Morgan Fairchild was a shy fifth grader who couldn’t give an oral book report to her class when her mother figured out a way to push her daughter into the spotlight. “My mom decided that my shyness was going to be incapacitating, so she enrolled me in drama class,” Fairchild recalls. “My sister really wanted to go. I threw up every Saturday before we left.”
After some initial bumps, Fairchild found her groove on the stage and began to enjoy it. Eventually, she auditioned for the Junior Players Guild in Dallas. “This is the kind of difference that one adult can make in a kid’s life,” she reflects. “That director gave us both little parts. We were wood nymphs dancing around Snow White in the forest. I don’t know if I’d have ever had the nerve to go back if he hadn’t given us a little job. Just that little bit of kindness made a whole difference in my life.”
Fairchild kept plugging away in the theater, then ultimately moved to New York City, where she was cast pretty quickly on SEARCH FOR TOMORROW as Jennifer in 1973. “I got SEARCH, but I couldn’t get an agent,” she recalls. “Nobody thought I had the right look for New York in ’73. Everybody kept saying, ‘Oh, no, you’re too elegant,’ ‘You’re too porcelain,’ ‘You’re too this, you’re too that,’ so I went over to Eileen Ford [modeling agency] and I got in their commercial department.” Because she was an actress, she was sent to audition for the soap. “I was told, ‘Okay, this is a big break for us, we’re trying to break into the soap opera market and you are our one person who can talk.’ So I went over and I auditioned and I didn’t get it. But they called right back and said, ‘Oh, we had somebody we hired to play the bitch a few weeks ago and she’s not working out, we want to hire Morgan for that.’ So I replaced someone to go on as Jennifer Pace on SEARCH, and it was just kind of the luck of the draw.”
Fairchild wound up spending four years on the soap, and admits she wasn’t expecting to be written out in 1977. “I had gone out to L.A. to sort of test the waters on my vacation, and they seemed to be a little stressed out about that,” she explains. “But then I stayed another year or two. I was in shock when they said, ‘We’re going to let you go,’ because Susan Lucci [ex-Erica, ALL MY CHILDREN] and I had become sort of the bitch goddesses of daytime, so I was kind of surprised they made that decision. But rather than panic, I just thought, ‘Well, this is my shot to go to L.A. and see if I can make it in L.A. If I can’t, I’ll come back here and try for another show.’ ”
The actress never looked back, quickly booking roles on HAPPY DAYS and THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, and in 1978, joined the cast of the prime-time soap DALLAS. “We were shooting in Dallas and it was over 100 degrees, and a lot of the people weren’t used to it, so people would actually faint on the set,” she says. “[The late] Larry Hagman [ex-J.R.] and I were the only ones with real Texas accents, because he was from Weatherford, Texas. People were kind of doing bad Southern accents, and the director or somebody started saying, ‘Go over to Morgan and Larry and have them say this to you.’ So people would come over and show us the scripts and say, ‘Read that to me in Texan so I can hear what it should sound like.’ Larry and I had great fun. Larry and Linda [Gray, ex-Sue Ellen] were just wonderful. Linda and I have stayed friends over the years, and I see Pat Duffy [ex-Bobby] from time to time. I loved working with him. It was a fun group of people.”
In 1980, her stardom was solidified after being cast as Constance in another prime-time soap, FLAMINGO ROAD. “It was just a lovely group of people to come into work with every day,” she praises. “Before FLAMINGO, I’d done a few miniseries and a bunch of TV movies, so I was used to people recognizing me, but FLAMINGO — oh, my God. I mean, I couldn’t go anywhere, and all they wanted me to do was press, press, press, press, press. So, every weekend, I was doing photo shoots.”
Fairchild went on to appear in a variety of productions, both on the big and small screen and the stage. These days, she says she gets recognized a lot for playing Chandler’s mother, Nora, on FRIENDS. “The new generation — that’s the main thing they know me from — and Pee-wee’s Big Adventure because that still plays. But FRIENDS was great. They called and offered it to me and at the age I was then, I had not yet played the mother of a grown son. So I took the job and a bunch of my friends were saying, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t do that! You’re not old enough to be that guy’s mother! This will put you in a whole other category!’ I said, ‘Well, I’ve got to go there sometime.’ The show wasn’t a big hit yet [the first time she appeared in 1995], but I saw the potential. So I said yes, and then they promo’d it very heavily, and the two Matthews [Perry and LeBlanc] came up to me, I think at a Blockbuster or something, they were on lunch break and they said, ‘You got us in the top 10! You got us in the top 10!’ So it was really fun because they were always writing great material. It was a great cast, really, really nice people.”
