she wrote me a note and slid it down the table. It said, “What is that song called where the lyrics start ‘I’m a bitch, I’m a lover?’ Do you know what I’m talking about?” Obviously, I did.

And that was a big part of our professional and personal relationship. I understood her. Which really goes back to listening to her—which, as I said, was something she felt most people didn’t do. Either they were too quick to agree with her because she was “Farrah” or they automatically disagreed with her because she was “Farrah.” Again, it’s that contradiction.

By the time your paths crossed, she had done Burning Bed and The Apostle. And she had done Playboy twice. America was confused: Is she a giddy, dizzy woman or is she a really grounded, smart, strong chick? By 2004, as she neared 60, do you think she really knew who she was, or was she still finding that out herself?

I think she knew who she was but she remained confused as to why other people were confused. But she began to get some clarity toward the end of the show (Chasing Farrah).

I asked her, on camera, if she had learned anything about her world after doing the series. She said, “Yes. I think I’m smarter than I thought I was. And dumber. But also stronger. And I think I have a right to be the way I am.” What she meant by that last part is that, for the first time, she saw the chaos that swirled around her no matter what she did or where she went. She was able to take a step back and watch (the show). Part of this was the fact that she was contractually allowed to see copies of all the raw footage we shot, whether she was in the scenes or not. So every few days I had boxes of videotape delivered to her home. And she watched them.

What she saw that most interested her was how people acted when she was in the room versus how they acted when she left the room. She saw that people were different. And that everything became exaggerated, either positively or negatively. And she was right. I could see it too. There was no middle ground with how people reacted to her, whether they were strangers or those she knew. And it stayed that way as long as I knew her. After the reality show, she was more aware of the reality of the people around her. In fact, she fired a whole bunch of them.

Farrah is enigmatic to me in another way. On one hand, she was smart enough to keep the rights to her poster. And she never signed her Charlie’s Angels contract; there were licensing issues there. On the other hand, it seemed at times like the men in her life controlled her. Her old manager, Jay Bernstein, said she left Angels because Lee wanted her home early enough every night to cook him dinner.
I talked with Farrah about why she left Charlie’s Angels. And all the stories are partially true. Yes, she left because of the contract dispute over licensing. And yes, she left because she was not feeling challenged by the role. She wanted the producers to show the Angels at home, in their private lives (and) what effect being a private detective had on their relationships. Yes, she was interested in doing movies—but was more interested in good roles wherever they could be found.

And finally, yes, Lee suggested that she use him as an excuse to try to cut down on the 17-hour workdays. After all, Lee was pretty much the biggest male television star in the world. The Six Million Dollar Man was his third hit series behind Big Valley and Owen Marshall—and of course he would have a fourth hit later with The Fall Guy. I’ve talked to Lee about it, too. I developed a project for him about three months before I met Farrah. We sold it to ABC. While the show was never made, Lee and I became friends.


What did Farrah think about your friendship with her long-estranged bionic ex?
That was the only lie I ever told Farrah. And it was a lie by omission. When we started working together on Chasing Farrah, I was afraid to tell her that I knew Lee. I wasn’t sure how she would react because of how nasty the divorce was portrayed in the press. But finally, I told her.

We were talking about how most guys of a certain age had her famous poster growing up. She referenced me as being of that “certain age” in the late ’70s. I told her: “Sorry. I didn’t have it. I watched Charlie’s Angels but my allowance went to buying something else I wanted more than the poster.” She asked what that was and I told her it was the action figure of her ex-husband.

She said, “Oh, you were one of those kids who ran in slow motion on the playground?” I told her I was. And then I told her I had a confession to make: that I had worked with her ex-husband and was friends with him. I held my breath as stared at me, taking in what I had just told her. Then she said, “You’re friends with Lee . . . how is he? We haven’t talked in years!” She was delighted that I knew him and asked me to give him a message. Which I did. And he gave me a message to give back to her.

So you were the Fawcett-Majors messenger?

