September 18, 1978 12:00 PM

Whether it’s really a rivalry made in heaven, only Charlie’s Angels (and Farrah Fawcett-Majors’ overreaching manager) know for sure. But the air was crackling like static from a hot comb when the girls regrouped for their third season at the top. None of it, to be sure, was pre-premiere jitters over copycat competitors like CBS’s Flying High and American Girls. The tension was generated by the lawyer-negotiated appearance of the fourth and fallen Angel, FF-M, for three episodes this year beginning with next week’s show.

On the fateful day, the set was closed to outside photographers anxious to capture the most celebrated return since MacArthur’s. “Everyone was waiting for something to happen,” reports Cheryl Ladd, 27, who had successfully replaced Farrah after the 1977 Angel dustout. Barely even introduced, Farrah and Cheryl had to play their first scene together as a reunion of long-lost sisters. “Everyone thought that the hostility and jealousy would surface,” says Cheryl. “So I went over to Farrah and whispered in her ear, and she giggled and said, ‘Let’s do it.’ ” Scripted to run to each other on the beach and hug, recounts Ladd, “Farrah ran toward me with her arms outstretched and I toward her—only when it came time for the clench we just kept on running in opposite directions. It absolutely broke everyone up. From then on they realized there weren’t going to be any fireworks.”

Why, indeed, should there be? No nosy sexists asked if Mike Wallace, Dan Rather and Morley Safer might be “bitchy” to the returning Harry Reasoner on 60 Minutes. Besides, the Angels “are women, not girls in the schoolyard,” defends their Bosley, David Doyle. “Everybody minded their manners and rose to the occasion.”

Beyond manners, though, the real reason for the pancake-smooth serenity may be, as Cheryl puts it: “This has been a vintage year for all four of us.” She just achieved her career-long dream, releasing her first record album and a single, Think It Over, that’s climbing up the Top 40 (a height never achieved by TV/music hybrids like Lynda Carter). Farrah has her first film lead out this month—Somebody Killed Her Husband, with Jeff Bridges—and is booked for more. Next month Jaclyn Smith is making “a definite departure” (as she puts it) by starring as a call girl turned Hollywood social arbiter in the made-for-ABC movie of the best-selling The Users.

The most recent Angel to decide that heaven can wait, though, was Kate Jackson, who caught everyone napping when she eloped with Andrew (The Fury) Stevens, 23 and six years her junior. (Lost in their jet stream were Kate’s old flame, Edward Albert, and Andrew’s former roommate, Kim Darby.) Jackie, the only Angel invited to the Martha’s Vineyard wedding (she couldn’t attend), was “totally surprised” by the news. “I didn’t believe her. Kate’s always full of surprises.” Cheryl didn’t find out until the day she and her husband of five years, David Ladd, met the departing couple in an L.A. airport VIP lounge. “We all drank a toast,” Cheryl recounts. “Katie was radiant. I have never seen her this happy or relaxed.” Then when David Doyle, on his way to shoot a National Car Rental commercial, coincidentally stumbled upon the prewedding celebration, he found himself speechless. “I kept saying, ‘Oh God, that’s terrific,’ and I hugged her, and tears came down her cheeks.” “We all went to our separate airlines,” says Cheryl, “but we were all on Katie’s cloud.”

They are nonetheless still restive within the show—none more vocally so than Ladd, who in a year has confidently leapt from rookie to first-stringer and leads the cast in pinup posters (her 35-23-34 figure is by far the most commanding). On the set of “Chuck’s Cherubs” (as she jokingly calls it), Cheryl is known as “The Little Rebel” for her sometimes tart criticism of scripts and of “inappropriate clothes for certain scenes.” (Hint: She isn’t talking about jodhpurs.) “I’m not always a diplomat,” admits Ladd, who once flew into executive producer Aaron Spelling’s office with her complaints. “But you have to stick your neck out to get things done.” One other sore point: press reports that FF-M would be getting $70,000 per episode. The three incumbents all but subpoenaed her contract and found Farrah was in the same $15,000-$20,000 ball park as they are.

