When people hear Farrah Fawcett’s name, the first thing that comes to their minds is her iconic red swimsuit poster. With over 12 million copies sold, it became the best-selling poster of all time.
It’s considered to be one of the last pinup posters – before the 1970s came around, and people’s view of sexuality became looser. Farrah’s picture was basically art to those who possessed it. Even today, it’s impossible not to admire her radiant beauty.
Million copies of the infamous poster have been sold since its debut in 1976, turning it into the engine that drove two Ohio brothers from college dropouts to multimillionaires running poster empire Pro Arts Inc.
Mike and Ted Trikilis were trying to make money selling black-light posters to hippies at Kent State before the swimsuit poster turned them into celebrities in their own right, with their services being hightly sought by Hollywood stars. Ted was even crowned the “King of the Posters” by The Washington Post.
Early in the summer of 1976, the brothers received a package containing 25 shots of Fawcett in a red swimsuit. She had marked her favorite with a star. It featured gleaming white teeth, windblown hair, and… her nipple.
Ted Trikilis showed the photographs around the office and took notes about differing opinions as to which photo they should use. In the end though, they went with the one Fawcett herself had chosen.
Once published the poster became an instant sensation, and sales continued to increase exponentially over the following months. Pro Arts did $2 million in business that year. In 1977 the company turned over its inventory 24 times, selling 3 million copies of the poster in February and March alone. The sales craze netted $6 million in revenue, $1 million of which was pure profit.
The blitz would later be dubbed “the Farrah Phenomenon.” For her one-season run on “Charlie’s Angels” Fawcett was paid $5,000 per episode — but she earned $400,000 in royalties from the poster.
In February of this year, the actress sued Bio-Graphics, Inc, Pie International Inc. and author T.N. Trikilis, who collectively claimed to own exclusive rights to the iconic photo.
In the suit, Fawcett claimed that Trikilis had “falsely asserted to third parties that [she] did not own any rights in the photographs.” The actress claimed that she “owns and possesses all the photographs and negatives taken at the shoot.”
Fawcett initially requested $100,000 minimum, but entered into a dismissal May 11.
Story Behind the Iconic Photoshoot
Surprisingly, the photographer didn’t meticulously planned the famous shot. A poster company executive wanted Fawcett to do something “sexy” and “wearing a bikini.” The chosen photo artist, Bruce McBroom, remembers that they couldn’t decide on what Farrah should have worn.
The photoshoot took place at Farrah’s house, but she didn’t have a bikini there. McBroom suggested choosing something, in which she could look good. Fawcett came out in a red number, and the photographer instantly knew that was it.
McBroom remembered Farrah as a wonderful person to work with. She even did her own hair and makeup on the set.
“Why it was so iconic I don’t know. If you think back, no one knew who Farrah Fawcett was. Charlie’s Angels didn’t come out until six months later. But this poster came out and sold millions of copies… I think the reason it was such a success is that Farrah had such a fresh face. She was the girl next door. So if you were a teenager, you could bring this in the house and put it up in your room — as long as Mom didn’t look too closely.” – McBroom recalled.
Here are some other photographs from the photoshoot:
What Happened to the Swimsuit?
After Farrah Fawcett’s untimely death in 2009, her husband, Ryan O’Neil, donated the iconic red swimsuit to the Smithsonian in 2011. According to O’Neil, Farrah wanted to do that all along.
“It’s an honor to see Farrah’s famous red bathing suit donated to the Smithsonian Institution, celebrating her place in pop culture,” said O’Neal. “The swimsuit is exactly where it belongs, and I know Farrah is looking down on us today flashing that big smile that we all loved.”
“Farrah Fawcett has made an enduring impression on American popular culture,” said Brent D. Glass, director of the museum. “We are pleased to welcome this donation into our entertainment collections.”
Today, fans of Farrah’s iconic poster, can come to the museum, and admire the legendary swimsuit in person. That way, Fawcett’s memory will live forever.