Yes. A few years later, when the National Enquirer announced to the world that Farrah had cancer, Lee was one of the first people to call me. He wanted to know if it was true. I told him it was. From that point on both Lee and his wife, Faith, always checked in to ask how Farrah was doing.

This went on for a few years. Then, on February 2nd of this year, Lee asked me to tell Farrah “Happy Birthday.” I told him no, that he should call her himself. I think Lee was hesitant because it had been over 20 years since they had spoken. But he did call her and they had a great talk. Afterwards, Farrah called me and said, “Guess who I just talked to?” I said, “Lee Majors.” She said, “How did you know?” Then my other line beeped. It was Lee. He said, “Okay, I called her!” They were both very funny about it. And it was an unusual place for me to be, to have grown up watching both of their shows and now I had each of them on call waiting after they spoke to each other for the first time in two decades. But they were each glad they did it.

Unfortunately, it would be the last time they would ever speak. Farrah left for Germany two weeks later, came home in a wheelchair and never recovered.


So you really helped her complete the circle. What would getting an Emmy for Farrah’s Story mean to you?
It would mean a lot because it would mean that Farrah would win an Emmy in the same category (as the Executive Producers for Outstanding Nonfiction Special). That’s what it would really mean to me: that I was able to keep my word to Farrah about her winning an Emmy and that I was able to play a part in it.

But don’t misunderstand. It was her bravery, her message that is worthy of this award. I was just the messenger whose job it was to execute her vision. That’s what I thought about when I got the news that Farrah’s Story was nominated: that she would finally win her Emmy after forty years in the business. The first thing I did was call her father to share the good news with him. He was thrilled. And, typical of his sense of humor, he asked if there was any way he could take credit for this. I told him he could have all the credit because he gave the world with Farrah.


You must feel thrilled yourself. Aren’t you?
People say to me: “Congratulations. Are you excited?” But that’s not the right word. I guess I’m more “relieved.” Because when Farrah took a turn for the worse in April, Ryan O’Neal and his business manager banned me from seeing or talking to Farrah ever again.

At the same time, Ryan and Alana Stewart decided it was time for them to come in and “save” the project. And NBC, who had previously been so supportive and promised Farrah that this was her story to tell, supported them 100 percent. I’m sure the network would say otherwise but I believe that it was because they wanted this on the air for May sweeps and didn’t have the star to promote it. So began the “Ryan O’Neal Grieving Widower Press Tour With Special Appearances by Farrah’s Robotic Self-Promoting Best Friend Alana Stewart.”

That was bad enough but then Ryan and Alana did basically the same thing in the documentary itself by inserting those cringe-inducing, self-serving interview sound bytes shot by an unemployed ex-Dateline NBC Producer. I was appalled. But my appall quickly turned to disgust when I saw that Ryan and Alana had secretly shot Redmond (Farrah’s son with Ryan) in chains when he was released from jail for a few hours, under the supervision of two sheriff’s deputies, visiting Farrah—who was unconscious or close to unconscious in her bed. How dare they?

Ryan was not a producer on this program. Alana had refused to sign her co-producer contract because she wanted more money and a better title. Farrah was the boss, and if the boss was unable to function because of a health crisis her authority went automatically to me as per our company’s operating agreement (signed on April 1, 2008).

Ryan didn’t seem to care what any piece of paper said. He demanded that the title of the documentary be changed from A Wing & A Prayer to Farrah’s Story— which, in my opinion, was nothing but a cheap homage to his greatest claim to fame other than dating Farrah: Love Story. Changing the title was also a cruel irony considering if this was really Farrah’s story it would have been broadcast under the original title that Farrah and I chose: A Wing & A Prayer.



How much of the finished product that aired reflected Farrah’s intentions with the project?
Don’t get me wrong, most of the work that Farrah and I did is there. Like the diary narration that I shot with her in my living room. No one else was present. It was just her and her diary—and me and my camera.

It’s just that a lot of our other work was interrupted and sloppily clipped short in order to make room for Ryan’s bad reprisal of his Oliver Barrett role and Alana telling us that “needles are painful.” And for needless inserts of a trip to Mexico and Farrah’s brief experience with an inconclusive test of a new cancer drug. Farrah and I agreed not to include such footage because we had a lot more important, educational and inspiring scenes to include.

The New York Times reviewer Alessandra Stanley wrote, “. . . it was an exploitative portrait of a celebrity’s fight with cancer . . . NBC took Ms. Fawcett’s candid video diary and allowed it to be packaged as a generic VH1 Behind the Music” biography—maudlin music, gauzy slow-motion film, and pseudo-revealing interviews with friends, coworkers, doctors and hairdressers reminiscing about a former star.” Yikes.
I can't disagree with the reviewer. That being said, there were scenes that were cut out completely. Scenes that dealt with medical information and issues that Farrah wanted to address in order to start a dialogue that could eventually effect change in our health system. And once again Ms. Stanley nailed it, criticizing the film for what wasn’t there (based on Farrah’s diary narration) and understanding that it was supposed to have been. (See sidebar below.)

She also seemed to distinguish Farrah from Farrah’s Story. She wrote that “the film isn’t as nearly as brave or as serious-minded as its cancer-stricken subject.”

But the film that Farrah and I were close to completing was as brave and as serious minded as she was. Because this project was a total reflection of her—and not Ryan O’Neal or Alana Stewart. And the fact that NBC allowed Ryan and Alana to do what they did, with significant help from an ex, unemployed NBC Dateline producer who Farrah had previously rejected, is still staggering to me. The rest of the reviews I read were as bad if not worse. At that point, I really didn’t think my promise to Farrah—of a nomination much less an Emmy—would come true. But there was one glimmer of hope. Most of the reviewers appreciated Farrah herself. Her bravery.

And when Farrah passed away, those kind of “reviews,” whether in the form of obituaries or commentaries or blogs, came flooding in. From big publications in big cities and from smaller ones in small towns. Some that resonated with me and that I believe would have made her proud included Metro International’s Clark DeLeon and Robert Thompson in the Chicago Examiner. Oh, and Entertainment Weekly’s Jennifer Armstrong. (See sidebar below.)

The fact that this documentary touched so many people and received an Emmy nomination is a real tribute to Farrah. It succeeded in reaching people in spite of everything that Ryan and Alana did to it and tried to do to it. Because at the end of the day, Farrah was still Farrah. There was nothing anyone could do to dim her light. And, like I told her in her kitchen before she was ever ill, “Farrah” was the “role” she was born to play.

NEXT WEEK: Craig Nevius tells all about his Farrah's Story experience, Fawcett's "trust issues" with O'Neal and Stewart, and O'Neal's alleged threats to kill Nevius.


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. The answers offered in this interview are 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.

PARTING WORDS: How the critics saw Farrah and her "Story"

“At the end of the program, the actress says: ‘Why isn’t there more research done on certain types of cancer? And why doesn’t our healthcare system embrace alternative treatments that have proven successful in other countries?’ The film isn’t as nearly as brave or as serious-minded as its cancer-stricken subject.”—Alessandra Stanley, The New York Times

“Where once the image of Farrah was all hair and teeth, her final years transformed that image. Now she was all heart and steel. And beautiful despite the ravishes of an unforgiving disease. Farrah Fawcett saved her best for last and showed the world her transcendent courage and honesty, a warrior princess who refused to yield.”—Clark DeLeon, Metro International

“It's one thing to be famous. It's another thing altogether to be great. That said, sometimes a celebrity finds his or her greatness in spite of their fame. It would appear this was the case for Farrah Fawcett. In her struggle with cancer she rose above herself and gave her life as an encouragement and inspiration to others.”—Robert Thompson, Chicago Examiner

“Her beauty defined an era, but it was her brave final days that moved us most. Rather than to retreat into obscurity, the star – who had lived so much of her life in front of the camera – bravely chose to play herself. Nine million people tuned in to watch ‘Farrah’s Story’ as the beauty laid bare the ugly truths about her illness. That raw, inspirational journey is her real legacy.”—Jennifer Armstrong, Entertainment Weekly

Copyright 2009 Retroality.TV/Chris Mann


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Sunday, August 30, 2009

GUEST SHOT column: "Censored and Son" by John Wekluk


By John Wekluk

In TV Land’s current airings of NBC’s hit ’70s sitcom Sanford and Son, there’s something missing besides Grady’s front left tooth: The ever dangerous, and derogatory, “N” word.

