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Commentary: Farrah in the morning

  • Story Highlights
  • Bob Greene: Actress Farrah Fawcett worked on the film version of an article I wrote
  • He says she was radiant and cheerful in greeting the crew
  • She lived with the kind of fame that separates stars from the rest of us, he says
  • Greene: She experienced the struggles and disappointments we all face
By Bob Greene
CNN Contributor
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Editor's note: CNN Contributor Bob Greene is a best-selling author whose new book, "Late Edition: A Love Story," will be published next month.

Bob Greene recalls Farrah Fawcett's cheerful greetings to the crew every morning on a movie set.

Bob Greene recalls Farrah Fawcett's cheerful greetings to the crew every morning on a movie set.

(CNN) -- She would come walking across the lawn just after sunrise.

The days and nights had been long; everyone else, as darkness turned into dawn, looked wrung out and worn down and weary.

She just glowed.

"Morning!" she would say, flashing that zillion-watt smile, greeting each of us by name.

"Morning, Farrah," we would say back, feeling gray and dull in her presence.

This was at the La Quinta resort near Palm Springs, California, almost 20 years ago. The only piece of writing of mine that was ever turned into a feature film was being shot there. Farrah was one of the female leads.

At least she, and we, thought she was. More on that later.

She seemed to be an awfully nice person. That much I can tell you, from my limited time with her as she made that movie. She did her best to try to make the people around her forget just how all-reaching her fame was. There is a stratum of renown that is separate from the variety that accrues to most performers; Michael Jackson, who died on the same day as she, knew that type of renown, and so did she. Regardless of the role, she was always destined to be, in the eyes of the public, Farrah. That had to have been both a blessing and an encumbrance.

Most people in show business would do just about anything to possess that level of connection with the people out in the seats -- to move through life having everyone in the world feel they know you. It must be difficult, though, to bury yourself in a fictional part when, inside, you are resigned to the idea that, to the unseen ticket buyers in the darkness, you are, now and always, Farrah.

Any person with whom she had contact, however brief, would remember it for years. She understood that. She was golden, literally; it was her calling card. At breakfast, on the mornings she would join the crew, we would sit around long wooden catering tables, and there was a what's-wrong-with-this-picture aspect to the scene. These were mundane meals, and she was anything but. Or that's what we thought. Farrah? She was just getting ready to put in a day's work.

The movie itself -- it was called "Funny About Love"-- turned out to be quite forgettable. The male lead was played by Gene Wilder; the three women in his life were played, as the script was written, by Christine Lahti, Mary Stuart Masterson and Farrah. Everyone on the set seemed to get along, but what do I know? I'd never been on another set. After a lifetime of grunted hellos from assistant city editors, this was quite a change. Those dawns on the desert, those cast-and-crew breakfasts, those "Morning!"s from Farrah as she strolled across the grass.

Steve Allen, a luminary in the early days of television and a cogent observer of the world around him, said that when people see a person who is regularly on TV, it is as if the television performer emits a glow. The glow is invisible, yet it's there. And when a person who once was constantly on television suddenly isn't on television anymore, Allen said, it is as if the glow evaporates. It's gone.

Maybe he was right -- but with Farrah, the glow endured. It never went away. Another accomplished television performer -- Phil Donahue -- argued that there was no essential difference between Frank Sinatra's fame and the fame of a local TV weathercaster. Donahue's point was that you're either famous or you're not; there's no in-between. If you deliver the weather news on your town's most popular station, then everyone within the county line knows you. You're Sinatra.

The theory made a certain sense, but there was that qualitative difference to Farrah's fame. She could not have gotten rid of it if she had wanted to.

Yet no one always wins. The most blessed among us are subject to hurt. Here is what happened with that movie that was filmed on the desert:

Months after the final scenes were shot, I received a phone call from one of the producers. Opening weekend was approaching.

"Farrah's not in the movie," he said.

I didn't process the words.

"She asked for her name to be taken off the credits?" I said.

"No," he said. "She has been cut out of the final film."

The powers that be with the authority to make such decisions, the story went, after some screenings in front of test audiences had decided that the movie didn't work well with Farrah in it. So every single one of her scenes had been excised. The movie had been recut as if she had never existed.

Even when you're golden, it seems, life can blindside you and try to make you feel small. Even when, to those on the outside, it appears that you have everything, it can vanish. Somewhere, in metal film cans on some shelf or other, there are colorful motion images of a beautiful woman doing her job, images the world has never seen. "Morning!" she would call on her way to breakfast. She carried the sunrise with her.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bob Greene.

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