"Once upon a time, there were three little girls who went to the police academy " And so began the iconic intro to a show that made overnight stars of two of "Charlie's Angels" - Farrah Fawcett-Majors and Jaclyn Smith - and further solidified the fame of the "smart angel," Kate Jackson, who had already made a name for herself on the classic cop show, "The Rookies. " Jackson gained a bit of notoriety for protesting the loudest against the objectification by the public and within the industry of the "T & A" trio as it changed faces through the years, later to include Cheryl Ladd, and to a lesser degree, Shelley Hack and Tanya Roberts. After flying the coop in 1979, Jackson would go on to further success as the star of her TV show, "Scarecrow and Mrs. King" but the scrappy actress would never fully clip the wings of the show that made her a household name and a cultural touchstone to young girls - now adults - who grew up imitating detective Sabrina Duncan and her beautiful co-horts.
Catherine Elise "Kate" Jackson was born on Oct. 29, 1948 in Birmingham, AL, the daughter of Hogan and Ruth Jackson and sister of Jenny Jackson. Her father was a wholesaler of building material and her mother a housewife. Ever since she was a little girl, Kate Jackson wanted to be an actress - going so far as to practice signing autographs to her friends on the playground. Every chance she got, she appeared in school productions and put on skits with her sister at the Brookhill School for Girls. While attending the University of Mississippi, Jackson left halfway through her sophomore year, to enroll at Southern College where she took her first theatre class. After a summer apprenticeship at the Stowe Playhouse in Stowe, VT, she moved to New York in 1968 and enrolled in the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts. She worked hard, appearing in such productions as "Night Must Fall," "Royal Gambit," "The Constant Wife" and "Little Moon of Alban."
After graduating from the Academy, Jackson auditioned for the wildly popular daytime horror soap "Dark Shadows" (ABC, 1966-1971) and landed a role with little trouble. "Dark Shadows" creator Dan Curtis was so impressed with Jackson, he chose her to star in the feature film "Night of Dark Shadows" (1971). After that brief bit of good fortune, Jackson decided to make the leap to Hollywood. Within months of arriving, she was recurring on "The Jimmy Stewart Show" (NBC, 1971-72); made a series of guest appearances on such shows as "Bonanza" (NBC, 1959-73); appeared in TV movies like "Movin' On" (1972) with David Soul (pre-"Starsky & Hutch" fame), and starred in Mark Robson's feature film "Limbo" (1972). Gaining as much experience as possible, Jackson also became a TV "scream queen" of sorts, paying her dues in such horror flicks as "Satan's School for Girls" (1973), "Killer Bees" (1974), "Death Cruise" (1974) and "Death at Love House" (1976).
Liking her classic, dark beauty, producers Aaron Spelling - who had a famous eye for stars-in-the-making - and Leonard Goldberg hired Jackson for their new police drama series "The Rookies" (ABC, 1972-76). As Nurse Jill Danko, she starred in the show for four years, and during that time, was bombarded with more fan mail than the rest of the cast. When the show was cancelled, Spelling would not soon forget the girl with "stardust in her eyes."
In 1976, the big bang occurred when Spelling cast Jackson as Sabrina "Bri" Duncan in his new all-female detective show, "Charlie's Angels" (ABC, 1976-1981). Industry heads and critics scoffed at the very idea of beautiful women running around, strapped with guns, solving crimes - all under the watchful eye of an unseen, but always heard, male benefactor. No matter. The night the show premiered to stratospheric ratings that bicentennial year, three stars were instantly born, with Jackson and her co-Angels, Farrah Fawcett-Majors and Jaclyn Smith, huddling close so as to weather the hysteria, which culminated with the Angels gracing the cover ofTime magazine.
Fawcett-Majors - easily the most popular and profiled of the three Angels that first year - was the first to exit stage right. Farrah-mania was so intense, what with the feathered bangs and nippled poster, that the actress and her actor husband, Lee ("Bionic Man") Majors, felt she would do better on her own. After only one season and at the peak of her fame, she unwisely left the show. Thankfully, "starmaker" Spelling still had an eye for talent, hiring another blonde beauty, Cheryl Ladd, to fill the void left by Fawcett-Majors. The show continued on, even gaining in the ratings with the new line-up. During Jackson's first year as Sabrina, she received the first of two Emmy nominations for Best Actress in a Dramatic Series and was also nominated as Best Supporting Actress for the NBC series pilot "James at 15" (1977).
For three years she was Charlie's smartest Angel, but she began to feel the constriction of her one-note character. To Jackson's credit, she refused to prance around in bikinis and further solidify the show as "jiggle TV." Sabrina Duncan was most often the first to solve the crime and to do it wearing a nice polyester pantsuit, while Ladd's Kris Munr and Smith's Kelly Garrett donned the skimpy clothing and usually ended up the damsels-in-distress by episode's end.
