By David Gritten
July 13, 1981 12:00 PM

When America bought Dallas, making it a pop cultural landmark, the show’s producers went to the well once again, peddling another steamy saga of the South, Flamingo Road, to NBC. It stars a far sexier predator than Larry Hagman, slinky Morgan Fairchild, but the show never took off. So in a calculated “Who Shot J.R.?” type ploy, the producers tried to ignite a media brush-fire around the season’s final episode by having Morgan’s two-timing husband (Mark Harmon) push her down a staircase. Would Constance Weldon Carlyle (as the hussy is called) live? Would she die? As it turned out, no one cared. But the show and Morgan may yet reap a publicity windfall and find salvation thanks to an ironic source: the Moral Majority’s designated TV hit man, the Rev. Donald Wildmon, who has network and ad execs quaking in their Guccis with his talk of boycotts (PEOPLE, July 6). “It’s been said that executive producer Lee Rich might become the porno king of TV,” claims Wildmon. “I think he’s done it with Flamingo Road. It is the rottenest show on TV.”

“Hmm…that must mean I’m the rottenest person on TV,” muses Fairchild, an unflappable 31-year-old who speaks frankly about everything from dating Warren Beatty at 16 (“He took me to lunch, then to dinner, but never to bed”) to her “fiasco” marriage to a ’60s rock promoter (“I thought I was a nymphomaniac because I wanted to make love more than once a month”). She is mostly bemused by Wildmon’s reaction to her revealing costuming and to Flamingo‘s melodramatic mulch of lust and Spanish moss. “There are lots of shows rottener than ours—Dallas or Knots Landing,” she states. “Our show is fun entertainment. It’s not meant as an example to live by.” Morgan further believes that sponsors who surrender to the Rev. Wildmon’s pressures are making a mistake. “I don’t think the Moral Majority represents the number of people it claims to,” she says. “I think the Rev. Wildmon has no sense of humor.”

This is not to say that she takes the Moral Majority lightly. “I don’t fear them personally,” Morgan observes, “but I think any group that tries to control what people see or read or think about is very threatening to this country.” She recalls hearing about McCarthyism from schoolteachers and declares: “I’ve learned enough that I don’t care to see it happen again.” It’s the principle of censorship that bothers her, though, rather than the conservative politics. Sums up Morgan: “I don’t want these people telling me what to do any more than I want a bunch of weirdo liberals telling me that doing cocaine three times a day is the right way to live.”

Her TV image aside, she has strong ideas about morality and about how she fits into the Hollywood picture. “I’m this year’s blonde, but I have no intention of becoming last year’s,” says Fairchild, who figures she has “an edge over the others because I’ve been in this business for 19 years. I’m not some little girl from the Midwest who won a couple of beauty contests. I’m very self-sufficient,” she warns, “and not insecure or neurotic.” Morgan also differs from some other L.A. glamour girls, contending that “they get caught up in parties and drugs and don’t want to work. I do. Work is my life.” She chooses to manage herself despite many bids, including one from the Fawcett-Somers Svengali Jay Bernstein. As for drugs, Morgan says, “I’ve never even puffed a marijuana joint—scout’s honor!” But she’s not quite so abstemious on the dating scene. “I like men,” says Fairchild, whose earliest celebrity suitor was Beatty. “I was Faye Dunaway’s stand-in in Bonnie and Clyde, and he asked me out,” she recalls. “God knows why he picked on a 16-year-old virgin, because there were lots of women dying to date him. I actually told him,” she rolls on (assuming a high, squeaky voice), ” ‘I’m going to be a virgin when I get married.’ ”

Divorced now for eight years, Morgan is not exactly a stay-at-home, going out with the likes of stunt man Dar Robinson and actor Andrew Stevens (Kate Jackson’s ex). “It doesn’t necessarily mean I sleep with every one of the men I date,” she adds. “But I get bored easily. If I can see a relationship isn’t working out, I’ll put a stop to it. But I’m also very loyal. Once I commit myself to a relationship, the man almost has to beat me over the head before I’ll give up on it.”

