The story behind 'Charlie's Angels' star Farrah Fawcett’s steamy red swimsuit poster that made her an icon

With her beauty Farrah Fawcett didn't need a resume.

When Farrah Fawcett stepped out wearing a red one-piece bathing suit for a photo shoot one hot summer day in 1976, Hollywood photographer Bruce McBroom snapped an image that would solidify her as a pop culture icon.

"Farrah and I have a long history based on that one-day photo shoot," he recalled.

Fawcett had just been cast in “Charlie’s Angels,” the TV series that would launch her to stardom and the image McBroom captured that day would go on to become the biggest-selling poster of all time.

"This is Farrah Fawcett" airs Thursday, May 23 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

They were shooting at the Los Angeles home Fawcett shared with her then-boyfriend Lee Majors. Patrick Foley, Fawcett's make-up artist and friend, said she decided to do her own hair and make-up that day.

"It was typical LA in the summer. It must have been 100 degrees," McBroom recalled. "And she came out in a one piece -- red suit -- and she said something like, 'So what do you think of this, Bruce?'"

McBroom said he told her immediately, "Yup. I think we got something to work with."

"I said, 'I'll be right back,'" McBroom continued. "I went out to the pickup truck and got my old beach blanket out."

It's his beach blanket that is seen in the background of that iconic shot.

"I was shooting as fast as I could," he said "I wasn't asking her to do anything. I was just like, 'Okay she's moving and I'm shooting.'"

In a 1984 interview with Barbara Walters, Fawcett said she felt "sexy" in the photo.

"I guess the fact that it was a one-piece bathing suit, and I was happy -- I wasn't in a sexy pose like Brigitte Bardot. I mean, certainly it's sexy because that's my figure, and my nipples were showing," she said, laughing. "But, that's me."

"I remember that a lot of women used to come up and ask me to sign the poster for their husbands, their boyfriends, and I thought, 'I don't know if I would do that,'" Fawcett added.

Kathryn VanArendonk, a TV writer for Vulture, told ABC News that while Farrah’s one-piece takes up very little visual space in the poster, it serves its purpose.

"We are always thinking that the naked body is going to be like the most sexual, but it's never the case," she said. "You always want something that's a little hidden."

Jaclyn Smith, one of Fawcett's friends and "Charlie's Angels" co-stars, said one of the things people didn't know about the Texas-born beauty was that she had a great sense of humor.

"She was funny. She loved to laugh," Smith said of her on-screen counterpart.

When Fawcett moved to California at 20, she said acting seemed to be more of a dream than a possibility.

"For me to have become an actress is like for me to become president," Fawcett said in the interview with Walters. "It's something I never prepared for."

"Charlie's Angels" executive producer Leonard Goldberg told ABC News that his first experience with Fawcett dates back to 1973 -- when she was in the new talent program at Columbia Pictures Television, a program which he ran at the time.

"You noticed her immediately," he said. "Each year we put Farrah in another movie for television -- some memorable films like 'The Great American Beauty Contest,' 'Murder on Flight 502,'" he recalled.

But in 1975, he says he found the ideal role for Fawcett.

"When we came up with 'Charlie's Angels' in '75, we knew we had found the perfect vehicle for her," Goldberg said.

Noted entertainment editor Bonnie Fuller said "America was ready to have 'Charlie's Angels' as icons because the country had already been through the start of the women's liberation movement."

"We were Barbie dolls," Smith said. "We were glamorous. We had pretty hair and pretty clothes, and pretty cars, and pretty locations. It was [like] Disneyland."

"I do remember Farrah not wearing a bra," Smith added. "I guess I didn't either -- It was funny."

ABC News contributor Larry Hackett added that coming off the heels of Watergate, "people were looking a little bit to escape and to get a new vision of what America ought to be."

Hackett continued, "And she's pretty and she's young -- and she's carefree, and she has a certain independence, and she just matched what the mood was at that time."

The three leading ladies, Fawcett, Smith and Kate Jackson, showed healthy, strong women who could overpower men -- and audiences loved it.

"A show like 'Charlie's Angels' literally had tens of millions of people watching it," Hackett said. "It became a cultural phenomenon."

Hackett said that, now, a show about three detectives taking direction from a man over a speakerphone "looks more that they are kind of servants or concubines for this disembodied voice on the telephone."

"But the fact that it was three women, three independent women, and three women who are victorious and strong, was a step in the right direction in the mid-'70s," he explained.

Smith said that for her, the show was about building lifelong friendships and the strength that stretched beyond the screen among the actresses -- particularly when Fawcett was diagnosed with anal cancer in 2006.

"In my mind what 'Charlie's Angels' was about, was about the bond of the girls, having each other's back," she said. "We were very, very close."

"What's interesting about friendship is that -- once somebody is really in your heart, you can go all these different ways, but then -- we came back together really strongly at the end of her life," Smith added.

Fawcett died in 2009 at the age of 62. In an interview with Barbara Walters shortly before Fawcett died, Ryan O'Neal, her long-time partner, said Fawcett's "Angels" co-stars were all there for her when she died.

"Ever since she got ill, the other 'Charlie's Angels' -- all joined her," he said. "They sit around her bed. They bring her cookies and cakes. And they laugh."

Smith said she was amazed to see how Fawcett faced the disease head on without putting up walls.

"I was learning that she was surprising, how she handled her disease because some people don't," she said. "There were no barriers ... everything was out on the table."

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