ONE OF THE first times that Morgan Fairchild spoke at--rather than just attended--a political function, she wore a fur coat. To be exact, a white, full-length badger coat. This, to an abortion-rights march sponsored by the National Organization for Women. Along with Fairchild's blond coxcomb of hair and theatrical makeup, it made her look--as one feminist at the event put it less than charitably--"like a beauty queen."
So there she was, jet-lagged, having just flown in from Italy. It was pouring rain, and she had a sinus infection--the reason she wore the fur coat in the first place. Once the organizers got an eyeful of her, they treated her with the distant chill usually reserved for party crashers. Oh, some of the women came up and said "Hi" and "Thank you for coming," but Fairchild could see that look in their eyes. It was a forlornness that said, "We're glad that a celebrity showed, but why did it have to be you?"
Still, she marched. Along with a crowd of 30,000, Fairchild splashed and slid her way to the Rancho Park destination while her coat turned gutter-water brown. When they got to the rally, most of the guest speakers didn't feel like getting any wetter. But Fairchild figured that the crowd--now ankle-deep in mud--deserved to "hear something. " So she gave her speech, which focused on abortion as a "basic inalienable right: the right to decide what to do with your own body." By all accounts, her address was moving, ironic and well-informed; when she finished, the once-skeptical audience reacted. Suddenly, Fairchild recalls, "all these women were coming over and hugging me, saying: 'I didn't know you could talk like that. Would you talk to our group?' "
She saw that moment as "a turning point in the way that some people in the political arena viewed me. . . . Because I realized that they had responded to me, that I had touched people.
"Before I got involved, I never thought anyone would give a damn about what I thought. I'm a television actor--who would care? Then I found out that I could help focus attention to an issue in a positive way. That was something I was blind to before."
AT 38, Morgan Fairchild knows that on first sight some people will think she is a bimbo. "When you're blond and drop-dead beautiful like Morgan," theorizes Fairchild's friend, actress and political activist Shelley Duvall, "people sometimes think you don't have any brains, which is just not the case (with Fairchild)."
And it can be disconcerting to hear a pop-culture icon talking about AIDS, toxic waste, deforestation and overpopulation. Both the public and Hollywood casting agents see Morgan Fairchild, who started on daytime TV in "Search for Tomorrow" and moved on to "Flamingo Road," "Paper Dolls" and "Falcon Crest," as a staple of the evening soap. Her charm-school haughtiness has elevated prime-time sexiness to a dizzyingly pristine level. The concept of Morgan Fairchild became such a stereotype that just by appearing in the film "Pee-wee's Big Adventure" she was spoofing herself. Only a year and a half ago her name was the butt of Jon Lovitz's most popular routine on "Saturday Night Live": As pathological liar Tommy Flanagan, Lovitz played off her antiseptic sex-symbol image by boasting about "My wife, uh . . . Morgan Fairchild. "
But in the past year, especially, Morgan Fairchild has found success in the political community, and some activists are suggesting, in all seriousness, that she should run for office. She has a substantive grasp of the issues and an impressive talent for making extemporaneous speeches--as well as a self-deprecating wit. Recently, for instance, she testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in favor of the California Desert Protection Act. After standing before the Washington press corps, "who were waiting for me to fall on my face," Fairchild was asked about the almost bewilderingly enthusiastic reception that followed her speech. "Honey, with my reputation," she responded, "people are surprised that I can walk and chew gum at the same time." For publicity-hungry politicians, she's clearly a valuable, if unlikely, asset.