Ladd simultaneously took charge of her own music career after two earlier singles she released had “bombed.” She clicked “psychically,” she says, with producer Gary Klein, who has worked with Dolly Parton and Barbra Streisand. “It was really like I was a virgin making a record,” she says. “It’s an agony-ecstasy combination.” Klein responds: “Hers is a natural talent.” If not all critics were in accord, Cheryl shrugs, “I knew there’d automatically be resentment about my being successful in one area of entertainment and trying to break into another. I’ve waited 27 years for this overnight success. I’ve pounded the pavement, paid my dues. It’s taken eight years of never-let-it-get-you-down self-pep talks.”

Her musical dreams began in Huron, S.Dak., where, as Cheryl Stopelmoor, the 17-year-old daughter of a railroad engineer and his waitress wife, she graduated from high school and hit the road with a bar band, the Music Shop. Her first L.A. job was as a singing voice in a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. Music was back-burnered while Cheryl guested on sitcoms, but “I never lost track of wanting to do it,” she says. “Singing is a natural expression of myself.” Cheryl’s closest friends are still musicbiz types: Elton John’s lyricist Bernie Taupin, and Brian and Brenda Russell and Sue Sheridan, who contributed songs to her LP. While she plays no instrument, she is starting to pick out tunes on piano and guitar. “My life moves to rhythm and sound,” she insists. “The other day I was driving and a horn tooted and somebody slammed the door and from those tones I just started singing a melody. I sing practically every day of my life—at least in the shower.”

Lately, that’s in the Holmby Hills manse David’s late father Alan Ladd built in 1949. Cheryl and David, 31, and their daughter, Jordan, 3, are living with David’s retired agent mother, Sue, while their own West Hollywood Hills place undergoes a $100,000 renovation. Both Ladds are taking twice-weekly acting lessons from Milton Katselas. Though David’s career has recently stalled (“Some years it’s terrific; some years it’s the pits”), he denies he’s just playing househusband (even if he does make morning coffee and chauffeurs Cheryl and Jordan most places). “The simple fact that David’s and my relationship is healthy and equal is the best possible influence on Jordan,” Cheryl argues. Their daughter combines school with visits to Cheryl’s set, time allowing. Weekends are saved for family outings to places like Disneyland, where Cheryl appears incognito in braids and shades. “Of my three careers,” she says, “wife and mother is the most important one. I see Jordan more than any other working mother I know.” She muses: “I miss the South Dakota upbringing for her because I had it—she doesn’t know.”

Ahead, Cheryl is talking about touring her music act (she’s done The Tonight Show and The Midnight Special so far). With David, she’s formed a production company to develop a new series and to handle the variety specials Cheryl’s new ABC contract specifies. The first will air next May. Cheryl dreams of a Broadway musical or movies someday. The Ladds are also researching a docudrama about child abuse. “If only two children in this country are not beaten because we made this film, then it will have been worth it,” she says. “When the spotlight goes on you, you have a responsibility not just to put crap out there—not just to make a quick buck and say, ‘Sayonara, suckers.’ ”

By all accounts Cheryl’s new wings have not ruffled the other Angels. Though at first reticent about sending the other women pressings of her album—”it seemed pretentious”—she ultimately gave Jackie and Kate inscribed copies. “They both say they play it all the time,” she notes. Kate, in turn, got wedding presents from the other Angels: crystal from Cheryl and a silver wine cooler from Jackie.

Realistically, Cheryl hopes that the Angels can anticipate timely euthanasia. “Hopefully, if it starts dying in the ratings they won’t make it a slow, painful death.” Whatever competitive feelings may once have existed among the women have faded with their new independence. “I compete with no lady in this industry,” says Cheryl. “Life’s too goddamned short to just look out for No. 1. I haven’t worked hard all my life to have a bad time.”

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