A couple of years ago, the strange film Roar was reissued, and with it came the even stranger tale of how the actress Tippi Hedren and her teen daughter Melanie Griffith, who starred in the movie, spent the seventies sharing a house with a 400-pound lion named Neil. Roar went into production in October 1976, eight months after Hedren and Neil appeared in this episode of The Bionic Woman, along with William Schallert, Jack Kelly, and the omnipresent child star Robbie Rist.
All that guest star power didn’t overwhelm Jaime, who is caught in a local feud without any OSI support. A neighbor is raising a menagerie of hopefully tame animals, while a rancher believes the lion is killing his cattle. He doesn’t believe it could be a massive cougar.
Our son was transfixed by this story. He thought all the animals were completely charming and he was incredibly worried about the lion, the cougar, and Jaime. Full credit to the director: the scene where Jaime tries to calm an injured and frightened Neil, only to get injured herself on her non-bionic arm, really is a tense one.
I must add, though, that I was honestly most amused by a hint that Neil may be behind the attacks after all. There’s no reason for Neil to hunt cattle since he’s fed well, but money is tight and his owner has recently been feeding him half beef and half soy. If somebody was forcing me to eat slugburgers instead of sirloin, I might go hunt cattle myself!
(You can read more about Roar, in which none of the animals were injured but between 70 and 72 members of the cast and crew were, here. See more photos of Neil hanging out at home with Hedren and Griffith here.)
It’s not possible, in today’s environment, to watch this episode and not be reminded of the Trumps. I’m not claiming it’s an exact metaphor, but in this story, Carlton Harris, ladykiller that he thinks he is, changes plans once Jaime and Oscar convince him that she’s unhappy with OSI pay and unwilling to work for the government anymore. (A sign of inflation: Jaime balks at the pay Oscar thinks is very, very reasonable for dangerous spy work: $19,000 a year.) He makes Jaime an offer that he thinks she can’t refuse.
The villain’s son, Donald Harris, has just graduated from Harvard Law and is learning first hand about his father’s villainy. He catches Jaime leaving messages for the OSI as she steals some government plans, but just can’t believe that his old man’s really a criminal and has had three agents killed already. The Harrises have a really good, well-acted scene where the young lawyer confronts his industrialist dad about the evidence that he’s left behind which will indict him. It’s almost sad, watching that youthful idealism come crashing into the reality of what Carlton Harris is actually doing, including finding foreign buyers for American military secrets.
Of course, our son is just here for the special effects and explosions, and even though this does veer pretty sharply into “counterfeiters in turtlenecks” territory – Carlton indeed wears a canary yellow turtleneck himself in one scene – the family drama kept my attention while he cheered the bionic stuff.
Also of note: Gordon Jump is here as one of Harris’s industrialist rivals, and ’70s child star Christian Juttner, who we’ve seen a couple of times in this blog, plays one of Jaime’s students.
I enjoyed springing the surprise that Jaime Sommers got her own show. I told our favorite six year-old critic that we’d be watching some bionic action tonight, and then I told him we would not be watching The Six Million Dollar Man. He watched the pre-credits sequence with a raised eyebrow wondering what was going on.
In the fall of 1975, The Bionic Woman started production and it debuted on ABC the following January. 1976-77 were the golden age of bionics. Now in her own show (it aired Wednesdays while Six remained on Sundays), Jaime moves to Ojai – happily, that blasted doctor stayed behind in Colorado Springs – and takes an apartment above Steve Austin’s parents’ barn at their new ranch. She gets a job teaching a gang of unruly kids – “The Dirty Dozen” – at Ventura AFB, and this first story sees her putting her life and memories together. Meanwhile, Carlton Harris, the villain from that mission she and Steve botched a few months earlier, is getting ready to attack her and get revenge, which seems a bit silly considering how little trouble the bionic agents actually caused him.
This actually kind of reminded me of the original Six pilot movie, because it’s really more of a slow-paced character drama with occasional punctuations of bionic stunts to keep the kids watching. I was pleased that the writer and producer, Kenneth Johnson, decided to give Jaime her memories back, but not her feelings. It is a little heartbreaking when she tells Steve that she knows they were engaged now, but she doesn’t have any love for him yet.
I was less pleased by the surprising reminder of how incredibly touchy everybody was with women in the seventies. Everybody in this show is either embracing or kissing Jaime or putting their hands on her shoulder, even her brand new boss at the military base school. I had a little talk with our son about how that’s not acceptable behavior any longer!
The most interesting thing about this story, which, to be honest, I found incredibly boring, is that Steve and Jaime completely fail an assignment. It’s almost like Oscar and Rudy set them up for disaster. Jaime still gets painful flashbacks whenever she looks at Steve, or the town of Ojai, or a tree, or her hand, and they decide that what they really need to do with a woman who lost her legs and an arm and an ear in a skydiving accident is send her on a mission where she needs to jump out of an airplane. Then again, Oscar never considers firing Jaime’s doctor, Michael, despite his constantly acting so amazingly unprofessional that his license to practice medicine should have been revoked.
