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12 Feathered Facts About 'Charlie's Angels'

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An all-female cast for a crime drama was practically unheard of when ABC premiered Charlie’s Angels on September 22, 1976. Would audiences tolerate a lack of testosterone in a television world inhabited by Erik Estrada?

They would, and in substantial numbers. By November, the show was seen by over half of all viewers watching television during its time slot, making stars out of Farrah Fawcett, Kate Jackson, and Jaclyn Smith. Though the show would see regular cast changes throughout its five-year run, it never strayed from the formula: photogenic women caught up in private investigation cases provided by unseen benefactor Charlie Townsend. With its 40th anniversary around the corner, check out some facts about a proposed all-male spin-off, Farrah's abrupt exit, and how the Bionic Man affected their shooting schedule.

1. ABC HATED THE IDEA.   

ABC network executives Barry Diller and Michael Eisner were not at all sold on the premise of three female leads in an hour-long action series. When producer Aaron Spelling and partner Leonard Goldberg brought the project to them, they declared it “the worst idea we have ever heard.” Because Spelling had a deal from a previous television movie arrangement that guaranteed him $25,000 to script a new pilot, he convinced Eisner that they might as well get something for their money. Eisner agreed, and ABC commissioned a script.

2. THE ORIGINAL TITLE WAS THE ALLEY CATS.

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The 1970s were a crucial decade for feminism, with women successfully putting forward the idea of gender equality. Which made it a bad time for a network to consider calling a female-led series The Alley Cats, which is what Spelling and Goldberg had originally proposed. Kate Jackson, who had more acting experience than any of the other leads and was initially designated the “star,” preferred it be called Harry’s Angels, after the original name of their unseen benefactor. When his name was changed to avoid confusion over the detective show Harry-O, the series settled on Charlie’s Angels.

3. THE ORIGINAL CHARLIE GOT FIRED FOR BEING DRUNK.

Producers decided on the novel concept of Charlie Townsend giving the Angels their case information via a Western Electric Speakerphone and never showing up in person. Spelling hired veteran actor Gig Young for what amounted to a voiceover role, but when Young showed up to record his lines, he was drunk. A frantic Spelling called John Forsythe (Dynasty) at 12:30 a.m. and begged him to perform the part before he had to turn in the pilot to ABC executives. Forsythe drove to the 20th Century Fox lot in his bedroom slippers to do Spelling the favor; he wound up on the show for its entire five-year run.

4. FARRAH FAWCETT’S CONTRACT STIPULATED SHE FINISHED SHOOTING IN TIME TO COOK HER BIONIC HUSBAND’S DINNER.

Farrah Fawcett, a.k.a. Farrah Fawcett-Majors, was known mainly for shampoo commercials and for being the wife of The Six Million Dollar Man star Lee Majors before being cast in Angels. While she would shortly eclipse Jackson as the star of the show—her agent, Jay Bernstein, planted her on as many magazine covers as possible—her primary focus was her marriage. Her contract with Spelling stipulated that she was finished with each day’s shooting at exactly 7 p.m. to make it home in time to cook dinner for Majors.

5. AT THE HEIGHT OF ANGELS MANIA, FAWCETT QUIT.

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The show was an enormous hit for ABC, easily winning its time slot and delivering some of the best ratings the network had ever seen. What could go wrong? Plenty: before the end of the first season, Fawcett-Majors announced she was leaving the show. According to People, marital trouble and a desire to move to film work was behind the departure. ABC, which had a verbal agreement with her, sued. Eventually, Fawcett-Majors was released from her contract conditional on making six guest appearances during the next two seasons. Cheryl Ladd played her character’s sister, Kris Munroe, beginning in season two; ratings remained high.

6. THE SHOW WAS AFFECTED BY DUSTIN HOFFMAN.

Kate Jackson was already growing tired of the show’s simplistic narratives when the shooting schedule forced her to pass on an opportunity to star opposite Dustin Hoffman in 1979’s divorce drama Kramer vs. Kramer. The role went to Meryl Streep, who won an Oscar. A dismayed Jackson was alleged to have become more unpleasant on set, prompting producers to let her go before the start of the fourth season. Michelle Pfeiffer was considered before model Shelley Hack was brought in to replace Jackson.

7. THE FARRAH POSTER CAME BEFORE THE SHOW AIRED.

Fawcett-Majors adorned more bedroom walls than sheetrock in the late 1970s, having posed for a now-iconic bathing suit shoot that went on to sell over 12 million copies. The photographer, Bruce McBloom, was a friend of the Majors family and had been enlisted by ABC to take publicity shots during the filming of the pilot in 1976. Months later, McBloom got a call saying Fawcett-Majors was the only Angel who had agreed to pose for a poster; she insisted McBloom be the cameraman. He did the session at her house—with the actress swapping out a bikini for the red swimsuit—six months before Angels aired. In 2009, the outfit was donated to the Smithsonian.  