After Meryl Streep took the lead role in the landmark film "Kramer vs. Kramer," - netting her an Oscar for Best Actress along the way - a disappointed Jackson, who had had dibs on the role initially, vowed never to lose an important role because of her light-weight TV commitment. She had also just married actor Andrew Stevens and had grown tired of the constant interest in her off-screen romantic life. After the finale of season three in the spring of 1979, Jackson took off her halo permanently - leaving "Charlie's Angels" with no apparent leader. The break-up was quite acrimonious amongst the powers-that-be and the cast, but Jackson was determined to get out from under the weight of being one of "Charlie's Angels." Perfume model Shelley Hack, who had little-to-no acting experience, stepped in as a brainy replacement for Bri - but Jackson was a hard component to replace. The show teetered on for another two seasons, before being cancelled in 1981.
After leaving the show, Jackson concentrated on a quiet family life and creating a production company with her husband. They produced and starred in the TV remake of the classic Cary Grant film "Topper" (1979). There was a pilot for another series, but it never came to be. Sadly, Jackson's plans came too late to save her marriage. After the couple divorced in 1980, she focused on her acting career again, starring in various TV films - "Thin Ice" (1981) and "Listen To Your Heart" (1983) - as well as two big screen films, the poorly reviewed "Dirty Tricks" (1981) and the controversial but ahead-of-its-time "Making Love" (1982) co-starring Harry Hamlin and Michael Ontkean, a film that received excellent reviews, but was a hard sell with its homosexual content.
In 1983, she returned to TV with the CBS spy-comedy series "Scarecrow and Mrs. King" (1983-1987), with her new production company, Shoot The Moon (with new husband David Greenwald), producing the show. She divorced Greenwald in 1984, and then in 1987, beautiful as ever, she had her incredible legs insured for $8 million. Unfortunately, that same year she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and again in 1989 - news that brought TV's original Angels, Smith and Fawcett, back together again in support of their sick friend. After a partial mastectomy and radiation, Jackson won her fight with the deadly disease and shared her experience with the public in order to highlight the importance of yearly mammograms. She even appeared on the cover of People magazine to detail her struggle. Inside, she recounted the life-changing experience: "I had to decide whether I wanted to live or to die. Once you choose life, as I did, it's never the same."
After that scare, Jackson reprised Diane Keaton's role in the NBC show "Baby Boom" (1988), based upon the hit feature film, but the show lasted only a few months. Jackson's impressive assertiveness landed her a role in the big screen comedy "Loverboy" (1989), playing Patrick Dempsey's mother. In 1994, after a few more TV films, she had open-heart surgery after she discovered she was born with an ASD - Atrial Spetal Defect or a "hole in her heart." She made a complete recovery, but was inspired to inform women of the stunning statistics - that one out of every two women die of heart disease.
In 1995, with the help of friend Rosie O'Donnell, she adopted a son, Charles Taylor - just two hours after his birth. She continued her prolific acting career as well as her philanthropic work as well. In 1999, the Israel Cancer Research Fund's annual "Women of Action" luncheon honored Jackson for her work on behalf of preventing breast cancer and was recognized with the research fund's Humanitarian Award. She also received recognition on behalf of her work with children and animals. In recent years, she became the spokesperson for the American Heart Association's Power of Love fundraising campaign.
Back on both screens, She made guest appearances on "Ally McBeal" (Fox, 1997-2002); starred in the remake of "Satan's School for Girls" (2000), a film she had originally starred in; gave a powerful performance in the independent film "A Mother's Testimony" (2001); did a guest voice in the animated show "The Family Guy" (Comedy Central, 1999- ); and was offered a cameo role in the film version of "Charlie's Angels" (2000). However, regarding the latter, negotiations fell through after she insisted on playing the villainous role that eventually went to the younger Kelly Lynch.
For a woman never comfortable in a miniskirt or low-cut blouse, Jackson ranked at a surprisingly high #18 on FHM magazine's "100 Sexiest Women of All Time" list. A further surprise, considering her long-standing disdain for the show that made her a pop cultural icon, Jackson reunited on stage with her fellow "Angels," Fawcett and Smith, in tribute to Aaron Spelling, the man who made them all stars, during the 2006 Emmy Awards telecast. The potentially jaded crowd were wildly enthusiastic to see the original "Charlie's Angels" together, with Jackson, true to form, declaring to cheers, "We're taking the brand back!" - a not-so-subtle slam on the later film versions, starring Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu.