Examining Farrah

UCLA English lecturer Lawrence Grobel is giving his students a pep talk before their final exam. He paces in front of the class when he speaks, waving his hands in gestures that don’t have a meaning but exude enthusiasm. He expresses his complete confidence in their abilities, and offers some last-minute tips. Still, his 17 students look nervous. They study their notes frantically in the few remaining moments before the exam begins.

About his class, The Art of the Interview, Grobel says: “This is the only class on campus in which you’re not taught answers. You’re taught questions.”

While there’s probably a philosophy professor on campus who would argue with that, The Art of the Interview is the only class on campus in which autographs are sought following the final. No one’s asking for the teacher’s, but Grobel, a longtime Playboy magazine contributor (over the past 30 years he’s interviewed the likes of Marlon Brando, Al Pacino and Barbra Streisand), uses his connections to bring in celebrities as the subjects of his students’ final exams. Since he started teaching in 2001, he’s had Pacino (twice), Diane Keaton, Lisa Kudrow, Steve Martin and a bevy of other Hollywood stars sit for class. On this night, the final exam is Farrah Fawcett. And she’s late.

“She’s like Star Trek,” Grobel continues with his half-prepared, half-improvised speech. “She’s her own convention.”

A student asks Grobel if he’s nervous.

“I feel like Knute Rockne from Notre Dame,” he says before leaving the room to bring Fawcett in. “I’m always nervous. I’m nervous for you.”

After spending a few minutes preparing herself in the bathroom, Fawcett enters, looking surprisingly like Farrah Fawcett despite being 58 (the hair and teeth are still the same).

“They’ve been preparing for you for three weeks,” Grobel says with a proud, father-like grin.

“Then you should know everything about me,” Fawcett smiles. “Except the truth.”

The opening questions are soft (“How did it feel to be nominated for a Golden Globe?”) and her responses are curt (“Good.”). She hasn’t done a major interview in years, and is visibly nervous, unconsciously opening and closing her lipstick tube and looking to her manager sitting in the back of the room before talking. She asks for a Coke with ice to supplement her bottle of water, and when Grobel comes back with a bottle of Pepsi, she looks disappointed.

Eventually, one student braves up and asks about the obvious elephant in the room, her 1997 nude body-painting Playboy shoot and accompanying pay-per-view special. She says she was inspired by European nude paintings and a desire to make the photos “artistic.”

Another student asks Fawcett about her infamous Letterman appearance in which she looked stoned on television. She blames it on her mother, who told her beforehand to simply “be yourself.”

Someone asks why she’s at her acting best playing victims. Fawcett insists that her characters in the play Extremities and the TV movie The Burning Bed weren’t victims because they fought back. She relates her own resilience to the time when she was held at screwdriver-point in the back of a gypsy cab in New York. She threatened her attacker with her stiletto heels, and he said, “You’re crazy!” and kicked her out of the car.

Once Fawcett decides the room is safe, she relaxes in her seat and drops her guard. She tells stories both funny (when she met Bill Clinton in the midst of the Lewinsky scandal, she simply told him to “deal with it later”) and creepy (one of her son’s friends hit on her by arguing that men’s sexual peaks come younger than women’s).

The tabloids would have a field day.

When Grobel calls for the last question, a student asks if Fawcett would read the class some of her poetry, which she had mentioned she writes in the notebook by her side. She glances at the notebook for a second and decides she doesn’t want to read any. Instead, she recites from a poem she wrote about the nature of fame called “In Search of an Hour.”

When fame condescendingly claims you
With its seductive tentacle touch,
It doesn’t ask anything in return,
Just everything.

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