No one could save the day quite like Steve Austin, the former astronaut turned government agent who fought evil armed with an array of bionic augmentations that made this noble hero more than just a man. He was simply better, stronger, faster. For five glorious seasons, Steve Austin battled alongside government agency OSI in a quest to make the world a safer place. Three movies, five seasons, and a spin-off made sure that the bionic wonder stands tall in the pantheon of TV superheroes. But how much do you remember about The Six Million Dollar Man and Steve Austin’s escapades?
1. It’s Based on a Book
In 1972, Martin Caidin published a book called Cyborg, about an astronaut who’s grievously injured during a test flight. Thanks to the power of bionics, aforementioned astronaut is rebuilt into a superhuman. In the book, Austin is deeply conflicted about his powers and his status as a reluctant spy. Caidin’s Cyborg series ultimately spawned three more novels over the next few years.
2. It Kicked Off With Three TV Movies
Before the series aired in 1974, Lee Majors was cast in an adaptation of Cyborg. The ratings success of that first television movie led to a second and third later in the year titled The Six Million Dollar Man: Wine, Women, and War and The Six Million Dollar Man: The Solid Gold Kidnapping, respectively.
3. Steve Austin, a Reluctant Hero
Though the TV films were notably Bond-tinted in their delivery of Austin’s adventures, when the original series aired in January of 1974, producer Harve Bennett was adamant that Austin maintain some down-to-earth appeal. Adhering a little more closely to Austin’s motivations from the book, in the series Austin was once again a reluctant hero.
4. Those Sound Effects
Over the course of the series, several visual techniques became staples of the show like the slow motion running (duh-nuh-nuh-nuh) and the sci-fi sound effects that would accompany any kind superhuman feat performed by Austin (ch-ch-ch-ch). Those sounds took their toll, and to this day, Lee Majors can’t stand hearing them.
5. Hey, It’s Slo-Mo!
In addition to the show’s iconic sound effects, it became known for its slow motion action scenes. That same technique was made popular earlier in the decade on David Carradine’s Kung Fu, and so it became known as “Kung Fu slow motion” as a result.
6. That Crash in the Opening Credits Was Real
In the opening credits, the series shows the crash that supposedly put Steve Austin in his critical state and paved the way for his resurrection. The crash wasn’t filmed for the show, though; it was real. The footage in the credits was an actual plane crash that happened to pilot Bruce Peterson who hit the ground at 250 miles per hour. Fortunately, Peterson walked away from the crash.
7. Bigfoot: The Best (and Biggest) Co-Star
What fan could forget that Bigfoot storyline, in all its cheesy glory? By all accounts, the show’s favorite guest star was professional wrestler Andre the Giant, who had a real reputation as a softie. The people most excited to see Andre, though, were the catering crew who made extra money when he showed up. Reports indicated he’d killed 12 eggs for breakfast and a full chicken for lunch (with a steak chaser). What’s more, he could kill an entire case of beer inside an hour. The role was later played by Ted Cassidy, as they couldn’t resist milking this bigfoot plot a few more times.
8. The Tale of Elmer McCurdy
In 1911, bandit Elmer McCurdy was shot to death after robbing a train of a whopping $46. His corpse was then embalmed and sold to a traveling carnival. Over the next 60 years, the corpse traded hands through several carnival exhibits. It was largely forgotten about until Steve Austin accidentally broke its finger while filming the “Carnival of Spies” episode of SMDM. It was news to everyone on set that the corpse of Elmer McCurdy was anything more than a lifeless prop.
9. There Was Lots of Practical Joking on Set
While they were on set, the cast did typical 1970s stuff like play board games and chit chat (ahh, life before cell phones). Of course, there was also a lot of practical joking. In one case, Lee Majors’ stuntman was wearing a pair of boots that had — for narrative reasons — been nailed to floor. As soon as stepped into them, though, he was pelted with buckets of ice cold water.
10. How Much Would His Rebuild Cost Today?
Six million dollars may have sounded like a bundle to audiences in the mid-1970s, and maybe it was. However, these days, Steve Austin would have been looking at a budget of $33,391,764.70 for his entire body rebuild. When you consider that the Air Force’s F-35 will cost $148 million per unit when it rolls off the line, that doesn’t sound like a lot.
11. Mark Wahlberg Is Trying to Launch a Remake
Though several people have tried their hand at getting a Six Million Dollar Man reboot made, it seems the task has now fallen to Mark Wahlberg and director Damian Szifron, who are attempting to tell a story that hews a little more closely to the original novel. They’re aiming for a December 2017 release date.
12. The Box Office Bomb
It really remains to be seen whether or not The Six Million Dollar Man has some real box office appeal in spite of the fact that several people have done their best to get the movie off the ground. Kevin Smith failed. Dimension Films couldn’t get the rights sorted out. Richard Anderson, who played Oscar Goldman on the series, tried. Even Jim Carrey wanted to turn it into a comedy at one point.
13. It Could Have Been Caitlyn
In 1977, Lee Majors was having contract disputes, dug in his heels and refused to work until his demands were met. Producers started looking around for a replacement actor to step in. Among the candidates under consideration were Harrison Ford (they didn’t think he had what it took to be an action star), Gil Gerard (who later went on to play TV’s Buck Rogers) and Olympian athlete Bruce Jenner (who seemed to have a bionic body in real life). Of course, we now know her as Caitlyn Jenner.
14. ‘Midnight Train to Georgia’ Connection
Lee Majors and his one-time wife, Farrah Fawcett, were friends with songwriter Jim Weatherly. During a casual phone conversation, Fawcett told Weatherly that she was packing for a midnight plane to Houston to visit her parents. He thought, “what a great line for a song.” He wrote the ditty in about 45 minutes, which was given to Cissy Houston (yes, Whitney’s mom) to sing. She felt weird about having her name in the title, so he reworked it to a train in Georgia. It ended up becoming a huge hit for Gladys Knight and the Pips. By the way, Farrah made four different appearances on SMDM before she hit the big time with that poster and Charlie’s Angels gig.
15. Majors Did Some Major Stunt Work
Lee Major’s estimates that he probably did about 85 percent of his own stunt work on the show, which no doubt helped in his subsequent show The Fall Guy. However, all this stunt work and his college football background has wreaked havoc on his body. Now 77, he’s a prime candidate for a knee replacement. If only Dr. Rudy Wells could really make him some bionic parts.
16. The Hardest Stunt
According to Lee Majors, the hardest stunts to film were the scenes that put him jumping from the ground to the roof of a building in a single bound. The reason for that is the producer’s need to film the shot in reverse to make it look as good as possible. Majors was forced to jump from high locations while falling but pretending he was flying upwards.
17. Nice Work If You Can Get It
The characters of Oscar Goldman and Dr. Rudy Wells appeared on both The Six Million Dollar Man and its spin-off The Bionic Woman. When The Bionic Woman moved to a different network, Richard Anderson and Martin E. Brooks became the first actors to star as continuing characters on two separate series on two different networks simultaneously.
18. You Can Never Unhear “Sweet Jamie”
Let’s end this on a nostalgic note that’s so god-awful it’s pop culture gold. The viewing audience was rapt with the love story between Steve Austin and Jamie Sommers, until that accident and amnesia thing went and messed it all up. We wouldn’t blame you if you blocked it out, but you might remember a montage or two where Steve sings the horrendously awesome song “Sweet Jamie” to his lady love. Who’s idea was this?
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