Sometime escort Robinson, 34, who has two children by his estranged wife, appreciates her for more than her obvious attributes. “To look at Morgan from a distance, you might well think that she’s dumb,” he opines. “But she’s very intelligent—she studies paleontology and dearly wanted to go on a fossil dig in Africa, but commitments prevented it. She thinks, she cares and she is an individual,” he observes. “She has a lot more going for her than other actresses.” Except spare time. “Before the TV writers’ strike, I worked 17 hours a day,” says Morgan, “so the poor man hardly ever sees me.”

She entered the workaday world as Patsy McClenny, the elder daughter of a Dallas engineering executive and a high school English teacher. A bespectacled, studious ugly duckling at school, she blossomed in children’s and community theater at 11. “I was script girl, stage manager, I scrubbed the latrines and made the props,” she remembers. “Ever since, I’ve never been rude to a lighting man or accidentally walked away with a prop.” At 17, just before high school graduation, she married a local rock promoter and “saw the drug scene at its most extreme—my husband promoted concerts for Hendrix and Joplin, among others.” As the marriage collapsed, she began touring the strawhat circuit, and after her divorce took the stage name Morgan Fairchild and moved to New York, “a city that operated at my pace—fast.”

Demonstrably. Six weeks later she made her new name as the witchy Jennifer Phillips on Search for Tomorrow. During her three and a half years on the soap, she pulled the plug on her boyfriend’s dying father, shot her lover and was once pushed inside a meat locker by then co-star Polly (Flo) Holliday. “I was the happiest I’d ever been,” she recalls. “I lived across from Lincoln Center and had lots of friends—ballet dancers, Black Muslims from my kung fu classes, actors…”

But she was ambitious for bigger credits and, against the advice of friends, moved to L.A. in 1977 and quickly landed parts in Barnaby Jones, Happy Days and (for its first season) Dallas. “It’s a meat market in L.A.,” says Fairchild, “but it seems to me that if you look like me, as well as walk and talk, you’ll get work.”

Despite its borderline ratings, NBC has renewed Flamingo (a Madison Avenue executive notes that it can always draw less inhibited sponsors that might capitalize on a boycott—like some designer jeans or perfumes). In any case Morgan is already branching out. She’s completing the film Seduction with Michael Sarrazin and Andrew Stevens, and longs for a role opposite Nighthawks’ dapper Dutchman Rutger Hauer or her longtime favorite actor, lanky Britisher David (The Omen) Warner. “My first name comes from his 1966 film Morgan!” she explains. “I hear he’s sick of playing crazies, and he’d like some romantic roles. Tell him I’m ready.”

She’s also chafing to move up from the two-bedroom Westwood apartment that she shares with three exotic cats, her actress sister Cathryn Hartt, 29, and a clutter of rock records, ballet photos, homemade needlepoint cushions and Marilyn Monroe memorabilia. She and Cathryn go to the movies and Mexican food pigouts, but sis has a serious beau, so Morgan has just purchased her own three-bedroom home in the Hollywood Hills. Is she thinking of starting a family? “I’d love children, and I’m at the age where you have to do something about it soon,” she says. “But I have to find a husband first.” There was a possible contender “outside the business,” says Morgan, but the pressure of work and publicity ended the relationship.

In spite of her new notoriety, she says, “I don’t consider myself the kind of person the Moral Majority would find terribly wayward. I don’t often go to church, but I believe in God.” As for the brazen role she embodies on Flamingo Road, Fairchild has no apologies. Constance, she feels, was made for TV. “The ingenues sit around and cry, but the bitches refuse to be pushed around. I think people fear pressures from inflation, the economy and unemployment and like to tune in and watch someone taking charge,” she philosophizes. And what if Constance’s fall from that staircase, not to mention the Rev. Wildmon’s grace, leaves her in a style-cramping wheelchair next season? “It’ll be fine,” cracks Morgan. “I’ve always wanted to be a character actress.”