February 23, 1998 12:00 PM

FARRAH FAWCETT, WHO IN THE past year has become Hollywood’s woman on the verge, wants to put her latest lurid trip to the headlines behind her. Five days after she told Los Angeles police that her boyfriend of less than a year, producer-director James Orr, had beaten her both in and outside his mansion on Los Angeles’s Mulholland Drive at 4:30 a.m., the couple issued a joint statement: “Two good friends had a small misunderstanding.”

But nothing is that pleasantly unambiguous with the erratic Fawcett, 51, who has yet to live down her disturbingly out-of-touch banter with David Letterman on the June 6 Late Show. According to a police source close to the case, Orr, 44, now charged by the city attorney’s office with misdemeanor battery, claimed that Fawcett, who has not revealed the cause of the Jan. 28 fight, yanked a metal security-warning sign from the lawn and smashed the windows of his house, then returned 24 hours later with a baseball bat and smashed some more.

That’s when Orr himself called for help, although he is the one who must now face justice. Fawcett, the former Charlie’s Angels star and ’70s poster girl, asked for the matter to be dropped, but the city attorney’s office went ahead and brought charges. Orr will be arraigned March 13 at a West L.A. courthouse and could face up to a year in prison or a $1,000 fine.

The star’s body definitely bore the marks of something crueler than a small misunderstanding. According to a spokesman for the L.A. city attorney’s office, police observed bruises and dried blood on both elbows and knees, scratches on both sides of her neck, abrasions on the left cheekbone and lower back, and a half-inch cut on the top of her skull. Still, the police source says, “The injuries were not serious. If this had just been two ordinary people, more likely than not this would not have been filed.” Stan Goldman, professor of law at L.A.’s Loyola Law School, believes domestic-abuse cases are taken more seriously since the tragic 1994 death of Nicole Simpson. “The city attorney’s office may have intensified [its efforts], given all the scrutiny of the Simpson case,” he says.

In recent months, Fawcett herself has been watched very closely by the media. This was only the latest, bloodiest mess in a life that, like the actress’s blonde mane, has been tumbling down in disarray. Last February, Fawcett and longtime lover Ryan O’Neal, the father of her son Redmond, 13, ended an often-stormy, 17-year relationship. Three months later—not long after she began dating Orr, who directed her in the 1995 comedy Man of the House—Orr’s friend and sometime actress Kristen Amber claimed that Fawcett had stolen $72,000 worth of clothing she’d been keeping in his home. (A police investigation failed to substantiate the charge.) Then there was her spaced-out, ramblingly incoherent Letterman appearance, sparking rumors of drug use or mental illness (she said she was joking). Fawcett herself admitted in Details magazine that 1997 “was like living in a Dalí painting.”

But the unpredictable incidents continue in 1998. Scheduled to make a return appearance with Letterman on Jan. 26 to promote the new movie The Apostle—her reviews as Robert Duvall’s emotionally abused wife have been virtually the sole positive development in her life—Fawcett canceled at the last minute, claiming a scheduling conflict.

Two nights later, according to police accounts, she and Orr, who had begun arguing at a restaurant, carried on the dispute in his bedroom. Fawcett told police that Orr pushed her to the floor and kicked her. Then, as she left to get into her car, said Fawcett, Orr knocked her onto the driveway, put his hands on her throat and slammed her head against the asphalt.

The alleged violence stunned those who know the couple. “I saw nothing but mutual respect,” says Fawcett’s former manager Jay Bernstein. “There was never any hint of anything bubbling below the surface.” He doubts, however, that Fawcett could have been the instigator. “In my 22 years with Farrah Fawcett,” he says, “she’s never been one to initiate a problem.” As for Orr, says another friend, he doesn’t fit the profile of a batterer. “I’ve never seen him have a terrible temper,” she says. “He’s a yuppie, boring, cigar-smoking man.”

Since the blowup, Fawcett told a girlfriend, “James is out of the picture.” When it comes to the legal aftermath, Fawcett has been keeping from view as well. Police went to her Bel Air home to compile a follow-up report, says one officer, but “she wouldn’t talk to us. And she wouldn’t come to the police station.”

Bernstein thinks it is simply Fawcett’s nature to forgive. “Whatever happened,” he says, “Farrah is the kind of person that would say, ‘Oh, okay, that was yesterday’ ” Certainly she’s having trouble enough with today.

TOM GLIATTO

JOHN HANNAH and ELIZABETH LEONARD in Los Angeles

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