8. THE NETWORK ALWAYS WANTED TO SHOW CHARLIE.

Forsythe was never seen on camera in the series, but ABC continually pushed for an episode where the women would finally have a face-to-face with their boss. Producer Leonard Goldberg told the Archive of American Television that the network “talked often about the episode where you got to see Charlie. Every year the network would say, ‘Sweeps are coming. Let’s show Charlie.’” Ultimately, they couldn’t be persuaded.  

9. THE CLOTHES BUDGET WAS $20,000 PER EPISODE.

Charlie’s Angels stuck to its promise of glossy content, with viewers virtually guaranteed the ladies would fight crime while sporting the latest in high fashion. To that end, producers spared no expense in the show’s wardrobe department, allotting $20,000 per episode. (Even the shoes, which were rarely onscreen, were high-end.) Costumes were changed a minimum of eight times per hour. Fawcett-Majors broke some kind of record when, during one of her guest appearances, she sported 12 different outfits.

10. THEY VISITED THE LOVE BOAT.

To help draw attention to the 1979-80 season with new Jackson replacement Shelley Hack, Spelling had the team visit the dock of his highly successful series The Love Boat to investigate a $5 million stash of gold and bronze. While the network expected a ratings bump for Hack, it was not to be: the actress was written out of the show by the end of the season. She did not take it well. “A business decision was made,” she told People in 1980. “Change the time slot or bring on some new publicity. How to get publicity? A new Angel hunt. Who is the obvious person to replace? I am—the new kid on the block.” Tanya Roberts became the sixth (and final) Angel for the show’s last season.

11. AN ALL-MALE SPIN-OFF WAS ATTEMPTED.

Seemingly misunderstanding the appeal of Charlie’s Angels down to its very marrow, Spelling arranged for a spin-off titled Toni’s Boys. The Boys backdoor pilot, which was part of the show’s fourth season, featured three men going undercover at the behest of a female Charlie named Toni Blake (Barbara Stanwyck). Toni had a friendly rivalry with Charlie, and used a rodeo rider and athlete among her operatives. Spelling promised a series if the public “took to it,” which they did not.

12. REVIVAL ATTEMPTS HAVE RARELY BEEN SUCCESSFUL.

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Fans have not been kind toward previous attempts to rekindle that ‘70s-era Angel aesthetic. While the Drew Barrymore-produced feature performed well in 2000, its 2003 sequel was a disappointment; Spelling himself tried with Angels ’88, which was victimized by a Writers Guild strike that year, was delayed for so long it became Angels '89 and then never aired; a 2011 revival made it only four episodes. It was recently reported that actress-director Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect) will try again for Sony Pictures.

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15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
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People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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18 Tea Infusers to Make Teatime More Exciting
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Make steeping tea more fun with these quirky tea infusers.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. SOAKING IT UP; $7.49

man-shaped tea infuser
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That mug of hot water might eventually be a drink for you, but first it’s a hot bath for your new friend, who has special pants filled with tea.

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2. A FLYING TEA BOX; $25.98

There’s no superlaser on this Death Star, just tea.

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3. SPACE STATION; $9.99

astronaut tea infuser
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This astronaut's mission? Orbit the rim of your mug until you're ready to pull the space station diffuser out.

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4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

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5. A RIBBITING OPTION; $10.93

This frog hangs on to the side of your mug with a retractable tongue. When the tea is ready, you can put him back on his lily pad.

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6. ‘TEA’ ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE; $5.95

It’s just like the movie, only with tea instead of Beatles.

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7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

shark tea infuser
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This fearsome shark patrols the bottom of your mug waiting for prey. For extra fun, use red tea to look like the end of a feeding frenzy.

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8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

This umbrella’s handle conveniently hooks to the side of your mug.

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9. AN EGGCELLENT INFUSER; $5.75

cracked egg tea infuser
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Sometimes infusers are called tea eggs, and this one takes the term to a new, literal level.

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10. FOR SQUIRRELY DRINKERS; $8.95

If you’re all right with a rodent dunking its tail into your drink, this is the infuser for you.

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11. HANGING OUT; $12.85

This pug is happy to hang onto your mug and keep you company while you wait for the tea to be ready.

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12. ANOTHER SHARK OPTION; $5.99

If you thought letting that other shark infuser swim around in the deep water of your glass was too scary, this one perches on the edge, too busy chomping on your mug to worry about humans.

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13. RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE; $8.95

Let this rubber duckie peacefully float in your cup and make teatime lots of fun.

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14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

This old-timey deep-sea diver comes with an oxygen tank that you can use to pull it out.

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15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

This lollipop won't actually make your tea any sweeter, but you can always add some sugar after.

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16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

When Santa comes, give him some tea to go with the cookies.

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17. FLORAL TEA; $14.99

Liven up any cup of tea with this charming flower. When you’re done, you can pop it right back into its pot.

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18. KEEP IT TRADITIONAL; $7.97

If you’re nostalgic for the regular kind of tea bag, you can get reusable silicon ones that look almost the same.

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