Taking Farrah's Spot


If TV’s hottest series turns into Charlie’s Comet, disappearing into the heavens in a flash of teeth and tresses, put part of the blame on Lee Majors for insisting that wife Farrah have a hot supper waiting for him. But if Charlie’s Angels flies high as ever its second season, then credit Cheryl Ladd’s actor husband, David, who cooks the breakfast at 5:30 a.m., tends their daughter, Jordan, and chauffeurs Farrah’s hair apparent to the Fox lot. Of course, breakfast chez Ladd these days is just coffee. The butterflies in Cheryl’s tummy, she says, “are turning into elephants. There is only one Farrah Fawcett-Majors, and how do you replace a phenomenon?”

The answer is—very fearfully. David Doyle, who plays Bosley in the series, notes that the new FF-M is more gifted and that the scripts are slicker this fall, but what does that have to do with Nielsen popularity? Angels‘ production executive Elaine Rich reports that after some original panic, “Everyone’s really high on Cheryl and really confident—Americans are always for the underdog.”

Indeed, by the time she had shot last week’s premiere, Ladd was already one of the gang, suppressing any worries of her own and singing onto the set at the top of her trained soprano. She is Charlie’s youngest (26), stablest, littlest (5’4″) and chestiest (35-23-34) Angel. “I’ve really turned into the old mother hen,” chirps Cheryl, who often runs the cast exercise class at lunch break, counsels co-star Jaclyn Smith on her romantic life, and sometimes cools down the sound stage. Once, when Kate Jackson kept blowing her lines, she screamed, “Why do I have to say this garbage? This is shit, shit, shit.” Ladd smiled at her sweetly and prodded, “Aw, come on, Kate, tell us how you really feel.” (Cheryl asides sympathetically about some of the scenarios that “there’s so much unreal stuff it has to be played tongue in cheek.”)

For Cheryl, that sort of maturity begins at home with David, 30. There have been times during their four-year marriage when his career predominated, and he can cope with lesser TV guest parts and playing househusband. “It just happened that she got her series first,” observes David. “She worked hard for her chance, it wasn’t just handed her, and I’m working for mine.” Then he adds, “When somebody in my family isn’t getting famous, then I start to worry.” His father was the late Alan Ladd; his mother is the ex-actress Sue Carol, who became a top Hollywood agent at a time, David says proudly, “when women didn’t do that sort of thing.” Yet, supersensitive to the problems that could develop if she became the next Ladd superstar, Cheryl has installed a sign in their liberated kitchen reading: LOVE IS EATING OUT SO YOUR HUSBAND DOESN’T HAVE TO COOK DINNER.

One thing David never had to worry about was that the new Farrah would hyphenate their name. Though she may (as her agent predicts) eventually headline at Vegas or on Broadway, the marquee is unlikely to read Cheryl Stoppelmoor-Ladd. Father Stoppelmoor is alive and still an engineer throttling the Chicago Northwestern Railroad out of Huron, S.Dak. Her mother, who used to be a waitress, was one person in town who didn’t laugh at Cheryl’s fantasies about being a movie star. She bought clothes at rummage sales “so I could dress up and play make-believe.” In grade school Cheryl organized theatricals (“I was the Otto Preminger of my block”) and was always slipping in and out of characters (“One summer I was Hayley Mills”). At Huron High she was a cheerleader and moonlighted as a carhop at a drive-in and singer with a local group.

It was called the Music Shop, and upon graduation she joined them on the road. Fleetwood Mac they weren’t, and eventually they splintered in L.A., where Cheryl dug in to make it on her own. Her first booking was as a cartoon voice in Hanna-Barbera’s Josie and the Pussycat (she was the latter). After that came walk-ons in a few movies, bits in TV episodes and 100 commercials. (It was a shot on The Rookies and an unsuccessful test for Family that focused the interest of TV mega-exec Aaron Spelling, producer also of Charlie’s Angels.)

All along her mother would phone once a week (they still talk that often) to warn her about the casting couch. Not to worry. “My dumb-cheerleader routine kept them away,” says Cheryl. “If someone would suggest something I’d giggle in a little dinky voice, ‘Oh, gee, I don’t think I’d really better do that.’ By the time I got through, he didn’t think I should either.” Against tougher cases, Stoppelmoor chirps: “I found out in a hurry there is nothing like a drink spilled in the lap to cool someone off.”

Enter David (then in the process of divorcing his first wife) when they were both working on the flop film Jamaica Reef. He was “not very together,” recalls Cheryl, and their courtship “was like World War III. We fought about everything. It was insane.” Their final decision to marry was pure whim. Flying east anyway, they found they could return via that quickie wedding capital, Vegas, for a mere $15 extra. Her parents winged in, and David’s brother, Alan Jr., now head of 20th Century-Fox feature films, was best man.

His agent mom helped pick their first apartment, but the kids got no favoritism from family. “There have been times when each of us has wanted to quit the business,” concedes Cheryl. “But never at the same time. Strangely, it was Jordan who drove away the doubts and led to our total commitment.” Their daughter, now 2½, was named after The Great Gatsby character—”She had a lot of spunk, which is why I chose it,” says Mom.

The Ladds now live in a clapboard house in an artsy, nonstar section of Hollywood Hills. Cheryl cried when she saw it—”I’ve wanted a house like this since I was a little kid.” It’s a shack, though, compared to the Fawcett-Majors mansion. Their pals are mostly serious—which is to say underemployed—actors, who gather weekends around the Ladds’ pool, sight-reading scripts. Whether they’re too principled or too poor, this is not your everyday Hollywood cocaine crowd. Cheryl’s habit is Hershey bars and Perrier water.

Obviously, the next few weeks will test the Ladds. “I’ve had visions of walking down the street and having people stop me and say, “Who do you think you are, trying to take Farrah’s place?’ ” confides Cheryl. But if she pulls it off, what about the effect on David? Says she: “There’s no competition in our marriage. We do everything for us.” Agrees her husband, whose Huron was Hollywood: “The two things that sustain us in this business are our relationship and our feeling of self-worth. Cheryl can handle both the fame and the rejection of an acting career. If you don’t have a strong ego,” says Alan Ladd’s son (or shortly Cheryl Ladd’s husband), “this town can kill you.”

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