The $6 Million Couple
By Lois Armstrong | January 19, 1976 | People Magazine
It would take a network in a ratings crisis to create a six million dollar man, with one telescopic-zoom eye and three nuclear-powered prosthetic limbs—the role Lee Majors plays so stoically on ABC every Sunday night. But, still mercifully, only God can make a Farrah Fawcett-Majors, as Lee’s offscreen wife calls herself. “She’s so gorgeous,” Majors glows, “she’s like a little girl. So cute, so beautiful inside, you wanna…” His natural reticence stifles further elaboration. The whole preposterousness of his series and its success (it shot from the Nielsen cellar last season to No. 5) may also have gotten to his brain and consciousness—which never were exactly “bionic.”
Farrah’s looks are indeed breath-stopping, and her own career is rocketing in commercials (Noxzema, Wella Balsam, Ultra-Brite); TV (as David Janssen’s girl next door on Harry O plus a starring part in a pilot); and film (playing with Michael York in the upcoming Logan’s Run). So, when queried about having children, Farrah replies, yes, but not for a couple of years, and Lee quips, “We already have bids from people who would like to have pick of the litter.”
In the meantime, Majors has begat, if nothing else, a spin-off series premiering Jan. 14 that he calls “The Bionic Rip-Off”—the official ABC title is The Bionic Woman. Lee’s dubiousness owes to the fear that the new show could dilute the Six Million Dollar Man ratings already perhaps in jeopardy. Part of Majors’ rise can be attributed to this fall’s plop from favor of his CBS competition, Cher, but she is almost certain to make at least a one-week Nielsen rebound next month among viewers curious to see the return of ex-husband Sonny, not to mention the TV premiere of her now gravid midriff. Lee may also begrudge the sweeter contract the bionic female, actress Lindsay Wagner, has chivied out of Universal. She, unlike Majors, negotiated a sizable share of any merchandising royalties—Six Million Dollar Man dolls were supposedly the hottest item in toy biz at Christmas, and he barely collected a pittance. Lindsay was also guaranteed five feature films—which could rankle Lee, because he blames his TV stereotyping for thwarting his own movie career.
Majors, 36, professes to be less threatened by his wife’s sudden stardom at 28—as long as it doesn’t interfere with her cooking his nightly supper. Lee, who supervises her contracts, notes, “I always ask for a 6 p.m. cut-off for her.” “That way,” she chirps, “I can be home by 6:30 and have dinner ready—then he doesn’t realize I haven’t been home all day.” The whole arrangement may smack of the domestic dark ages, but Farrah maintains, “I like my marriage and him being the most important thing in my life.”
Majors came into Fawcett’s life as peremptorily as he now runs it. That was in 1968, during her second week in town. The good Catholic daughter (she still says her rosary every night) of a Corpus Christi oilfield contractor, Farrah Fawcett (that’s really her name) had been voted one of the “Ten Most Beautiful Coeds” at the U. of Texas. A flack spotted her picture and invited her to Hollywood, and two years later she came, driven by her folks. Then someone else spied a Fawcett glossy—Majors’ agent. That same day, Lee left a terse message at her all-girl rooming house: “Tell Farrah Fawcett that Lee Majors called and will pick her up at 7:30 for dinner.”
“How dare he?” Farrah recalls reacting. “Who does he think he is?” Majors was, as it happened, a Kentucky boy, orphaned before he was 2. Football got Lee through Eastern Kentucky State College, but injuries (knee, shoulder and a nose busted five times) precluded a pro career. He came to L.A. to become a high school coach and fetched up with the recreation department, where he got turned on to acting by some touch football buddies.
So after two years of studying and scrambling and by the time Lee importuned Farrah, everyone knew damn well who he was—Barbara Stanwyck’s bastard son Heath on the hit ABC series The Big Valley. But Majors phoned her back to apologize for his brashness, and she still remembers “melting into a thousand pieces” when he arrived and crooked his finger at her like a gun. “It was love at first sight, I guess.” But awkward. “We got in the car,” Farrah continues, “and there was complete silence for about 10 minutes. He didn’t even ask me any stupid questions—like where did I come from. He said something once, but I couldn’t hear it, so I just smiled.” “What I’d said,” Lee carries on, “was ‘You’re really beautiful’—and she missed it.” Then, at a discotheque, she ordered Scotch and Coke, didn’t drink it but disappeared, under the weather, for 30 minutes. “I didn’t know if she was really sick or if she just didn’t like me,” he reports, but the next day Majors sent her 13 yellow roses, and they’ve been together the seven years since, the last two as Six Million Dollar Man and wife.
In 1973, after The Men from Shiloh and Owen Marshall, Majors was rewarded with his present series, which he seriously regards as “probably the best thing that ever happened to TV. Kids haven’t had a clean-cut all-American hero, and the Six Million Dollar Man is that kind of guy. I’m really humbled by that,” he continues. “This can lead them into good, basic All-American things like football. I think my image is good enough to uphold it. Somebody else could be on dope, a boozer and divorced 14 times.” (Majors has 13 to go; his first wife, whom he married at 17, is back in Kentucky with their son, Lee Jr., now 13, who visits Dad in the summer.)
The six million dollar image, though, has become a real hang-up for the star. “I can’t even go into bars anymore,” he says, “because the guys all want to arm wrestle me.” And he has taken himself off the celebrity tennis and golf circuit, because “I feel I’m a terrible disappointment if I miss a shot. Arnold Palmer does it, but the Six Million Dollar Man can’t.” That hurts, because both Lee and Farrah are natural, supercompetitive jocks—hunting, fishing and, on one occasion, skiing. As Majors recalls it, “I’m up there on the top of the hill tryin’ to stand up, doin’ my little bunny number, you know, the snow plow, and here she comes by, zip, zip. It really pissed me off. I’ve never been back on skis since.”
But any troubles they have Farrah attributes to her being an Aquarius, he a Taurus. “I’m always up, and sometimes, I’ll say to him, ‘You’re a big grumphead.’” But she adds, “I need the strength in him and realize how lucky we are.” They live in a faultlessly decorated French provincial house in Bel Air over the hill from Wilt Chamberlain. Their crowd includes Dinah Shore and Johnny Carson (though Majors eschews talk shows, “because unless you’re a singer or a comedian, you come off looking dumb”). And they made the party rounds New Year’s Eve with none other than Lee’s Nielsen nemesis of next month, Sonny Bono, and his cherie, Susie Coelho.
As for family professional rivalry, Fawcett says, “Lee wasn’t crazy about me getting into this business. He had these insecurities about ‘who is she going to work with?’ But then I had the same insecurities about him. So, I figured if I had them, he should, too.” Last fall, Majors bought a full page in both of the Hollywood trade dailies to tout an episode of his series he had directed but with a gratuitous P.S. reading, “To quiet those rumormongers who are determined to dissolve our marriage in print, let it be known that Farrah Fawcett-Majors and I have never been HAPPIER in our seven years together.” Of course, even a $600 million husband could be driven to paranoia and envy to match Farrah’s leaf-green eyes.
© People Magazine