With a remake of the Six Million Dollar Man on the cards there was no better time for Lee Majors to make his first ever UK con appearance this year at MCM's Birmingham show. The panel I sat in on, on the Sunday, was packed out and Majors was more than happy to take questions from the audience in the tight half-hour he allowed. With interviews cancelled at the last minute, this was going to be my only chance to listen to the man, the actor, the legend talk about his career and those stand out roles; both as the aforementioned cybernetically enhanced astronaut and as stunt man turned bounty hunter, Colt Seavers in The Fall Guy, both of which were a huge part of many a middle aged person's childhood back in the day.
Here then are the best of the answers he gave to the questions asked of him on the day:
Q: Were you ever injured on any of the stunts you did?
Lee Majors: Yeah, I had my ribs broken twice, both times on horses. One time, I broke my nose. I was working with a stunt girl and no one told me the director was going to fire a gun off camera and right behind me. When he did, I dropped down to cover (the stunt double) and she broke my nose by accident. The last thing I remember on that shoot was, "Let's hurry and get the close-ups done before it swells up!"
I've been in a lot of stunt action. In nearly 53 years in the business I've done a lot. Starting back in the 60's with Westerns, doing a lot of Cowboy stuff, like saloon fights, sometimes a man is supposed to throw a right a you and he ends up throwing a left. Things happen and you get bruises along the way. I now wish I'd used my stunt man more, especially on The Six Million Dollar Man with all that running and jumping off buildings. I feel like I need bionic knees now.
Q: You are the first man who ever got me to carry a doll when I was a kid. Were you aware of just how big The Six Million Dollar Man show was?
LM: Oh yes. I could never go into restaurants without someone making the noise – duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh. I could be in a small country and be told by one of the locals that they would all gather around the one TV the village had on a Friday night to watch the show. Hearing these stories it became very obvious how big – globally – it was. People would know you everywhere. I did three series in the 60's before 'Six Mill' and after that I wanted to take a break. But then they asked me to another show, called The Fall Guy, and I decided to do The Fall Guy because I didn't want to be typecast as Steve Austin and so Colt Seavers took over for a little while – for five years or so – but it never seem to cover up the fact that Steve Austin was going to be with me forever. It was, after all, more watched than The Fall Guy. I was really grateful for both shows.
I even did a comedy series for the BBC called Too Much Sun, which I could never figure out because it took place in sunny California but filmed in England in January and February when there's no sun at all! I was freezing my butt off, but it was quite an experience to work here in London and absorb the culture.
Q. What did your parents think of your choice of career? And if you hadn't been an actor, what job would you have done?
LM: No, acting was never in my sights, nor in my parents. I was an athlete, well good enough. I played high school football, baseball, basketball and track. I got a football scholarship and went to college, but got a back injury when I was a Junior in college which put me out for a year. From there I auditioned for a play. My teammates suggested go for the part and I ended up winning the part and then realizing I then had to do the damn thing. Which was a little frightening. But that was my first taste of acting and if I hadn't been going that I would have probably been coaching football, which was the love of my life.
Q. What did you think of the Six Million Dollar Man episode that introduced the bionic dog?
(Laughs from the audience)
SM: They came to me and said, "We wanna put a dog in your show named, Max." and I said, "No way. You can't put a Bionic Dog on my show, you can put it on The Bionic Woman show, she loves dogs." They did a Bionic Boy too. Y'know, when networks find a hit show they, well, it's like instead of giving you one scoop of ice cream they wanna sell you pints of ice cream, different colours. It's the same ice cream! Anything that was Bionic, they tried to sell it.
Q: What was the most enjoyable time in your long career?
LM: I would say, Colt Seavers. He was more to my liking, more true (sic) of my own personality. I liked that period in my life, I had a lot of fun on that show. I could pick the directors that I wanted and work with people I liked. It was very enjoyable.
Q: You appeared in the rebooted Dallas.
LM: Yeah, I did that for my friend, Larry Hagman. He requested me, but then unfortunately passed away. We never got to work with one another, but he was responsible for me being there.
Q: Do you think you'd have had a similar career if you'd got into films?
LM: Here's a quick story. I was just finishing up on Big Valley (TV series), ABC had just cancelled it and my agent brought me this film. I met with the director, the producer the writer and we wanted to do a three-picture deal. But then ABC picked up Big Valley for one more year and they just wouldn't let me do this film. So they went to New York and found a young actor named John Voight and he went on to do this movie called Midnight Cowboy. John and I are friends and he's done some wonderful pictures. But, when you're doing a film, it's a couple of hours long. When you're doing a TV series for 5 years or more, it's a lot of hours in front of the camera. But, I don't regret anything. Except, as I've said before, not using my stuntman more.
Olly MacNamee teaches English and Media, for his sins, in a school somewhere in Birmingham. Some days, even he doesn't know where it is. Follow him on twitter @ollymacnamee or read about his exploits at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or don't. You can also read his articles fairly frequently at www.bleedingcool.com too.