The Feminist and the Fuzz (1971)

This is a very dated television film, but it represented a worthy issue in American society. This might have been portrayed as a war between men and women, but is was actually a battle of a changing times.

Forty-eight years later, the battle looks a bit different, but equality is every bit an important issue.

This TV movie posed the question, could a male cop and a female doctor, who don’t know each other, and have very different views on male/female relationships, coexist sharing an apartment? Well, if they could, there would be no need for this film. The notion of a male and female living together is interesting, particularly for 1971, but if there is no drama, or hilarity, let’s watch Bonanza instead.

A very young Farrah Fawcett.

David Hartman plays Jerry, a cop, who is also a compassionate but sexist law student, who dates a Playboy bunny played by Farrah Fawcett. Sounds interesting already.

Barbara Eden plays Jane, a doctor, whose boyfriend, played by the equally compassionate Herb Edelman, is an attorney who represents the oppressed.

Jane and Jerry are looking for an apartment in San Francisco, not your most economical of cities to find affordable housing. They arrive to look at the apartment at the same time, however Jerry has just given Jane a traffic ticket, in part because she insists that he treat her no different than he would a man.  In addition to the ticket, he has a female bystander pat her down.  That was probably over the top, even for this comedy.

1971: (L-R) Barbara Eden, David Hartman appearing in the ABC tv movie ‘The Feminist and the Fuzz’. (Photo by ABC via Getty Images)

Jerry decides to let Jane have the apartment, as he is being chivalrous, which upsets her, but also gives her a guilty feeling.  She proposes that they share the apartment because she works days and he works nights, and they would hardly see each other.

Jane and Jerry discuss the arrangement.

Her boyfriend is okay with the arrangement, he’s liberal minded and trusts her. Jerry hides it from his girlfriend.

The story needs some complications to test the arrangement, and there are a few. One of those complications is Lilah (Julie Newmar), who keeps getting herself arrested by Jerry, who out of the goodness of his heart, tries to help set her straight. Lilah wants to be an X-rated actress, but she would fall for Jerry in an instance.

Jerry rescues Lilah.

Another complication is the apartment manager, played by John McGiver, who believes that Jane and Jerry are married.  They wouldn’t get the apartment otherwise.

Meanwhile, a nurse at Jane’s hospital, played by Jo Anne Worley, leads an organization against men. She talks Jane into holding one of their meetings at Jane’s apartment, where they discover a portrait of Jerry’s girlfriend in her bunny attire. That gives the group an idea to protest at the Playboy Club. Jerry unexpectedly shows up at the apartment where he is mistaken for a burglar and suffers the physical wrath of Jane’s guests. Not betraying Jane’s secret of their living arrangement, Jerry pretends to have the wrong apartment.

Jane gets a crash course in feminism.

Jane and Jerry are getting along fine in the arrangement, in fact they are becoming friends. Eventually, they start to become more than friends.  When Jerry leans in to kiss her, Jane pulls back.  Another complication.

Jane’s group shows up at, and takes over, the Playboy Club. A riot breaks out and the police are called. Jerry is one of the cops who respond. The rioting women are rounded up and hauled off to jail. Jerry has grabbed Jane and carries her out of the club to a taxi. He wants to send her home, but she protests; but as a cop, Jerry convinces the taxi driver to take her.  Jerry’s girlfriend observes what he is doing, but it isn’t clear who the woman is he’s putting in the taxi.  Another complication.

Jane finds herself leading the riot at the Playboy Club.

The complications have piled up. Jane has done some soul searching and decides to move out, she’s confused, and can’t stay with Jerry in her state of mind.

Jane’s father shows up unexpectedly at her apartment, where he encounters Lilah, who Jerry has rescued and is helping until he can find her a place to stay. Jane’s father thinks Lilah is Jane’s roommate.  Another complication.

Returning to the apartment, Jane finds Lilah and her father.  Jane has no idea who Lilah is. Then Jerry shows up, then Jane’s boyfriend, and finally Jerry’s girlfriend. The living arrangement is revealed to everyone. Jerry confesses his love for Jane, much to the surprise of the boyfriend and girlfriend, and to the father.  But not so much to the very hip Lilah. Jane bolts from the apartment, with Jerry in pursuit. Of course he catches up with her in the street where they embrace. The end.

So, what did we learn? Were you surprised that Jane and Jerry were going to fall in love? You better say no.

Jane wasn’t quite the feminist as her friends, but she challenged Jerry’s more conventional thinking. Jerry didn’t represent a sexist ogre, but he represented male stereotypical attitudes. Having Farrah Fawcett as his Playboy bunny girlfriend was a bit over the top.

In 74 minutes of screen time, it’s tough to tell a compelling story without resorting to some stereotype characters and generic situations.  And this was a comedy, not a documentary.

In 1971, it was still risque for men and women to move in together, even if they weren’t lovers. Social mores were changing, but this was prime-time.

Also in 1971, the same year as this film, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equal Rights Amendment, the Senate passed it a year later. That was a big deal, and it had a lot of bipartisan support at the time.

By 1977, 35 of 38 needed states had ratified the ERA; and then Phyllis Schlafly and her organization came into the picture to protest the ERA.  Opposition grew, spearheaded by women, and this turned the effort.  Interesting turn of events. Most legislators were men, but they were influenced by the visible and vocal opposition of women’s groups. A few states even reversed their ERA approval. Needless to say, the ERA was not ratified by the deadline, even though the deadline was extended several years.

The struggle over equality has never been far from public view. Pay, opportunity, healthcare, employment protections and sexual harassment are very much core issues of the battle.

Anti-feminist Phyllis Schafly  zeroed in on the ERA.

The Feminist and the Fuzz was a cultural snapshot designed to entertain and take advantage of a rising shift in American society.

Looking back, the media and others often labeled this issue as a battle between men and women. That is unfair and misses the point.  There were actually men and women on both sides of this issue, as there are today.  Back then, it was popular fare for All in the Family and Maude, and quite divisive like abortion, busing and Vietnam.

So, skipping ahead to this year, how much progress has occurred in equality? Two steps forward, one back.

Answer: Not nearly enough.


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