It might seem like the world has been on fire lately.
Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Ferguson, Israel-Palestine, Hong Kong, ISIS, the Ebola outbreak—it’s a lot of news to take in at once. And one of your best sources for consistently reliable information and analysis on the subjects above is Morgan Fairchild’s Twitter account.
I shit you not.
The 64-year-old actress and Texas native, who achieved prominence in the 1970s and ’80s, is famous for her roles in TV shows such as Flamingo Road, Dallas, and Mork & Mindy, and in films like The Seduction. (Millennials will recognize her as Chandler’s mom on Friends, or as the star of those notably weird Old Navy commercials.)
But here's the little secret about Morgan Fairchild: she's a well-respected foreign policy wonk, and she can handle herself in a war zone better than you can.
If you’re one of her 33,000-plus followers on Twitter, the first half of that sentence wasn’t actually much of a secret. Fairchild constantly tweets news stories on chaos abroad, climate change, money in politics, and American foreign policy.
“[Some of my followers] don’t really expect the eclectic nature of my interests,” Fairchild, who is currently starring in a Kansas City production of the play Murder Among Friends, told The Daily Beast. “They don’t expect me to be interested in military policy, and the issues of war, and State Department issues…'Well, I never thought I'd be getting my news from Morgan Fairchild!’ is something I get sometimes.”
“I probably would have more followers if I tweeted more red-carpet stuff—but I don’t care about red-carpet stuff!” Fairchild said. “I’ve come to realize a lot of Americans don’t get to see much news anymore. A lot of in-depth coverage isn’t done on television… I think it’s important that people know what’s going on in the rest of the world, and not become isolationist.”
And Fairchild does her small part to help keep people informed, one tweet at a time. She didn’t always think so highly of the social-media platform, regarding it as a medium for famous people to show the world what they had for supper. But when the Arab Spring kicked into full gear in 2011, she began tweeting at a high clip and hasn’t looked back since. “I got on Twitter and started following the Egyptian Revolution—people on the street, the barricades—and then started expanding,” she explained.
Fairchild’s deep interest in politics and policy—which extends far beyond her Twitter feed—is actually rooted in her passion for science. She says her study of terrorism and world affairs stems from her enthusiasm for social anthropology, as well as for the “psychology of what makes cultures function,” as she puts it. And her interest in terrorism began in the 1970s when she became fascinated by the psychology of why people in terrorist organizations—the Abu Nidal Organization, the Red Brigades, and so on—would find the use of violence attractive.
“All of my [political] history starts basically with the fact that I’m a science nerd and wanted to be a doctor or paleontologist when I was a kid,” she said. “Even when I was doing Flamingo Road, I was taking anthropology classes at night at UCLA… My political interests were driven by interest in science. That’s why I became an AIDS activist. That’s why I tweet a lot about global warming…Al Gore and I were sort of the first people in DC talking about [climate change] in the ’80s.”
It’s clear to those who have chatted with Fairchild about any of these topics that her interests are anything but shallow. “Actress Morgan Fairchild knows more about terrorism than 99.9 percent [of] Americans—and most members of Congress,” David Corn, the Washington bureau chief of Mother Jones magazine, wrote for The Nation in 2007.
Corn was at a pre- White House Correspondents’ Dinner party, where Fairchild engaged in a detailed conversation with Mark Hosenball, a Newsweek reporter who now works at Reuters. “Not many people can keep up with Hosenball on the specifics of global terrorism,” Corn wrote. “Fairchild did.”
“She was talking [with me] about developments in Iraq at the time, and the general state of play in the counterterrorism field and began citing known or suspected terrorists by name,” Corn told the Beast. “We’re not talking Osama bin Laden; we’re talking names that only a few Americans probably know. They weren’t names I was familiar with…I always look forward to talking with her. She’s incredibly intelligent and very knowledgeable about politics.”
When reached by phone, Hosenball seconded Corn’s characterization of Fairchild as “surprisingly knowledgeable” and “very well-informed.”
“And based on her tweets, she's not an ideologue, or one of these crazy celebrity left-wingers,” Hosenball said. “The [foreign-policy] stuff she tweets is actually sensible!”
Back in the Reagan era, Fairchild frequently put her knowledge to good use. In the late ’80s, she was a hot political commodity, whether for her hardcore AIDS activism, reproductive-rights advocacy, or endorsement of candidates. Former California Lt. Gov. Leo McCarthy told the Los Angeles Times in 1988 that he “had to go through two-and-a-half years of grilling before I could get Morgan to work for me. It was the toughest exam I’ve taken since passing the bar.” And when she spoke out about the AIDS crisis, her agent and manager practically begged her to let it go.
“I lost friends, I know I lost work… because I would visit hospices,” she recalled. “People said I couldn’t come over for dinner because I might give [AIDS] to their kids.”
Fairchild considers herself a pragmatic liberal—a registered Democrat and “kind of a boring moderate.” Nowadays, she isn’t asked to speak at as many rallies or endorse as many political contenders. But she’s still a devoted student of foreign affairs, national security, and domestic policy. Here she is hanging out at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver:
Earlier this year, Dianne Feinstein, the Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman, held a private dinner where she defended the controversial data-collection practices of the NSA. Among the small crowd of roughly 120 attendees for the dinner was former Los Angeles City councilwoman Roz Wyman, former U.S. Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor—and, of course, Morgan Fairchild.
“[Dianne] was kind enough to invite me to that,” Fairchild said. “She knows I’m very interested in those issues, so she’s invited me to those types of events…I got to know her when I was on the board of the Hollywood Women’s Political Committee.”
And Sen. Feinstein certainly isn’t the only high-profile figure who regards Fairchild as a political obsessive. In the ‘80s, she campaigned for Sen. Alan Cranston, and worked with him on environmental issues. The senator even introduced them before the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
“You’re meeting with Gorbachev?” she recalls excitedly asking the late California Democrat. “I really want to meet Gorbachev! I don’t want to go to the Super Bowl, I want to meet Mikhail Gorbachev!”
More recently, she’s been keeping in fairly regular touch with other U.S. senators and “some Congress people.”
“I don’t like to throw names around,” she said. For instance, she demurred when I asked her about dating John Kerry in the ’80s. But far more interesting than any past romances are her one-woman fact-finding missions.
When Fairchild wasn’t networking with lawmakers and journalists or sounding the alarm on global warming and AIDS (or, you know, acting), she was deliberately putting herself in harm’s way in regions of war, conflict, and repression.
“I have much more fun doing this than movies!” she said. “This is how I form opinions. My approach is to go out and talk to the real people, on-the-ground… whether I’m bouncing around the hills of Bosnia during the war [or] meeting militia people.”
Fairchild’s time in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the war and genocide in the ’90s was documented in a 1995 article for Spy magazine. The piece was authored by none other than Samantha Power, who now serves as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
“Shadowed by her towering soldier/bodyguard, the actress has spent the previous day…in Mostar—once Bosnia's most exquisite city, later its most dangerous, and now its most devastated,” Power wrote.
At the time, Fairchild was playing the part of a nun in the religious-persecution drama Gospa, which also starred Martin Sheen and Michael York. She was shooting the film in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, in 1994, before the Srebrenica massacre and the NATO bombing it provoked. It was in that city that she met and befriended Peter Galbraith, the U.S. ambassador involved in the Croatia and Bosnia peace processes. Fairchild had been staying at the same hotel as the UN negotiators, and mentioned to Galbraith that she wanted to see the refugee camps.
“She was the perfect combination of being very beautiful and very smart and charming,” Galbraith told The Daily Beast. “She was incredibly curious about what was going on in the country...So I took her down 25 miles from Zagreb where there was a 2-kilometer Zone of Separation between the Serb forces and the Croatian forces, as a product of an agreement I had negotiated. So we went into the Zone of Separation, and there were thousands of [Muslim] refugees…trying to get into Croatia, and the Croatians wouldn’t let them in.”
(Click here to see a photo of Galbraith and Fairchild posing in front of barbed wire that marked off mines in the zone.)
“It was quite amazing,” Galbraith said. “This was a country at war. This is an actress, a multimillion-dollar property. And she went right down into a mine area, between two hostile sides. That’s not a normal thing to do.”
Galbraith remembers having dinner with her “three or four times,” including a party at he threw in the Gospa cast’s honor at the ambassador’s residence in Zagreb. Samantha Power was at that party, and that’s where she and Fairchild hit it off. “She certainly grabbed Samantha’s attention,” Galbraith said. “They really became good friends.”
Fairchild also traveled deeper into Bosnia without Galbraith’s company. “I had to go in the tunnels under [a] town to avoid sniper fire,” she said. She was exploring part of the country with her “Croatian sniper bodyguard” who would give her lectures on things such as how to avoid landmines. On top of her trip to the war-ravaged Balkans, she visited East Germany roughly a year before the Berlin Wall fell (an excursion she describes as “very scary”), and broke bread with complete strangers in Israel/Palestine in 1986 before the start of the first intifada.
“It was interesting to me to watch the Palestinian movement with Arafat, because he didn’t seem able to govern,” Fairchild remarked. “He could be a good terrorist leader… but couldn’t govern.”
For now at least, her years of living dangerously seem behind her. Along with the play in Kansas City, she’s awaiting the releases of a few new projects, including the comedy Sam, which also stars Stacy Keach. And she will—naturally—continue to raise all the awareness possible with the help of her preferred social-networking service. “I like to open debate and encourage people to read more, and learn more,” Fairchild said.
One of the top issues on her radar at the moment? Undisclosed dark money contributions to political candidates and office holders.
“The Citizens United decision, that just opened the floodgates to all this money entering the system, I find it terrible for the future of democracy,” she said. “People should know this is going on.”
If you’d like to learn more about it, @morgfair’s got you covered.