SIOUX CITY | Sharon Farrell is an actress in search of a second act.
After more than five decades in the film and television business, the Sioux City native is wondering if there's still a place for her in front of the cameras.
"It's so different now," she says during a visit to Sioux City -- her first in more than 40 years. "Casting directors don't know who you are ... they want you to go to workshops to audition. It's different."
And it's not the business she sought after graduating from Central High School in the late '50s.
Then, she says, "it was a lot of fun. Now, it's just cruel."
Farrell's career -- which started in New York, segued to television and wound up in some of the biggest films in the late '60s and '70s -- came to a screeching halt in 1999 when she moved with a business manager/boyfriend to Fiji.
"He told me life in films was over -- even though I had won an award at a film festival and was on 'The Young and the Restless.' He said, 'That's nothing. Let's get out of here.'" They moved to Fiji, bought a house and, after a Jet Ski accident, he abandoned her and took control of her finances.
"Everybody thought I was dead," Farrell says.
Instead, she existed on little or no money until a housekeeper took her to live with her family and help her get "whole." She progressed, but another illness prompted them to send her to New Zealand, where hospital employees found a phone number for actor Sam Jones. They called; Jones got in touch with Farrell's son, Chance Boyer, and helped get her back to Los Angeles.
"I went through hell," Farrell says bluntly. "I lived in the valley for a while, I was in the nuthouse. It was bad."
Mom -- Hazel Forsmoe, who still lives in Sioux City -- agrees. "She wasn't herself."
A friend took Farrell to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings so she could have coffee each morning; women at a Lutheran church gave her assistance. A producer from "NCIS" offered her clothes.
Slowly -- but surely -- Farrell got back on track. That decade in Fiji, however, made her a footnote in an industry that once called her a star.
What to do? "Friends said, 'write a book,'" Farrell says. So, for the past two and a half years, the former star of such films as "The Stunt Man" and "The Reivers" has been reliving the good and bad days of her life.
With the help of a new boyfriend, Jessie Dee Young, she has gotten a first draft in hand. Called "Sharon Farrell: Hollywood Princess from Sioux City, Iowa," it covers everything from her boyfriends (who included Che Guevara, Bruce Lee and Steve McQueen), her working relationship with actors such as Peter O'Toole and that loopy route from Sioux City to Hollywood -- and now back again.
With her sister, Dale Lambly, and their 90-year-old mom, Farrell has been visiting old haunts this week, reminiscing about Hunt School, Central High and the Orpheum Theatre, where she remembers performing in dance recitals.
She drops the names of places she recalls, asks about old friends and wonders if, maybe, her life might have been better had she stayed in Sioux City all along.
When she left in the late '50s, Farrell says, she was determined to make it in show business. A first film -- "Kiss Her Goodbye" -- was shot in Cuba, where she met Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. Guevara reminded her of her father, Darrel. "I learned how to shoot a machine gun; we went around on scooters. When I told a girlfriend I was going to meet him, she did everything she could to dissuade me. She'd disconnect the phone so I couldn't talk to him. She said I had a career to consider." Still, Farrell figured he could have been the great love of her life. Quite likely, though, "if I had stayed with him, I'd probably be dead now."
Changing her name to something more lyrical, Farrell used the "F" from Forsmoe and swapped with the "D" in Darrel, then added an "L." The result? A name that one of Dale's friends said sounded like "softly falling snow."
Bob Hope brought her to Los Angeles to film a TV pilot, but the show didn't sell. Instead, the new identity resulted in plenty of television work (watch late night TV and you'll see her in such shows as "Gunsmoke" and "Naked City").
Then, the call went out for "The Reivers." They were looking for a young woman to play opposite Steve McQueen. Farrell wanted the part, but producers said she was too old. To prove she wasn't, she doctored her birth certificate. "I changed it from 1940 to 1946," convinced Variety columnist Army Archerd to float the idea and landed the part.
The film was one of the prestige pictures of 1969. Farrell went on "The Tonight Show" and got in trouble with folks back in Sioux City when she complained they wouldn't run the film locally. She made an offhand remark about porno theaters in Siouxland, talked about its "Little Chicago" reputation and got an irate call from the mayor, demanding an apology.
(Mom, meanwhile, says she acted as if she had never seen the show whenever friends broached the subject.)
"They put up a billboard that said, 'Sharon Farrell is a mirage,'" Dale remembers.
Farrell got a second shot on "The Tonight Show," hoping to apologize. Instead, Johnny Carson goaded her even more. "He had all this information about the Midwest being hypocritical. He wasn't nice."
In essence, Farrell's relationship with Sioux City came to a halt.
Now, though, she realizes it was wrong to wait so long to return. This is home. It could be again.
"I'm proud of her, to a point," Hazel says. "But, in many ways, Hollywood ruined her happiness. She's not the same old Sharon, but she is grounded."
Farrell agrees. She plans to pitch the book to publishers, interest readers in the Hollywood that once was and see if there's still a place for her. If not, she'll regroup.
Above all, Sharon Farrell, the Hollywood princess from Sioux City, is resilient.
"I had a good run," she says with a smile. "I did it all. Now, I'm just looking for another way to get off the planet."