‘How I still look like an angel at 74’: Jaclyn Smith has married four times, battled breast cancer and set up a business empire. Now as Charlie’s Angels returns to the big screen, the star of the original TV hit reveals how she kept her youthful appearance
- Jaclyn Smith has said she eats healthy and exercises regularly to keep her youth
- She uses face peels and rejuvenating lasers but avoids major cosmetic surgery
- The star was one of the original trio of the detective drama Charlie’s Angels
The years seem to slip away as Jaclyn Smith, 74, struts and poses for a photoshoot outside her beautiful white Los Angeles mansion.
The hair is as bouncy and lustrous as ever, the figure slender and her glamour undimmed. At any moment one expects the disembodied voice of Charlie to come booming over the phone: ‘Angel: time to go to work.’
As one of the original trio of Charlie’s Angels — the fabulously silly Seventies American crime‑drama series featuring three beautiful private detectives — Jaclyn is the most enduring.
She was the only one to last the full five years of the series, as other Angels came and went.
Jaclyn Smith has now said that although she uses face peels and rejuvenating lasers, she has avoided major cosmetic surgery
Later, she became known as ‘queen of the mini-series’ and took on multiple leading roles in TV films, ranging from Florence Nightingale to Jackie Kennedy, the latter earning her a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress.
In 1985 she entered the business world with her collection of women’s clothing for U.S. department store Kmart, pioneering the concept of celebrities masterminding their own brands, not just endorsing others.
Her fashion and beauty empire now includes home furnishings, wigs and skincare products.
A trailblazer in her personal life, too, she had already married three times by the time she had her two children in her late 30s. ‘I’m all for people not putting up with mess,’ she says of her early divorces.
‘Gorgeous, beautiful,’ coo the crew around her as she strikes different poses. ‘Good acting, guys,’ says Jaclyn briskly, knowing she is being flattered. She is reluctant to look at the pictures as they are taken. ‘I have a hard time looking at myself,’ she explains.
Her rambling $25 million (£19.3 million) house with its extensive gardens is set back from LA’s Sunset Boulevard, up a long curving driveway dotted with magnolia bushes.
Inside, it is beautifully furnished with antiques. Elegant rooms span off a sweeping staircase and a chandelier is suspended above the central hallway, home to a grandfather clock.
Shelves are filled with leather-bound albums of her magazine clippings, trophies, china figurines and family photographs.
The actress (pictured in 1974) rose to fame as one of the original trio of Charlie’s Angels — the fabulously silly Seventies American crime‑drama series
The star (pictured right) was the only one to last the full five years of the series, as other Angels came and went
Multiple members of staff are engaged in various tasks: watering flowers, preparing lunch, cleaning. Jaclyn is the serene presence at the centre of this whirlwind of activity. She is filming a television documentary when I arrive, her surprisingly loud voice booming out from a distant drawing room.
In person, she is warm and solicitous rather than imperious. ‘Has anyone offered you lunch yet?’ she asks the moment she meets me.
At last, she sits down. Dressed from head to toe in cream, she wears an elegant shirt with flowing bell-shaped sleeves, trousers from her Kmart brand and Celine stilettos.
Fabulously wealthy, she does not need to work these days. She could be sitting by her pool reading magazines and drinking cocktails.
‘Yes, I could,’ she agrees. ‘But I think I’m a worker. I’ve been a worker ever since I was a little girl. I love making my way. Also, Kmart is a way of giving back: it’s all about making things affordable. Today, there’s no reason why a woman can’t be beautifully dressed and have a beautiful home if she shops right. You don’t have to spend a fortune.’
She is enthusiastic about the new Charlie’s Angels movie, the third in the film series, released this month and starring Kristen Stewart. ‘What’s interesting is what a winning concept it is and how it can repeat itself in different ways,’ she says.
Jaclyn had a cameo in the movie version produced in 2003 by Drew Barrymore but will not appear in this one.
‘I think the power of women standing together is very appropriate today. [In Charlie’s Angels] we had each other’s back and cheered each other on.’
Jacklyn is enthusiastic about the new Charlie’s Angels movie, the third in the film series, released this month and starring Kristen Stewart (right), Naomi Scott (left) and Ella Balinska (centre)
It is hard now to emphasise what a phenomenon Charlie’s Angels was when it premiered in 1976. Until then, women on TV were primarily depicted as housewives and arm candy while hard-edged cop shows were entirely the preserve of men, with no female lead in sight.
Suddenly, these Angels exploded on to the screen with their guns and karate kicks. OK, their unlikely cases always seemed to require that they don bikinis or cocktail dresses — but it still felt revolutionary.
By the end of the first series it was consistently rated in the top ten drama shows both in Britain and in the U.S.. ‘We were rock stars,’ says Jaclyn simply.
This is no exaggeration: they received thousands of letters a week and guards were stationed outside their hotel rooms — ‘otherwise people would be knocking on our doors all night long’.
A list of over-zealous fans was compiled. ‘We had a nut file,’ chuckles Jaclyn. ‘And there were some restraining orders put out for me against fans. One person delivered the same letter every day for a year.’
Of course, the show was controversial. ‘The feminists didn’t like us because they said we were Barbie dolls prancing around. We wore pretty things, but we didn’t flaunt our sexuality. It wasn’t salacious.’
Yes, she agrees, there were a lot of bikinis. ‘But I didn’t feel exploited. I would have walked away if I felt that. In my heart of hearts, I knew who I was.’
