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|REAL ANGELS NEVER DIE……THEY JUST SPREAD THEIR WINGS AND FLY!|
|The Long Goodbye|
|The actress Farrah Fawcett was under full-time nurse supervision at her high-rise condominium on Wilshire Boulevard’s Golden Mile, floating in and out of consciousness, when NBC made its demand.|
The network had bid $1.5 million for a cinéma vérité-style film Ms. Fawcett was making of her struggle with late-stage cancer, and with the gossip media buzzing about her imminent death, NBC was eager to get the show on television for the upcoming May sweeps rating competition. “I do have to get this show on the air,” a network executive wrote to Craig Nevius, Ms. Fawcett’s production partner. “And I think you do, too.”
But Ms. Fawcett was too sick to approve a final version of the documentary, and Mr. Nevius was reluctant to move forward without her. “I must honor my duty to her intent and her vision,” he wrote back.
NBC ultimately got what it wanted, but only after the actor Ryan O’Neal, Ms. Fawcett’s on-again-off-again boyfriend of more than 30 years, engineered a takeover of the project from Mr. Nevius.
Received as a seminal moment in television history when it was broadcast in May 2009 — making Ms. Fawcett “the first American celebrity to film herself dying,” The New York Post wrote — the film was complimented by reviewers for its candor, but was also called “sometimes almost unbearable” and “exploitative.”
If the documentary was a wrenching drama, the off-camera takeover itself was operatic, with threats of violence and a death-bed transfer of legal rights, leading to courthouse wrangling that pitted wealthy powerful Hollywood fixtures against Mr. Nevius, a prodigy screenwriter turned producer who never quite broke into the big time.
The struggle surrounding the film, pieced together through interviews, e-mails and warring lawsuits settled a few weeks ago, reveals a chaotic final chapter in the life of an American icon — and a particularly indelicate entertainment industry moment, even by the standards of the reality TV era.
By selling her “video diary” to NBC, Ms. Fawcett turned her illness into the ultimate real-life programming for an ever-more voyeuristic audience. She intertwined her wishes for her story with the interests of a network fighting for footing in the television ratings race.
“She chose to film this and turn it into a TV show,” said Doug Vaughan, the NBC executive who oversaw the project. “It was their idea to do this.”
But Ms. Fawcett had intended the film to address shortcomings she saw in American cancer treatment and to present it in art-house style. She would reference François Truffaut when talking about her vision.
After Mr. O’Neal and NBC gained full control of the documentary, the film took on the feel of network celebrity fodder — at once more glossy and more morbid.
“It was a contradiction of what the film was supposed to be,” said Mr. Nevius, who had become Ms. Fawcett’s part-agent, part-manager, part-producer — and a full-time devotee.
Over Mr. Nevius’s objections, the film, originally titled “A Wing and a Prayer,” was renamed “Farrah’s Story,” echoing the 1970 film “Love Story,” in which Mr. O’Neal played a husband devoted to his terminally ill wife. (“ ‘Love Story’ was one of the most viewed movies of all time,” Mr. O’Neal said in an interview. “What’s his problem?”)
Mr. O’Neal became the leading man in “Farrah’s Story” as well, professing his love with only a hint of the tumult that marked their relationship.
Many scenes addressing the American medical system were scrapped or truncated. The new version included a more robust homage to Ms. Fawcett’s career as well as fresh, raw scenes, including footage of Redmond O’Neal, the couple’s son, saying goodbye to his mother. Temporarily released from jail where he was being held on drug charges, he arrived in a prison uniform and leg shackles and climbed into her bed as she lay nearly comatose. “Get real close to her,” Mr. O’Neal directed his son as the camera zoomed in.
Kate Jackson, Ms. Fawcett’s friend and a “Charlie’s Angels” co-star, called the scene “absolutely inexcusable,” adding: “Jesus no, she would not have wanted her son shot in prison garb and shackles. What purpose does that serve?”
In a lawsuit, Mr. Nevius contended the film had become the maudlin retrospective Ms. Fawcett wanted to avoid. Mr. O’Neal maintained he took over the project with Ms. Fawcett’s blessing, after he and the network determined it was not ready for prime time. Alana Stewart, a friend of Ms. Fawcett who shot much of the film, dismissed criticisms, saying “something must have been done right if it was viewed by 10 million people and nominated for an Emmy.”
But left unanswered is the question of which version — if any — of her final image Ms. Fawcett would have wanted to project.
“I hate to tell you, my friend, nobody knows,” said Mela Murphy, Ms. Fawcett’s friend and hairdresser. “Maybe it shouldn’t have been aired at all. How about that?”
Ms. Fawcett did not set out to make a film about her death. “She thought it was to be a story of survival,” Mr. O’Neal said. When a recurrence of her anal cancer was diagnosed in 2007 she began filming her doctor visits and then decided to make a documentary. She said she wanted to highlight what she saw as the slow process of drug approvals in the United States and treatment advances in countries like Germany, where she was seeking a cure.
