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Farrah Fawcett’s old friends in Texas reminisce

By Jaime Powell - Scripps Howard News Service - | Jun 28, 2009

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Farrah Fawcett was more than just a pretty face.

Friends who grew up with her in Corpus Christi remembered the legendary Hollywood beauty as a bubbly, smart, funny, athletic and loyal friend.

Fawcett, 62, died Thursday, nearly three years after being diagnosed with anal cancer.

“We just lost our first angel,” former Corpus Christi resident Jan Alexander wrote in an e-mail to a group of Fawcett’s childhood friends known as the Amigas.

Alexander and Kathy Harrison, who now live in Frederickburg, and local businesswoman Christine Skinner became fast friends with Fawcett after she transferred to Hamlin Middle School from Catholic school 50 years ago.

The friendship was sealed after Harrison’s mother took the trio toilet-papering and Fawcett’s father Jim caught them mid-roll in his yard. Everyone ended up inside for coffee and sodas, and Fawcett went home with the girls to spend the night.

Over the years, Alexander and Harrison visited their friend in Los Angeles, Dallas and New York, and Fawcett came home to Texas to visit the group of about 40 childhood friends.

“My best friend for 50 years,” was how Alexander described Fawcett. “We giggled like nobody giggled. We just had an instant connection. We just didn’t part. There was nothing we didn’t do together.”

Back then, to local attorney and former state Rep. Bill Harrison and his group of friends, Fawcett was just another girl hanging out with his younger sister Kathy.

“We called her ‘Drippy’ (Fawcett),” Harrison recalled. “She was just another little punk coming over to my sister’s house.”

Harrison introduced Fawcett to his best friend, Gary Roberts, the guy she dated all the way through high school and into college.

Fawcett’s father thought that Roberts and his daughter were getting too serious, so it was up to Bill Harrison to pick Fawcett up for dates.

“He liked me because I was the son of a minister,” Bill Harrison recalled. “Gary would be sitting next to my date and I’d go pick up Farrah. And we’d go around the corner and Farrah would jump in the back with Gary and my date would get in the front.”

Roberts, now a Kerrville banker, watched Fawcett evolve from a schoolgirl into one of the world’s most renowned beauties.

In the eighth grade, Fawcett was beautiful in a wholesome way, sort of sheltered, with bobbed hair and wearing a Catholic-school uniform, Roberts said. After a visit with an aunt in Houston who mentored her, Fawcett blossomed in her sophomore year at Ray High School, getting into clothes and fashion, growing her hair, getting it highlighted and wearing makeup, Roberts said. She was voted Most Beautiful her sophomore, junior and senior years at Ray High School.

Roberts recalled a trip to Laredo when Fawcett was a senior at Ray and he was a freshman at Texas Tech.

“We went to Cadillac Bar to have lunch. It was noisy, clanging and banging, and when we were 10 or 12 feet into the restaurant the whole place went quiet,” Roberts said. “I realized then that she is the center of attention. Everybody was staring.

“I remember it like it was yesterday. She was wearing a white linen pantsuit. The hair, the teeth, the makeup — people were inviting us to join their parties and offering to pick up the tab.”

It took Bill Harrison a little longer to figure out that Fawcett was something special. By the time Harrison was at the University of Texas, he realized that the line of friends coming to his apartment were there to catch a glimpse of Farrah, who lived one floor up.

During Fawcett’s freshman year at the University of Texas, where she was majoring in microbiology and minoring in art, she was voted one of the university’s 10 most beautiful coeds.

Despite her good looks, Fawcett was always nice, maybe too nice for the California scene, Harrison said, reminiscing about a conversation he and Fawcett had.

“I was studying for my bar exam and I was giving her advice, telling her not to go to Hollywood because they would eat her up,” he said. “I told her pretty girls are a dime a dozen. And six months later she got there and wow. Boy, she was a big deal.”

Alexander, Kathy Harrison and Fawcett’s college roommate, Karen Cox Spellings, were among the select few from Corpus Christi on hand when Fawcett married actor Lee Majors.

When Alexander was preparing to leave following another visit, Fawcett cried because in Hollywood friends were hard to come by.

“She said it felt so good for me just to want to know about her,” Alexander said. “And at that time she had a hard time making real friends in Hollywood because she said they always wanted something — her to read a script, get the best hairdresser, introduce them to someone.”

Alexander visited Fawcett in Los Angeles after Fawcett divorced Majors and moved in with Ryan O’Neal. They were madly in love, several friends said.

“You talk about chemistry,” Alexander said. “Those two had some extreme, furious chemistry. When chemistry is that strong, it can be really difficult and it can be really amazing fabulous.”

After Fawcett gave birth to their son, Redmond, in 1985, Alexander flew to California again to visit. Fawcett loved being a mother, Alexander said.

As the boy grew, O’Neal coached his soccer team and Fawcett spent time at his school raising money. The schedule on their bulletin board looked like any other family’s, full of soccer schedules and dentist appointments, Alexander observed.

“It was important to her to raise him with normal family values,” Alexander said. “He adored her.”

Despite the Hollywood limelight and raising a family, Fawcett remained close to her childhood friends.

In June 1993, she made a surprise visit to Fredericksburg for the annual Amigas reunion.

When she first arrived, several longtime friends who had not seen her in a while were surprised at the movie star that had arrived in the living room, Skinner said. About an hour later, that facade slid away and she was the Farrah the crew had known and loved for years, Skinner said.

“She was always shy,” Skinner said. “Most of that was she probably did not know what to expect. It was difficult to step back into where she came from.”

Later that same year, she came to Corpus Christi to raise money for a women’s shelter.

After Fawcett was diagnosed with cancer and was going through chemotherapy and radiation, Alexander, a retired stress-management counselor, was in regular contact with the actress.

“She thought she had licked it, that it was over, it was done,” she said. “And the nasty old thing came back.”

“She was such a well-rounded person,” Kathy Harrison said. “She was a true light to all of those who knew her and she was that before she went off to Hollywood. She was just a good person.”

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