Here’s What Happened to the Original Cast of ‘Charlie’s Angels’ — Their Joys, Tragedies and Triumphs

Before Charlie’s Angels was a franchise, it was a phenomenally successful TV show of the 1970s (currently airing on the MeTV network) that turned its three leading ladies — Kate Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and Jaclyn Smith — into genuine pop culture superstars, whose lives have gone in varied directions since. Over the years, the franchise has enjoyed some highs (the 2003 film starring Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu), a definite low (the 2011 TV series reboot with Annie Ilonzeh, Rachael Taylor and Minka Kelly) and a less-than-critically embraced new attempt at big screen success from director/producer/writer Elizabeth Banks starring Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott and Ella Balinska. But no matter what happens with the title, it’s the original version that remains the most prominent, its stars the ones people remain most curious about.

 “As with everything else, you look at a show differently when you’re in your 20s and 30s, or even your 50s, than you did when you were 12-years-old,” observes author Ed Robertson, who also serves as host of the TV Confidential podcast. “When you’re 12, with Charlie’s Angels you just looked forward to the scene where Jaclyn Smith would be in her bikini and that’s it. But what I discovered later, which I’d forgotten, is that not only in the pilot but also in the first 10 or 12 shows they produced before it went on the air, they were much different in scheme and approach to the Charlie’s Angels we know today.

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Moviestore/Shutterstock

“Those episodes,” he continues, “were about a trio of detectives who were very, very good at what they did. The fact that they were women was really ancillary, because they were not only good detectives, they would pull off cons as part of their undercover operation. The scripts weren’t Shakespeare, but they were able to go a little more into depth. The pilot is very good and I’m not surprised that it sold, because it moved quickly, was smart and well cast.”

“On television at the time, there was Wonder Woman and The Bionic Woman, though Stephanie Powers really kind of kicked things into high gear in the ‘60s with The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. as far as the superhero type of female goes,” says Herbie J Pilato, author of Glamour, Gidgets, and the Girl Next Door as well as host of Amazon and Shout TV’s Classic TV talk show, Then Again with Herbie J Pilato. “But Charlie’s Angels took it to the next level. It had Farrah Fawcett, who had done a lot of commercials and was the Wella Balsam girl; Kate Jackson had done The Rookies and, early on, Dark Shadows; and Jaclyn Smith was kind of a newcomer. So they had built their audiences separately and for the audience it just seemed to be the right time for three women working together.”

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MPI; Viacom Enterprises

As Jack Condon, co-author of The Charlie’s Angels Casebook with David Hofstede, explains it, the show went through several different phases on its way to the series audiences know. “Initially,” he explains, “producers Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg were looking for something to cast Kate Jackson in, because she had been in the series The Rookies from 1972 to 1974. When she was on that show, it was an all male cast except for her, but she received more fan mail than any of the other regulars, so they knew they wanted to put Kate in some sort of vehicle. But there were different phases.”

The roots of the show came from Leonard Goldberg’s penchant for the British TV series The Avengers, which featured Diana Rigg as Emma Peel; while Aaron Spelling had done Honey West with Anne Francis in the ‘60s. For this reason, both of them liked the idea of doing some sort of series focused on women.

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Studio Canal/Shutterstock

Says Jack, “Originally the show was going to be called The Alley Cats, which was kind of an acronym for the three women, Allie, Lee and Katherine. At that time, they were going to be Emma Peel-like characters where they’d be karate-chopping, leather-clad women fighting crime. Interestingly enough, when they started to do the first concept, they actually asked Ernest Tidyman, who wrote The French Connection, to write the script. But whatever he developed wasn’t really what Spelling and Goldberg wanted, so they went to Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts, who’d just finished a run doing Mannix with Mike Connors. They penned the script and met with Kate Jackson.

Points out Mike Pingel, author of Angelic Heaven: A Fan’s Guide to Charlie’s Angels and Channel Surfing: Charlie’s Angels, and webmaster at Charliesangels.com, I would say that Kate was the backbone of the Angels team of 1976. Her character, Sabrina Duncan, was tagged as the smart Angel. In truth, Kate Jackson herself as an actress is one of the reasons that the show came to life, because it was originally her vehicle.”

“It was not so much the time for Charlie’s Angels and the female empowerment that show brought, it was Kate’s time,” notes Herbie. “It just so happened that she was onscreen with these other two charismatic women. But it was supposed to be her show. It was built around her, so she was the essential glue of it that initially brought people in.”

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