I spoke with Erica Edell Phillips, one of the last remaining costume crew from the original Charlie’s Angels TV series. Starting as a set costumer, and ending up as a supervisor, Ms. Phillips recalls Farrah’s style, beauty, and “sparkle”. Read on…
KB: How did you come to get involved with Charlie’s Angels?
EP: A friend of mine heard that Charlie’s Angels, going into the second season, needed crew in the costume department. I went in and I got the job. I was a costumer on the set, which was wonderful because you were right there, in the throes of the whole thing. It was the second season; Farrah wasn’t going to come back. Cheryl Ladd had just arrived, so it was a period of adjustment for just about everybody on the show. Farrah did come back, though – the resolution was that she would come back per her contract for a number of episodes but not for the full season.
(On Charlie’s Angels) We were a lot of people, the same age, a young crew, and it was fun and exciting. We’d go out on location around town, and the show was so popular, there had to be guards and crowd control. There were other shows through the years that needed crowd control, but there was something about Charlie’s Angels – it was special. I know it was for me; that’s for sure.
Farrah was extremely beautiful. She had a beautiful, beautiful figure. She looked great in anything; she would look great in even drapey, oversized stuff. The girls never wanted to wear the skimpy stuff that Mr. Spelling wanted them to wear, but she (Farrah) could make a potato sack look sexy, sort of hanging off one shoulder, you know what I mean? She really had style. She knew what she wanted.
I should mention Nolan Miller (the costume designer credited with the show). He was, of course, Mr. “Dynasty”. He was very involved in every show that Aaron Spelling did. Nolan did the covers of TV Guide, and the beaded dresses; he did the “dressy” stuff. Once in a while the writers would write in something “dressy” in order for him to design something fabulous.
The show boiled down to the fact that we had three beautiful girls and they would run around looking beautiful, no matter what. And their gun, they’d take it out from their back, from behind their back, as if it was just sticking in their pants. It never was very logical… “Where was that gun? Where’d she get that gun?”, you know what I mean? The thing is, when we did the show, it was a different time in fashion, and in California, and there were a few boutiques like Theodore and Boulmiche that had imported, French Riviera kinds of clothes, which was perfect for California. And the t-shirts and the pants – they were just, different from anything else we had in this country. As a country and a culture, we were still like heavily into jeans, whether they were bell-bottom or not. Charlie’s Angels was sort of a St. Tropez look. Very different.
KB: Just to clarify, you’re talking about Theodore and Boulmiche that are still around? (stores located in Beverly Hills and Brentwood)
EP: Yes, I am.
KB: I had no idea that those store had been around for so long.
EP: Yes, Ma’am.
EP: In the department stores, they’d be showing like Anne Klein or Jones New York, very conservative and corporate. Fashion and retail wasn’t at all like it is now because there weren’t the malls all over the country, with a GAP in every one. We did establish and have a really different, unusual look.
Jackie (Jaclyn Smith), too, was a shopper. She would always shop, coming to us saying, “Oh, could you pick up this stuff at Theodore’s?” It wasn’t like we had the chain stores: Gucci, and so on, like what’s now on Rodeo Drive. We had smaller, more boutiquey kinds of stores.
KB: Let’s talk a little bit about the impact of Farrah Fawcett’s look, her iconic Charlie’s Angels look, on our culture – I mean, Farrah is definitely a very beautiful woman. There was the iconic pinup poster for young men, but I think that her look on Charlie’s Angels was influential in a bigger sense than maybe she realized. Did you perceive her influence?
EP: Did we know that when we were doing it? No. Her hair was definitely iconic. That was most iconic. The rest, I think, had to do with the style of clothes, which were close to the body for the time. As for the high-waisted pants that were close to the body, she had a great butt and the pants flared out into a big bell. I always thought that was very flattering. Any woman in world can appreciate how a bell-bottomed pant balances out your behind.
The whole show had a California look; it was a St. Tropez look. It was just completely different from what life was like in the rest of the country.
KB: Somebody mentioned on the news recently that Farrah was part of the “jiggle” era in 1970s television, pushed forward by people like Aaron Spelling. This category included Farrah, Suzanne Somers, Lynda Carter, and so on. I heard that they were instructed not to wear bras, but I think that it brought this whole liberated sense of sensuality, I think, to television, that we hadn’t really seen.
