David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Of Longhorns, Long Hair and Short Bursts of Fame

December 16, 2013: Of Longhorns, Long Hair and Short Bursts of Fame


At one time, you couldn't find a wall that didn't have her image.  Now, apparently, it has come down to one of two walls: either a University's or an ex-husband's.


I'm talking about Farrah Fawcett, icon of the flowing locks, blood-red one-piece swimming suit, teeth brightly flashing poster that donned every teenage boy's bedroom in the mid-70's, mine included.   It is estimated that 12 million copies of that poster were eventually sold.  That's enough to give every student (graduate and undergraduate) at the University of Texas, Austin, one for every year for the next 235 years (assuming a steady enrollment of 51,000 enrolled students, the 2011 posted enrollment).


Alas, there is only one picture of Farrah Fawcett, University of Texas, Austin, matriculator for three years, that the university wants--an Andy Warhol original done in 1980. 


Standing in their way is Fawcett's ex-husband, Ryan O'Neal (not Lee Majors, husband #1).


It's a sad story of three hulking figures of their industry -- Fawcett, the hottest actress  in the world for several years, Warhol, the world's most famous artist of his time, and U of T, Austin, one of the five largest campuses in the country-- and one easily forgotten actor.  Did she leave the painting as with all her art collection to the University she never graduated from, or was the painting never hers to give, instead given by the dead artist to her ex-husband?  With Fawcett and Warhol both deceased and unable to clarify, the battle has gone before a California jury.


There's a lot you can read about this pathetic case, but perhaps nothing is juicier, and sadder, than this recount, which captures the actor's testimony, among other things, about Fawcett's reactions to his cheating with a younger woman.  It is almost unfathomable that 12 million men and boys fantasized about the woman whose image hung above their bed, while her image hung above the bed of the one man who apparently cheated on her when he "had" that fantasy.


When you read the various accounts of the trial that can easily be found through Google, you can't help but wonder how much greed is a factor on either side.  (Given that it's the internet, you don't have to troll long to find unsubstantied accusations against either O'Neal or U of T.)


Nevertheless, it seems so tawdry for a major university to be involved in such a case regarding the image of a pop star, alum or not, and not of a scientist or a president or even a novelist. If Andy Warhol had painted a portrait of Lloyd Bentsen, there is no way the university would value it as much as the Fawcett. The same can probably be said for Laura Bush or Walter Cronkite, other famous U of T, Austin, alumni. Then again, Texas may need to pay now-retired football coach Mack Brown $5 million for each of the next seven years.  No Lloyd Bentsen original will fetch them that kind of money.


The University attempts to stand above the seemliness of the case.  As cited in the New Orleans Times Picayune, U T's External Relations' Spin Doctor argues, "we simply want to honor and respect the charitable intent and wishes of Farrah Fawcett. . . It is indisputable that in Ms. Fawcett's living trust, she named the University of Texas at Austin as the sole beneficiary of all of her works of art, including artwork she created and all objects of art that she owned, for charitable purposes."


Of course, in an era when Harvard is clearly not above naming a restroom in honor of a mere $100,000 gift from a donor, such actions on the part of Texas, Austin, shouldn't surprise me.  After all, commodes, much the same as celebrity, image, art and basically higher education, are simply commodities.  O'Neal shouldn't be surprised either: it was his own daughter crying, "I want my two hundred dollar" all throughout Paper Moon.