When Jaclyn began on the show, she earned $5,000 an episode; by the time she left, it was $40,000. The Angels were also involved in the merchandising spin-offs, receiving a cut of the profits. ‘They did lunch kits and hair accessories . . . and we were part of the design of our dolls.’
She says that the bond between the original three Angels — Jaclyn, Farrah Fawcett and Kate Jackson — was the strongest.
The actress met her husband Brad Allen (left), a heart surgeon, when he operated on her father in Houston nearly 30 years ago
‘We went across that bridge, and in a blink of an eye our lives changed. To be in a show that’s a hit, that’s rare. I guess that’s why we’re talking about it 40 years later.’
Of the differences between the trio, she says: ‘Farrah was this luscious pin-up but very innocent. Kate was cerebral and outspoken. I remember being described as a soft cushion between analytical Kate and flashy Farrah.’
In a 1976 article she was also described as the most placid of the trio. I ask her if this is accurate.
‘What is the definition of placid?’ she asks. I tell her I think it means she was even-tempered and perhaps didn’t speak up for herself.
‘Oh, I spoke up for myself,’ she chuckles. ‘Maybe not at the beginning as much — that’s some learned behaviour. But you’ve got to protect yourself. It made it interesting that we all had such different demeanours.’
Born in Houston, Texas, the daughter of a dentist, Jaclyn had hoped to become a dancer and moved to New York to join the Balanchine School of American Ballet. ‘I was very homesick. It was just another world,’ she says.
Soon, she found herself drifting into commercials, then acting. She was the third Angel to be cast. Even though they were looking for a redhead to counterbalance blonde Fawcett and brunette Jackson, her immediate chemistry with the other two won over producer Aaron Spelling.
By then aged 30, she was already divorced from the first of her four husbands, actor Roger Davis. Her second marriage, to another actor, Dennis Cole, ended in 1981 after just three years. But in any case she doesn’t count either of these two unions.
‘I don’t count the first ones. They were no good,’ says Jaclyn. ‘In my innocence, [I thought] you didn’t live with somebody [unless you were married]. I got smart, though.’
Given her time again, would she not have married them? ‘Probably not. Why waste my time?’
Part of the problem was that they could not cope with her success. ‘They were both actors and they didn’t like it.’ But she was reluctant to give up her quest for the perfect partner: ‘I love commitment, I love marriage, I kept trying until I got it right.’
Her third husband was British cinematographer Tony Richmond, with whom she had her two children, Gaston, who’s now 37 and a cameraman, and Spencer Margaret, 33, a designer and yoga instructor.
‘It would have worked with Tony, but I couldn’t deal with drugs, I couldn’t deal with alcohol. Thank goodness he’s OK now. He’s been clean for 20-odd years. I’m really proud of him. And he’s a great father. The one thing we can’t deny: we created two beautiful children together.’
She met Brad Allen, a heart surgeon, when he operated on her father in Houston nearly 30 years ago.
One evening, after he had done his rounds, Jaclyn’s mother asked him to walk Jaclyn to her car. ‘I thought: ‘He’s just being nice to Mom.’ And then we had dinner, and what we had in common was our love of family.’
They have now been married for 22 years. Brad, 65, has no children of his own but was very close to his own parents. ‘He’s an incredible stepfather. My children are his and Bea [her two-year-old granddaughter] calls him Pop-Pop.’
We can see Brad through the window practising his golf swing. ‘I’d like to take that golf club and throw it,’ she says, rolling her eyes.
They do not live a glitzy life, says Jaclyn. ‘I’m a homebody. I need to venture out a little more. But I’m a grandmother now, and if I have a chance to babysit, it wins over everything.’
In 2002 she discovered a lump on her breast. ‘You go into a tailspin but we caught it early.
‘I said to the doctor: ‘Am I going to be here for my children?’ And he said: ‘Most definitely.’ I had a lumpectomy with radiation.’
Bizarrely, all three of the original Angels developed cancer. Kate developed breast cancer early on and recovered. Farrah died aged 62 in 2009 of a rare form of anal cancer.
Jaclyn says: ‘We were like, ‘What the heck happened? Were we drinking a certain water?’ ‘
Since her mother died ten years ago, she has found it impossible to return to Houston.
‘Every corner is a memory,’ she says, her eyes shining. ‘And I don’t take her number off my phone.
‘I have an obsessive love for my family,’ sighs Jaclyn. ‘I think I’m abnormal.’
And the secret of her age-defying looks? She eats healthily — ‘lots of berries and vegetables’ — exercises regularly and does not smoke or drink. ‘You’re looking at a clean-living girl.’
Although she uses face peels and rejuvenating lasers, she says she has avoided major cosmetic surgery. ‘You want to be careful because you want to look like yourself. You don’t want to look plastic.’
Besides, she says, she has Brad to reckon with. ‘There are little things I would like to do, but Brad doesn’t want me to: he knows surgery can go wrong.’
In many ways they are like chalk and cheese: at night time she likes to watch television in bed, whereas he is very particular about his sleeping environment. ‘He believes it has to be 65 degrees, it has to be dark, it has to be quiet. He wears a mask and plugs in his ears, and I go: ‘This is not a turn-on, Brad.’ ‘
Unlike him, Jaclyn finds it hard to fall asleep.
‘He gets into bed, puts his head on the pillow and, boom, he’s asleep,’ she says. ‘I want to hit him. So I turn on the TV and watch it with captions.’
Despite her age, she has no plans to retire.
‘I remember once saying: ‘I really want to challenge myself.’ And, believe me, I got that wish. I feel very proud at my age to still be doing it all.
‘But if it all ended tomorrow, I’d be a happy woman.’
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