Photographer Bruce McBroom — who snapped that unforgettable picture of the bathing-suit-clad Farrah Fawcett — reflects on working with the star, and creating a piece of pop culture history at her house one summer day in 1976. (“She was amazingly beautiful and sweet, and it’s not fair that things like this happen to good people,” says McBroom about Fawcett, who died yesterday from cancer. “I think she will be remembered as this wonderful, wholesome all-American girl that’s on the poster, and also now for her courageous battle against cancer, and the fact that she shared it with a lot of people who may be going through similar situations. I applaud her for that.”)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What do you remember about Farrah from the early days?
BRUCE MCBROOM: I had the pleasure of knowing Farrah when she was the young innocent girl who just arrived in Hollywood. She was a very smart young lady, but she was this little girl from Texas with these really wonderful parents and very innocent in the way of Hollywood, and very honest and open. There was no artifice about her, no phoniness. She had no idea of how beautiful and how attractive she was, I’m sure…. Even after becoming a hit on Charlie’s Angels, she was never one that lurked in her dressing room. I would be working with her on a set, and she was totally accessible. No attitude…. She was just like [an] apple-pie, girl-next-door kind of girl, and in all the years I knew her she never changed.
How did the shoot for the poster come about?
One day I got a call from some guy in the Midwest from a poster company. He said, “I’m doing this poster of Farrah Fawcett and Farrah said to hire you to shoot her. I’ve hired two photographers and they photographed her and she hates the pictures.” He said, “Here’s the thing, it’s gotta be her great hair, she’s gotta be smiling, she’s gotta be in a bikini and they’ve gotta be drop-dead, sexy pictures.”
Can you walk us through the shoot?
She and Lee Majors [her then husband] lived in a big house up on Mulholland Drive [in Los Angeles]. I showed up and it was just the two of us…. Farrah did her own hair and her own makeup, not that she needed much makeup. I said, “He wants you in a bikini” and she said, “I don’t have a bikini.” She was only about 29, and just gorgeous in anything. We took a lot of pictures. She’d go in, get something out of the closet and I’d find another background. I knew I didn’t have a picture that resonated with me even though she looked great. I was running out of ideas and I was getting desperate. We’d been there all day. I said, “You know how you look best. Is there anything else that you’ve got that we haven’t shot? The guy says he wants sexy.” So she said, “Lemme go look around.” She comes to the door and she’s standing in the doorway in that red suit. And she said, “What do you think of this?” It was like it was spray painted on her; I don’t think it was a swimsuit. I said, “You know what? That’s it!” I said, “Farrah, just get comfortable and do your thing.” When she did the series of sitting-up poses, I said, “We’ve got it.” And I heaved a big sigh of relief.
What else resonates about the shoot?
I literally ran out of color film about the same time that I took that picture. I knew I had it. Somewhere in that last roll of film is the picture that we’re looking for. She said, “I’m so tired of looking pretty and having this hair and makeup.” And she grabbed the garden hose and just held it up and drowned herself with a garden hose. I grabbed my Nikon, and I was looking for a roll of black-and-white film, and I said, “Don’t stop, don’t stop!” And what I have always maintained, the sexiest pictures I took are the pictures I took after the session. It was a totally innocent Farrah: “I’m so sick of looking pretty all day.” She just smeared her makeup, and it was the capper of the whole thing. We had so much fun. We just had a blast doing it.
The poster went on to adorn countless bedroom walls. Did you two have any idea how popular it would be?
Neither Farrah or myself thought that this was a big deal. This was like, “Come on up, we’ll take some pictures, and we’ll send them to this guy.” I give Farrah all the credit for knowing how she looked best. She knew how she photographed best and she knew what she was selling. She gave a gift to the publisher, coming up with the red suit, doing her own hair and makeup, and unerringly finding the one picture out of thousands that made her look the way she wanted to look…. She had the right to approve all photos. We shot 40 rolls of film and Farrah sent [the poster producer] six 35-mm slides. She marked her favorite and second favorite; they went with her favorite. Farrah picked that image — and she was right on the money.
UPDATE: The image previously attached to this post was removed due to copyright issues.