The second most interesting thing about this story is that it gives Lee Majors’ song “Sweet Jaime” another couple of airings. I’ve grown to appreciate the actor’s skills a little more now that we’re rewatching this. He reminds me of how David Janssen might have played similar scenes as he navigates Steve’s heartbreak, and that’s as genuine a compliment as they come. But Majors wasn’t a singer. I think the only reason that “Sweet Jaime” never showed up on Rhino’s hilarious old Golden Throats collections of actors warbling “rock oddities” tunelessly is that Universal doesn’t seem to have ever released this dopey love song as a single for Rhino to license it. What a shame; the jukeboxes of 1975 America surely demanded it.
I’ve picked thirteen episodes to enjoy from the third season of Six and the first season of The Bionic Woman, which originally aired in 1975-76. This year would see Martin E. Brooks become the third actor to play Dr. Rudy Wells and, inevitably, brought back Jaime Sommers, although with an unfortunate difference. This wouldn’t have been a problem had she and Steve not been in love. How do you bring back the lead character’s former fiancee without going forward with the wedding? You give her amnesia.
My wife bristled because, once again, all the menfolk are making Jaime’s decisions for her, but to be fair, she had just wakened from several weeks in a coma without any memory. There’s a notion that bringing back too many of Jaime’s memories will advance the damage to the cells in adjacent parts of her brain, and I don’t know that somebody with only a couple of days’ understanding of the world is really ready to make those kinds of decisions.
Still, while respecting the fact that Lee Majors plays abjectly heartbroken surprisingly well, and that it was Majors and Lindsay Wagner’s undeniable chemistry as bionic lovers that captured the audience’s imagination in ’75, this wouldn’t have even smelled problematic had Jaime been introduced as an independent agent like the Seven Million Dollar Man, Barney, had been. Since Jaime – at this stage – exists only in relation to Steve, Kenneth Johnson really painted himself into a corner. How else do you blamelessly break this couple into two independent, likable leads without amnesia, and keep the audience wondering whether maybe one day they’ll rediscover their love?
This is all, of course, above our son’s head and he would be baffled by the implications. He’s just happy that Jaime is alive, and that she and Steve had a bionic pillow fight in her hospital room.
Bless his heart. Our son did better than I feared as Jaime died on the operating table. He squeezed Mommy’s arm very tightly and he was subdued and quiet and very surprised. This certainly wasn’t what he expected. I’m sure it’s not what anybody expected, either. The entire plot about Malachi Throne and the stolen $20 plates is over and done with – as cheaply as possible – by the halfway point of the episode.
The rest of the episode is Jaime’s slow and sad deterioration, with her body rejecting the bionics and Dr. Wells having no idea what’s gone wrong until it’s too late. Guest stars die occasionally in shows like these, and so the overwhelming attachment that the audience had for Lindsey Wagner’s character surprised everybody. We went ahead and spoiled her return for him, since he seemed blue and out of sorts.
We’ll take a few weeks’ break from this show. Jaime Sommers will be back around the end of the month.
I was a little antsy about how our son’s going to handle the end of this two-part adventure before we sat down. Now I’m a lot antsy. After all, when the producers of The Six Million Dollar Man decided to make a two-part story to let Lee Majors stretch his acting muscles – and, sadly, his singing voice – and break Steve Austin’s heart, they didn’t know that they had a big companion show in the offing.
So obviously, this is all going to turn out okay down the road, but for those of you who don’t know, the original two-parter that introduces Jaime Sommers, the Bionic Woman, was not intended to launch a franchise. It will end tomorrow night with the character’s death. And our son has never seen a major guest star die before. The only hope I had is that he was going to be a little impatient with all the lovey-dovey stuff this week.
Nope. Not at all. “You’ve never liked the kissy stuff before,” exclaimed Mommy. And he did like it. He was absolutely charmed by Steve and Jaime falling in love and announcing their engagement. Oh, man. Tomorrow’s going to hurt.
Also of note…
* The villain is a counterfeiter played by the great Malachi Throne. He vows revenge on Steve Austin. Our son believes Steve and Jaime will both punch him in the face.
* The episode was written by Kenneth Johnson, and it’s darn near his first screenwriting credit. IMDB credits him with just a couple of episodes of Adam-12 and Griff prior to this. Johnson became Jaime Sommers’ principal writer and went on to become American TV’s go-to guy for sci-fi in the seventies and eighties, developing The Incredible Hulk, Alien Nation, and V, among others.
* I was a little bothered that Steve didn’t explain bionics to Jaime before sending for Dr. Wells to make her a cyborg. She didn’t have any choice in the matter; men made all her decisions. Let’s be honest, though. Few of us would have been bothered had we seen this when it was made, 41 years ago. Times have changed for the better.