Redd Foxx, who played lead character Fred G. Sanford in the 1972-77 series, was known for his “blue” comedy. So it should have been no surprise when Fred uttered that word, or any other seemingly questionable words. Consider the facts that Norman Lear created the show and Richard Pryor’s pen inked a few episodes and it would have been almost disappointing if that word hadn’t been vocalized.

This begs the obvious question: Should TV Land censor what many consider art, or should they follow the PC route and continue to edit the show that now airs in the late morning?

Overwhelmingly, most fans of the show cry, “Stop censoring Fred!” In the season three episode “Fred Sanford, Legal Eagle,” Fred, after asking the white judge why there are only black people in traffic court, says, “Look at all the niggas in here. There’s enough niggas in here to make a Tarzan movie!” Uproarious laughter ensues—but not in the TV Land version, which awkwardly ends after Fred asks the judge, “What do you have against black people?”



Fred isn’t the only victim of censoring. Aunt Esther, played by LaWanda Page (whose own “blue” comedy made Redd Foxx look like Urkel in hindsight), also gets the dub treatment. In the third season episode “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe,” Esther, hearing the claim that the family’s old St. Louis pal Big Money Grip is really her favorite nephew Lamont’s father, deadpans, “What did you say, nigga?” to a round of hysterical laughter. TV Land serves up a badly dubbed “sucka” in place of the offending word. It’s hard to believe that, even though “sucka” was her catchphrase, the live audience would have howled at that level.



So who is right? Should TV Land keep censoring the show that airs alongside other Norman Lear hits such as All In The Family and Good Times, or should they keep in mind that children might be tuning in to watch Andy Griffith or Leave It To Beaver?

Perhaps TV Land is missing the boat by not realizing the cultural context of the show, or even the word itself. None of Fred’s other bigoted rants are censored. Pat Morita’s Japanese-American character Ah Chew and Gregory Sierra’s Puerto Rican character Julio Fuentes certainly got their fair share of uncouth browbeating by Mr. Sanford. And we all know Fred doesn’t like “ugly white women.” Fred Sanford, not unlike Archie Bunker, was a lovable bigot and, more often than not, in the end of most episodes, Fred realized the err of his ways. Though he always seemed to forget them a week later.



Had a white television cast been throwing around the “N” word, it would certainly seem cringe-worthy in hindsight. Those episodes would be collecting dust in the vaults with the racist Betty Boop and Looney Tunes cartoons of yesteryear that will never be aired again. However, the predominantly African-American cast of Sanford and Son was working in an era not too long after the Civil Rights Movement—and there was an effort to take the word back.

Thirty-plus years later, with recent events such as the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and the expulsion of African-American children from a pool in northeast Philadelphia, race relations in America still have quite along way to go. In the mid-’70s a newfound freedom enabled many black people to explore certain social aspects that had been previously unavailable. Sure Fred’s comments were at times unmannered and wouldn’t fly on TV today, but, contextually, these episodes are a potent reminder of the history of race relations in this country. As ungraceful as it seems, Sanford’s blue comedy marked one of the first times a minority group got to turn the tables, so to speak.


TV Land should let Fred speak! Perhaps they could even run the uncensored episodes, with disclaimers, in the night slots and air the censored episodes during the day. One thing is for certain: It is almost criminal to censor any art, especially art that captures a Zeitgest as well as Sanford and Son does.

It doesn’t hurt that the art is genuinely funny, too. Sometimes we need to laugh at ourselves. At least we know the G. in Fred G. Sanford definitely did not stand for Genteel.