Today, it's Cheryl Ladd's birthday. Happy birthday to an underrated actress, sparkling beauty, sultry singer, and first-class Angel!
It's unfortunate that in between the Farrah-mania that erupted in the first season of Charlie's Angels--and led to her leaving to do movies, namely the ultra-bomb Saturn 3--and the later seasons with derided Kate Jackson replacement Shelly Hack and the decidedly awesome method-acting goddess Tanya Roberts in the still not-on-DVD season five, people forget that there was solid work regularly turned in by the steady presences on the show Jaclyn Smith and Cheryl Ladd.
Ladd worked long and hard, from seasons two through five, and never wavered. Factor it all in and she's second only to the super-sweet Jaclyn Smith for being on the longest. And no offense to Smith, but Ladd was always able to go a little deeper, to invest 3-D life into a 3-D character.
Cast as Jill's sister Kris Munroe, Cheryl Ladd was an ideal replacement for Farrah, of whom people tend to forget brought sparkling athleticism and sweetness to her iconic Jill Munroe. As her little sister Kris, Ladd tapered the same qualities to a little sister point and wowed in a brown bikini, swimming up and around to jack a gangster's yacht to rescue the kidnapped voice of Charlie in a wow of a Hawaii season two opener. She had a pop album out, modeled in the style of the mega-successful Olivia Newton John. She got to do some synergy singing/ plugging on the show. I remember taping it with my my audio cassette player and even though she only sang a few bars of her song "Take a chance on me / love will never be / for chance" I still know it by heart, 30-odd years later.
Another peak Cheryl role came a few decades later, in a film that saw Drew Barrymore being super sexy and seducing TV op-ed newsman and bender enthusiast Tom Skeritt (his sneaky morning vodka pull is straight out of my own life at the time). Cheryl Ladd is the rich, pampered wife upstairs, terminally ill but still achingly gorgeous, a kind of still-breathing REBECCA. Ladd is great in her few scenes, conveying huge amounts of woe and regret at having spent her life in front of a vanity mirror instead of learning a skill or developing a literary passion. In the process she turns what could have been just a marginally above-average Skinemax-ish potboiler into something truly marvelous, digging up surprising gravitas. I have a burnt-in memory of seeing it on my friend's couch, where I was crashing having left my wife for a girl very much like Drew Barrymore's character. We had just come back from a monster con in PA where I didn't win the Rondo. We drove straight to Saint Mark's and I got a tattoo, and we were breaking up. It was a once-in-a-lifetime midlife crisis kind of day, and POISON IVY turned it into poetry...
Here she is with Waylon Jennings. Just look into her naturally loving and open eyes as she looks up at this sexy, noble beast of a man. It's enough to make you go country on the spot.
People love to pigeonhole and over the years the original Charlie's Angels has been maligned with accusations of it being mindless T&A, but if you watch these shows now, as an antidote to the super flashy crap of today, these angels are extraordinarily intelligent and skilled. Over their careers they pose as everything from professional ice skaters, race car drivers, circus folk (above), rich illegal baby adopters, poor bumpkins looking to buy bootleg motorcycle parts, and helicopter traffic ladies... of course they've also gone to the less athletic side, posing as masseuses, prostitutes, fashion models, strippers, belly-dancers, and Playboy-ish bunnies (cats instead), but through it all they're always sweet and kind to the nice guys. Figuring out which alleged playboys are all talk by coming onto them and watching them shrink away, they flirt with kindly old men and talk nice to troubled girls; they show you can be capable, badass, wear awesome flare slacks with turtlenecks, and still be warm.
I'm grateful to the show for being on DVD and on cable. I'm grateful to Ladd, for having lived up to the possibilities Kris Munroe embodied, and beyond. So happy birthday, Cheryl! You have helped make this world brighter for we who dwell in darkness. You have seen our slimy, slothful troglodyte hearts, and instead of wincing smiled and forgave our obscene mental trespasses, refused to see anything but the heart of a knight under our monstrous criminal hides. And all the while, your smile has lighted the world, in illumination, and in load.