She returned to daytime twice, on THE CITY from 1995-96 and B&B in 2009, before recently making her DAYS debut as Anjelica. “It was interesting to see the way everything had changed a lot,” she observes. “Everybody was so wonderful and very helpful. I have two new best friends in Deidre [Hall, Marlena/Hattie] and Judi [Evans, Adrienne/Bonnie]. We just had a great time. You have no idea how much fun we had.”
As she looks back on her successful path as a working actress, Fairchild marvels at the fact that without her mother’s push, she may not have found her calling as a performer. “I always say, ‘I have a career because my fear of the stage was only second to the fear of my mother,’ ” she cracks. But she wouldn’t have done anything differently, she adds. “You always look back and think, ‘I wish I’d been up for that movie,’ or, ‘I wish I had gotten that series that I thought I should’ve gotten,’ or whatever, but it’s always the luck of the draw. You always do the best with what material you’ve got. Having been cast on some of the prime-time soaps kind of stereotyped me, but at the same time it made me famous. I made a whole career out of playing bitches a lot, which is not where I thought I’d be, because I always thought I looked like the ingénue. But I just always wanted to work. I like to work and I always am.”
So, just how did Patsy Ann McClenny become Morgan Fairchild? It started in 1966, when a friend told her to see the movie Morgan! starring David Warner. “Morgan was a man who lived in his fantasies,” she begins. “And that was me living in my fantasies, just getting through adolescence in Texas, wanting to be a theater person and figuring out, ‘How can I ever do this?’ When I was getting divorced [from Jack Calmes in 1973], I thought, ‘I’d worked under my maiden name and I’d worked under my married name, and I was just damned if I was going to put his name in lights for the rest of my life. As long as I’m starting over and moving to New York, I’m just going to become who I want to be. I’m not going to be what everybody else wants me to be.’ And I wanted to be Morgan. I was trying to figure out a good last name to go with it, without sounding like a stripper or something, so I was having pizza one night with a friend of mine who said, ‘What about Fairchild?’ The minute I heard the two of them together, I knew that was me. I went to do my first theater show with my new name and nobody knew me. I walked in as Morgan Fairchild and people said, ‘Oh, yes! I know you, I’ve heard of you.’ It just sounded like somebody you’d heard of [laughs]. So, I instantly became Morgan Fairchild.”
Did You Know?
• Fairchild’s first professional job was in 1967 as a double for Faye Dunaway during the location filming of Bonnie and Clyde.
• While doing his “Pathological Liar” bit on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE in the ’80s, Jon Lovitz regularly claimed to be married to Fairchild.
• The actress was inducted into the Texas Film Hall of Fame in 2008.
Just The Facts
Birthday: February 3
Hails From: Dallas, TX
Birth Name: Patsy Ann McClenny
Girl Time: “I was one of those little kids with glasses, blind as a bat, always sick, with white hair, white eyelashes, white eyebrows, and I was always in advanced placement classes.”
Daytime Diva: Fairchild played Jennifer Pace on SEARCH FOR TOMORROW from 1973-77; Sydney Chase on THE CITY from 1995-96; and Dorothy on B&B in 2009.
Guilty Pleasure: “Chocolate.”
Favorite Spa Service: “Massage. I have a lot of back injuries, so massage is my favorite thing.”
Just Relax: “I’m a political news junkie, so I kind of relax by reading. I read a lot of history just for fun and go for long walks. I like being outside in nature.”
Pet Set: “I’m big on rescue animals, and so I have six rescue cats. Four of them are black cats. It’s always harder to adopt the black cats because people are superstitious, but the black cats are fabulous. They have wonderful personalities.”
Reboot It: “I keep trying to get [Executive Producer] Leonard Goldberg to bring PAPER DOLLS back. I keep saying, ‘It still works! I could still play Racine! Bring it back, bring it back!’ ”
Getting Social: Follow her on Twitter @morgfair.