The film was to be a series of real-time video diaries tied together by Ms. Fawcett’s narration. Mr. Nevius said Ms. Fawcett wanted to minimize references to her career and rejected his suggestion to make her relationship with Mr. O’Neal a subplot, telling him “this isn’t that.”
Ms. Fawcett entrusted Mr. Nevius with carrying out her vision, giving him control if she became incapacitated. Eighteen years her junior, he had come to Hollywood from Illinois as a promising young screenwriter. He was only 22 when his first script became a major motion picture — “Happy Together,” starring Helen Slater, Patrick Dempsey and, in a bit role, Brad Pitt.
But by the time Mr. Nevius met Ms. Fawcett 15 years later he had a modest career producing shows with stars of yore. He convinced her to do a reality show, “Chasing Farrah,” and when that ended in 2005, he remained in her life. When Ms. Fawcett’s mother died, he produced a tribute shown at the funeral. He helped Ms. Fawcett secure the rights to her famous red bathing suit poster. In a Christmas card, she called him “my loyal friend, my protector.”
Mr. Nevius and Ms. Fawcett were an incongruous pair — she, the glamorous beauty of the ’70s who regularly socialized with the likes of Tina Sinatra and Cher, and he, the long-haired, jeans-and-T-shirt-wearing producer who lived in a modest apartment in West Hollywood, Calif.
The other main member of the production team, Ms. Stewart, would come to chafe under Mr. Nevius, whom she viewed as a devoted puppy dog if not an obsessed fan. A one-time model and ex-wife to two big show business names — the actor George Hamilton and the rocker Rod Stewart — she had been friends with Ms. Fawcett since the ’70s.
Mr. O’Neal said Ms. Fawcett also asked him to work on the film but that he would not work with Mr. Nevius. “ ‘Get rid of him and I’ll come aboard,’ ” Mr. O’Neal recalled saying. “I’d worked with Kubrick for God’s sake,” he said, referring to Stanley Kubrick, his director on “Barry Lyndon.” “With really good, talented people. I know the difference.”
The documentary became a point of contention for Ms. Fawcett and Mr. O’Neal, who had reunited after a prolonged estrangement but still kept separate homes and finances. “She just got mad at me because I was being difficult,” Mr. O’Neal said. “I said, ‘I know I’m difficult, but I’m sorry, you don’t need two geniuses, honey, one’s enough.’ ”
In fall 2008, Mr. O’Neal persuaded Ms. Fawcett to meet with a possible replacement for Mr. Nevius, the producer Robert Greenwald, who had directed her in the 1984 television movie “The Burning Bed.” But Ms. Fawcett resisted cutting out Mr. Nevius. “The whole subtext was he was helping to hold her life together,” Mr. Greenwald said.
Even so, Mr. O’Neal ordered Mr. Nevius to hand the project to Mr. Greenwald. When Mr. Nevius refused, he said Mr. O’Neal told him: “I’ll kill you with Farrah and then I’ll kill you in real life.”
Asked about the exchange, Mr. O’Neal — who once fired a gun in a dispute with his son Griffin — said, “I may have said ‘I’ll kill ya,’ but I said that as a joke.”
IN winter 2009, Ms. Fawcett took her final trip to the German clinic where she was being treated. When she returned that spring, her condition had worsened and the film fell on her list of priorities. For others it became increasingly urgent and divisive.
In April, with NBC prodding Mr. Nevius to deliver for May sweeps, Ms. Stewart was refusing to turn over scenes she shot in Germany because of a continuing pay dispute. “I know Farrah thinks it’s generous, and perhaps it is by ‘industry standard,’ but this has not been a standard industry project,” she had written to Mr. Nevius.
Mr. Nevius declined to up her pay without talking to Ms. Fawcett. Yet, Ms. Stewart, who was keeping vigil at Ms. Fawcett’s condominium with Mr. O’Neal, told Mr. Nevius she was too ill for visitors. (Ms. Stewart said it was Ms. Fawcett’s decision.)
Tensions were rising with NBC as well. Though Mr. Vaughn had called Mr. Nevius a “great producer” in one e-mail, he had steadily raised concerns about the structure of the film as Mr. Nevius and Ms. Fawcett sent rough cuts.
That spring NBC assigned a former “Dateline” producer to help with the project. When she submitted a script with new, melodramatic lines written for Ms. Fawcett, Mr. Nevius returned it covered with red ink. Where Ms. Fawcett was scripted to say, “Was it written in the stars, I wonder, that life would take this turn,” Mr. Nevius wrote: “She will never say this. Nor should she.”
A publicist for NBC News alerted Mr. Nevius on April 15 that the network expected to broadcast the film in roughly three weeks. Mr. Nevius had agreed to work double time to finish the documentary, but said he would not deliver a final version without Ms. Fawcett’s approval.
