It speaks perhaps to the new consciousness of the ’70s that the most compelling Superperson in the pop culture these days is no longer Clark Kent but Lois Lane. She is ABC’s The Bionic Woman, and, to be sure, heroine Jaime Sommers can whir open a No. 10 can with her fingernail, but she doesn’t have to put it on the stove. Liberation-wise, she makes prime-time predecessors like the subservient, embottled Jeannie a bad dream. More significant, the producers restrained themselves from plucking a Raquel bombshell type for the part of Jaime. Instead, Universal cast Lindsay Wagner, 27, a contract player whose option had earlier been dropped because she was (in the words of an old-school studio executive) “just another tall skinny broad with no boobs.”
Whatever classic credentials Lindsay lacks, she compensates for with a winning vulnerability. Wagner is not a bionic stiff like The Six Million Dollar Man, the ABC precursor from which her series was spun off. The viewer senses that Lindsay could (as she, in fact, did) suffer an ulcer at 16, almost lose her streaked locks (due to side effects of the Pill) and continually battle anemia. As a result, the fragile Bionic Woman is not just Topic A in orthodontists’ waiting rooms—she melts adults as well, especially males.
Not the least of these are Lee Majors, the star of Six Million Dollar Man, and her manager, Ron Samuels Majors, whose original reaction to Wagner’s arrival matched Harry Reasoner’s exultation the day he first heard about Barbara Walters, has simmered down. Reports Lindsay, “We laugh and joke and have a good time now.” As for Samuels, 33, she has turned that bulldog of a manager (his other clients have included Charo and Evel Knievel) into a puppy. For whatever reasons, Ron has just left his wife for a trial separation. He can’t resist telling Lindsay even in public: “You know I get a thrill every time I look at you.” Or with a hand on her shoulder: “I love you, I really do.”
All of that, of course, tests the tolerance of the man Lindsay lives with, Michael Brandon, 31, an actor (TV’s Queen of the Stardust Ballroom) and scenarist. Fortunately, Lindsay finds now that she is “gone so much of the time,” Michael has turned out to be “very flexible—a quality I find rare in my experience with men.” Happily, Brandon was, before he got into acting, a Gestalt therapist.
The seismic jolt to their already complicated ménage was the astounding deal slammed through by Samuels. Wagner at first resisted guesting on Six Million Dollar Man. “I called home and said, ‘Mom, they’ve offered me the silliest script.’ ” Her mother responded, “But that’s your sister’s favorite show.” “Okay,” promised Lindsay in deference to her then 11-year-old half sister, “I’ll read it again.” Lindsay did, and a two-episode appearance as the love interest to Majors sent the ratings to the moon, despite a tragic ending in which Wagner suffered a sky-diving accident, received some transplants but died by “bionic rejection.”
The American audience reacted as if it had been Lassie—putting Samuels and his client in the Catfish (Hunter) seat, when Universal, which carelessly had let her contract expire, figured it had to resurrect her. As a gambit Samuels asked for, and to his shock got, $25,000 per for two more episodes. The next inexorable step was her own series, and this time Ron and Lindsay took Universal for 500 Gs a year; a guarantee of five feature films; plus 12½% of the royalties on all Bionic Woman artifacts. Jaime doll manufacturers figure Christmas is going to run 365 days a year, and Lindsay is contemplating putting out her own lace-topped, thigh-high stockings labeled Bionic Legs.
It’s all a bionic leap for a girl who once quit dance school “because I was so inhibited.” Born in L.A. to a teenaged couple, Lindsay found herself living with relatives “while my parents grew up”; they divorced when she was 7. “Sometimes I felt stranded,” Wagner recalls, and she faced additional pressures since by age 10 she was 57″ (she’s grown two inches since). By 14, she was modeling college fashions and doing TV spots for Diet Rite. But she found modeling “degrading” and her looks a handicap. “I had a hard time with the guys,” she reflects. “All they wanted to do was screw. I thought, ‘Is this all there is to being pretty? I have a brain too, dummy!’ ” So she tried dressing sloppily and “going around with older guys, so at least when I said ‘No,’ we could talk about something else.”
In her mid-teens, Wagner moved to Oregon with her remarried mother (“We’ve been best friends ever since,” says Lindsay). In 1968, after three semesters of college, Wagner tried singing with a rock band that lasted “two nights in Dallas.” By then “a mixed-up soul, tapped out” (according to a friend), Wagner drifted back to Hollywood and into acting, which had opened her up like therapy, she says. Next followed a short-lived marriage to a music executive and her first $162-a-week Universal contract.
Despite her superstardom, Lindsay and Brandon continue to rent a barely furnished saltine box of a house in Laurel Canyon. It’s but a way station between ranches—last winter Michael sold his old spread to Bob Dylan, and now they’re shopping for another. (It was on a house-hunting expedition in January that Wagner dozed at the wheel at 10 a.m., totaled her MG, suffered show-delaying facial cuts and “nearly killed the man I love.”) Outdoors freaks, they already have a primitive riverfront cabin along the Washington-Oregon border, and when they vacationed in Europe this spring, they quickly fled the insanity of the Cannes Film Festival for an English country cottage. There, recalls Michael wistfully, “we were together every second. She did the cooking and I chopped wood. That’s the way we feel happiest.”
But now that her series is shooting again, Lindsay has considerably less time for horseback riding, swimming, sewing or for Brandon. (He’s submitted a two-part Bionic Woman script, though, in which he’s written himself in as Lindsay’s amour, and Michael does have a sharp manager—Samuels.) Presently Ron is trying to swing a TV musical special for Lindsay (she’s had a year of piano lessons) as well as a Vegas show. He’s searching out scripts, he says, “for a strong woman’s role where Lindsay gets the meat” (an infelicitous slip that crumbles Wagner into silvery laughter).
In any case, propelled by Samuels’ wind, Wagner is postponing what she covets most: kids. Billie Campbell, singer Glen’s ex and a friend since Lindsay baby-sat for them in her teens, says, “She’s always wanted a baby of her own—even before getting married.” Muses Wagner, “Sometimes I think I might have children while I’m still working, but then I think I’d better wait until I can give them all I want to give.”
For now, Lindsay surrounds herself with “people who care.” Her secretary is a longtime girlfriend. An aunt snowshoes through the 1,000 weekly fan letters. As for Brandon, she thinks, “Now is the time to maintain a sense of your self instead of becoming dependent. We keep talking about getting married and don’t do it. It’s scary,” she adds, “because we have such a nice relationship now, we wonder if marriage would mess it up. I have a feeling it’s going to be one of those now-or-never situations when the time comes.” Then there’s manager Samuels hovering in the wings, “like a guardian angel,” she says, “coming in and saying ‘You’re okay’ when I’m feeling down.” But that seems to happen less these days. She flashes a bionic grin and confides: “I’m so optimistic, it’s depressing.”