EP: Yes, I think so. I think that it wasn’t a matter of her being “instructed” to not wear a bra, it was more just pushing the standards and practices. That, “Oh my God, you could see a nipple!” We’d constantly get calls about things being a little bit too risqué.
KB: That’s hilarious! It would be nothing now, when you look at what’s out there.
EP: And the thing was, she was beautiful. She had no imperfections in her figure, and that helped. Jackie was a little more modest in a way, although beautiful. She would wear clothes that were flattering – she had been a model, so she could do it. Cheryl (Ladd) was petite, so there was always something that was going to look good on her size. Kate (Jackson) hated having wardrobe fittings, so it was sort of like, whatever color she was wearing we’d have to sort of juggle with what everybody else was wearing, just in case. Because she wouldn’t decide until the last minute. But she, too, had the look. She was long and lean.
Farrah just had a perfect figure. Perfectly proportioned. Good calves, and good shoulders, and she loved clothes! I mean, all of these actresses loved wearing the clothes; they just simply loved clothes! They could be young women, beautiful women, and they didn’t have to look – this is why I left the show – they didn’t have to be characters. It was UN-reality. We’d get stuff brand-new, and maybe steam out the wrinkles, and throw the clothes on them. And I’m thinking, “This is NOT costume!” You know what I mean? I wanted down and dirty! I wanted aging! I wanted to see real character, you know? It was total UN-reality. It was just summer, all year long. We were at the beach all year long.
KB: So when you look back on this time and think about her, in a couple of sentences, what would your thoughts be?
EP: “Sparkle”. It seems like it’s a word that people often used with her, in terms of her smile, and her beautiful eyes. She had a vitality and a sparkle; she was very athletic and she was vibrant. When I worked with her, she had recuperated from the first season, so she came in looking good, not bedraggled and tired from working all night, trying to finish an episode! So sparkle is one thing I would say about Farrah. She also had great style, and she was very, very sweet. The three S-es: sparkle, style, sweet.
KB: Thank you so much for sharing these stories, Erica. I really appreciate it.
EP: I wish that there was someone else for you to talk to about the show, but no one else is alive! Nolan Miller might be willing to talk about her, but finding him might present a challenge. It’s interesting, because Farrah didn’t really do that many projects, if you think about it.
KB: Exactly, but she made such a lasting impact. That’s why I wanted to feature her on Frocktalk, because I thought, “You know, it would be nice to pay tribute to people who made an impact on our world,” and she is definitely one of those people.
EP: Yes, and it’s interesting because Farrah was driven to be more than a pretty face. She was driven to act, and to learn how to act, to be a character, and to have snot coming out of her nose, and to be in a movie where she’s crying and beat up. I really get it, because I have felt the same way! I only did two seasons of Charlie’s Angels, two very looonnnnggg seasons. But it was great; it really was. We became life-long friends. But it’s funny – these days, I’ll work with an actress, more contemporary/younger, and they’ll find out that I did Charlie’s Angels, and they’re like, “Oh! One? Or Two?”, and I’m like, “Nooo, the original, not the movie!”
KB: So in that capacity, just so that I’m clear on this, were you working, in the end, in a supervisory position?
EP: Yes. I started out on the set, and then I was one of a number of people who did all the preparing. The others have all passed away, with the exception of Nolan. And then he did Dynasty; that was just after Charlie’s Angels.
I am very glad we spoke today. What I thought was so interesting was that, and this is a digression, when they did the tribute for the Emmys for Aaron Spelling, the three of them came out, Kate, Jackie and Farrah; I just loved that. It was those original three.
KB: It was pretty cool.
EP: Yes, it was. And they were friends, even after their time on the show. I remember going to Jackie’s baby shower and Farrah was there. They were friends, they really were.
KB: Thank you so much for sharing your memories with us, Erica – I really appreciate your time.
EP: Thank you!!
Thank you to Erica Edell Phillips for sharing her stories about costume icon Farrah Fawcett. She was a beautiful and courageous lady, and will be greatly missed.