Kristen Baldwin
February 23, 1996 AT 05:00 AM EST

Farrah Fawcett can’t escape the ghost of a former hairstyle. Twenty years after the actress’ one-year stint on Charlie’s Angels, there are those who still see her as the ’70s golden girl who gave curling iron manufacturers a reason to live.

”I see T-shirts everywhere, with my face, my poster,” she says. ”In Saudi Arabia they’re using photographs of me — not only from Charlie’s Angels but from when I did ads for Faberge shampoo — to advertise everything: clothes, food, vitamins. It’s almost like I couldn’t stop [the image] even if I wanted to.”

Which makes her break from Jill Munroe even more impressive. Fawcett’s latest effort, the TV movie Dalva (ABC, March 3, 9 p.m.), is an adaptation of the novel by Jim Harrison (Legends of the Fall). As the title character, she plays a woman in search of a son she gave up at 15. ”What I like about her,” says the actress, ”is that she chooses to do this at a time when she’s come to terms with her independence and sexuality.”

The role is a change of pace for Fawcett, 49, whose attempt to break the Angels mold led to a string of crazed/victimized-female parts, including the woman who torches her abusive husband in 1984’s The Burning Bed. ”I feel responsible,” she says of the exploited-woman-of-the-week trend. ”But in a positive way, too. Because there weren’t any roles like that [for women] before I did them. It was either Dynasty bitches or the other woman.”

Dalva ”fits in none of those categories. It’s the first time where I play a real woman,” says Fawcett, adding that her decision to do the role coincided with her decision to pose for last December’s Playboy. ”Those two characters — because what I did in Playboy is a character — share a similarity in the security in their sexuality.”

Fawcett now has security in abundance: a longtime relationship with actor Ryan O’Neal, their son, Redmond, 11, and respect from the industry. In fact, as far as the networks are concerned, she can write her own ticket. ”They say, ‘Let’s leave it to her. She delivers the numbers,’ ” says Fawcett. ”It’s not out of the kindness of their hearts. People trust my instincts.”

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