“I’m a bit between a rock and a hard place,” Mr. Nevius wrote back. “She has been out of the hospital for less than a week and I have not seen her yet, because she is still in some pain and sleeping quite a bit.”
“That’s why I think it’s imperative for you to see Farrah and speak to her,” Mr. Vaughan replied, adding that “obviously we’re not crass and certainly do not want you to focus only on this when you see her.”
That same day, Mr. Nevius got a frantic call from Ms. Murphy, Ms. Fawcett’s hairdresser and one of the few people allowed into the condominium.
According to Mr. Nevius’s notes, Ms. Murphy said Mr. O’Neal was looking for Ms. Fawcett’s contract with Mr. Nevius. She also told him a nurse had called her upset, because lawyers for Mr. O’Neal were trying to persuade the bed-ridden Ms. Fawcett to sign various documents.
In an interview, Ms. Murphy confirmed the conversation with Mr. Nevius. “To me it was like, ‘Why are you bothering with this stuff? Let’s get her to eat,’ ” she said.
On April 20, after Mr. Nevius again proposed a visit, Richard B. Francis, whose family firm managed the finances of both Mr. O’Neal and Ms. Fawcett, left a message for Mr. Nevius. Mr. Francis said, “I’m telling you right now, you better not appear at Farrah’s,” or risk a beating from Mr. O’Neal.
That afternoon, Ms. Stewart and Ms. Murphy said, Ms. Fawcett was mentally sharp when she signed papers relinquishing creative control of the film to Mr. O’Neal. “There was nothing going on that was underhanded,” Ms. Stewart said. “It was very straightforward.”
Ms. Murphy said despite her earlier doubts, she realized that Ms. Fawcett “did want Ryan to take control of this.”
Mr. O’Neal said that Ms. Fawcett gave him control after he showed her a rough cut of the film. “I held her in my arms when we watched his version, because she wasn’t able to sit up,” he said. “She wasn’t saying too much of anything at this point, except that ‘We have a lot of work to do.’ ”
One of the new documents effectively claimed the initial agreement between Ms. Fawcett and Mr. Nevius — giving him control if she became too sick — was null and void. Kim H. Swartz, the lawyer who helped oversee the drafting of that agreement, declined though another lawyer on the case, Howard Weitzman, to discuss the signing of the documents.
Asked whether Ms. Fawcett had resisted signing some documents, Mr. Weitzman said, “If she was too tired or not feeling well enough at any particular time to give something her best attention, she would handle it when the time was right, just like anyone else.”
When Mr. Nevius expressed doubts to NBC about the validity of the signatures, which were noticeably shaky compared with her trademark perfect signature, network officials said they considered it “an internal dispute” that left them little choice but to recognize Mr. O’Neal’s new role. Once in charge, Mr. O’Neal gave the network relatively free rein in producing the final version.
Asked later why the show went on even after Ms. Fawcett became too ill to see it through, Mr. Vaughan said the network “needed to get this on the air before something bad happened to Farrah, so she would be able to receive the well wishes of her legions of fans.”
Speaking with reporters at a star-studded party for the documentary, Mr. O’Neal said Ms. Fawcett was “heavily medicated” at home, but would be watching the debut two nights later on NBC. “We’re going to take some of these medications down so she’s lucid and sharp,” he said.
Ms. Stewart said that when she and Mr. O’Neal watched the program with Ms. Fawcett on her bed, she said, “It was ‘very, very, very good.’ ”
Ms. Fawcett died six weeks later at age 62.
For the next 18 months, Mr. Nevius pursued his lawsuit against Mr. O’Neal, Ms. Stewart and Mr. Francis full-time, hoping to regain control of the company he and Ms. Fawcett formed and produce the film he says she wanted. Mr. Francis countersued, accusing Mr. Nevius of being a hanger-on who ingratiated himself with Ms. Fawcett and embezzled money from their company. (He and Mr. O’Neal never offered proof, and Mr. Nevius denies the allegation.)
By last fall, Mr. Nevius was regularly fielding tearful calls from his mother, urging him to move on. When his lawyer told him in December the fight could go on for two more years and cost another $250,000, he said he decided to enter into settlement talks.
“I’m fighting at least two multi-millionaires,” he said. “And at this point I don’t know that it’s honoring Farrah. I just don’t think she’d want us all destroying each other, which is pretty much how it’s going.”
Mr. O’Neal offered his former nemesis some advice: “He should go on with his life and let her rest in peace.”
For his part, Mr. O’Neal is producing a new reality show with his daughter Tatum O’Neal, a partnership made famous in the 1973 movie “Paper Moon.” There are also plans to release a version on DVD of “Farrah’s Story,” which he now controls.
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|"Everyday is a good day, just some days are better" - Farrah Fawcett
|Be An Angel|