McBroom, a photographer, snapped the image that made Farrah Fawcett an icon. He tells TIME how an innocuous photo shoot in which Fawcett posed at her Hollywood home in a red swimsuit resulted in the 1976 poster that wound up plastered on millions of bedroom walls.
Farrah was a good friend. She was from Texas, and when I met her, she still had her little Texas accent. She was just beautiful in a really innocent way. She had no idea that she was that good-looking. At the time, I was shooting stills for ABC. I became friends with her through Lee Majors from The Six Million Dollar Man, whom she was dating. I did some headshots for her and was sent by Fox to shoot photographs for the pilot of Charlie’s Angels.
A few months later I got a call from a guy in Cleveland, who said, “Farrah insisted I call you.” He had solicited all the Angels to do a poster in a bikini, which he would sell and give the star a percentage of the profits. My understanding is that the other two turned him down. Farrah had made a deal in which she had control of the image she got to pick the picture and kill everything that wasn’t used and this guy said, “I’ve hired two photographers, had two photo shoots, spent all this money, and she hates the pictures. She said, ‘Call Bruce McBroom.’ ”
Like any photo shoot, we did a lot of different stuff. But it was just Farrah and myself. It was before the days where you had to have stylists and hair and makeup and background art directors and assistants. It was just me and Farrah and my Nikon, at the home she shared with Lee Majors, a house on Mulholland Drive overlooking Hollywood, with a beautiful view.
Farrah didn’t like the way she looked in a bikini and didn’t have one on her. So she would go in the house and come out in a swimsuit and say, “What do you think of this” Any photographer will tell you that when you’re given an assignment, it’s like going fishing you know when you got the pictures, and you know when you missed them. I shot rolls of film, and it just wasn’t happening. She’s a beautiful woman, but there wasn’t anything that I would put on a poster. I just didn’t feel it. By now we’re running out of backgrounds we used the swimming pool, etc. I said, “Farrah, are you sure you don’t have a bikini Something different”
She went in to look around and came out of the back door and stood in the doorway in this red suit, and she said in her Southern accent, “Well, is this anything” And I literally said to myself, “Oh my God.” I knew that was it. I had an Indian blanket from Mexico that served as the seat cover for my beat-up 1937 Chevy pickup with colors that, it just popped into my head, would match the suit. I’d like to make it sound like it was all planned. But it was a spontaneous, happy intersection of coincidence. I didn’t do anything. I just put her in a spot and asked her to turn it on. When I saw the film processed, I knew we’d gotten it somewhere in these 36 frames, there’s a poster. I went back over to her house, and I showed her all the pictures. She told me later that she had picked out her top two favorites and marked them on the slides. I’ve since heard that when the guy in Cleveland got the pictures, he went, “First of all, where’s the bikini” He told me he wasn’t ever gonna pay me, because he hated the pictures. But I guess he showed them around to people in his business and they changed his mind. It was Farrah’s pose, Farrah’s suit, Farrah’s idea. She picked that shot. She made a lot of money for him and for herself, and made me semifamous.
Why it was so iconic I don’t know. If you think back, no one knew who Farrah Fawcett was. Charlie’s Angels didn’t come out until six months later. But this poster came out and sold millions of copies at, I think, $3 a pop. I think the reason it was such a success is that Farrah had such a fresh face. She was the girl next door. So if you were a teenager, you could bring this in the house and put it up in your room as long as Mom didn’t look too closely. Once her poster became such an overnight success, the other actresses from Charlie’s Angels contacted the guy and wanted to do posters too. There were many that followed. And none of them came close.
As told to Alex Altman
Read a TIME story on Charlie’s Angels.
Read Sarah Vowell on Farrah Fawcett.