On this day (February 1) in 1976 there occurred one of the great events in television history (for eleven year olds): the FIRST bigfoot episode of The Six Million Dollar Man.
This was an unspeakable confluence of mighty forces calculated to get us to televisions as though drawn by magnets.
Even though we were fully aware of its lame aspects even then, The Six Million Dollar Man was our favorite show at the time (or at least up there with Starsky and Hutch). Yet it was one of those rare shows about which it can be said that it’s most riveting moments occurred during its credit sequence…with Richard Anderson intoning “Steve Austin. A man barely alive. We can rebuild him” and its graphically recited premise of the test pilot’s in-flight accident, and his being given new electronic components (superhuman robotic legs, arm and eye) on an operating table. After the first 30 seconds it was usually all downhill. Austin (Lee Majors) would be given some assignment by his government boss (Anderson), which would be some boring spy thing we didn’t understand, and then, worst of all, all of the climactic action sequences would be presented in slow motion, ostensibly to suggest its opposite — speed — but the producers weren’t fooling anybody. It was the cheapest, lamest way to solve a technical special effects problem ever, and even as children we knew that. Every single episode came with a guaranteed tedious anti-climax and you really had to work HARD to make it exciting for yourself despite the show’s apparently deliberate efforts to give you a bad time. Yet the PREMISE was so good, that we truly loved it, and played “Six Million Dollar Man” on the playground all the time. I mean, this premise is so good and solid it’s downright old-fashioned. Can’t you see it in comic books (actually it was adapted into that form) but also 30s movie serials and 40s radio?
So there’s that. But in addition (as regards this particular episode) for some reason cryptozoology and other pseudoscience was very big at that moment (and again, especially with kids our age). We were extremely into bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, UFOs, and the paranormal. I’m trying to remember precisely where we were getting it all from. The tv series In Search Of…wouldn’t be launched until the following year, for example. But there were tons of paperback books for the inquiring mind of the middle schooler, and magazine articles in kid’s magazines and such. I guess that’s where we were getting it.
Even better, in this “very special” episode of The Six Million Dollar Man (the first of three two-parters featuring Bigfoot; he almost became a regular on the series), the part of Sasquatch was played by Andre the Giant! This took it over the top. The Six Million Dollar Man PLUS Bigfoot PLUS professional wrestling?! At that stage we have won the trifecta. (In the second two, two-part episodes, ‘Squatch was played by Ted Cassidy, Lurch from The Addams Family, which is almost as good).
The conception of the beast, more humanoid than ape-like is interesting to me. They gave him scary, white zombie eyes to terrify us at first. But then he has this hippie frizz of hair and a Grizzly Adams style beard and fluffy fur like a stuffed animal, so that when Steve Austin and Bigfoot inevitably make friends after initially sparring, you can go “Aw! But he’s cute!” He is after all, an endangered species, living among the redwood trees of California, and this is after all the 1970s. If I recall correctly (I’m relying entirely on memory), at the end of the episode, Austin waves to Bigfoot, and Bigfoot magically waves back. It’s kind of like Frosty the Snowman. “I’ll be back, kids!” And he was!
At all events, before that kiss-and-make-up, there had to be at least a few cool fight scenes. Austin was rescuing some friends whom the ‘Squatch had kidnapped. Here’s sum dat:
For more on show business history, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc