Saturday, June 01, 2013

Meeting Lee and Bill and other fun tales

So, I met "The Six Million Dollar Man" and "The Greatest American Hero" in the same day. I can now die a happy man.

You have to understand that I have been a Lee Majors fan since childhood. He was Col. Steve Austin. AND Colt "The Fall Guy" Seivers. AND Heath on "The Big Valley." AND Roy Tate on "The Men from Shiloh" (aka "The Virginian").

AND he grew up admiring former Tennessee football player and (later) coach John Majors, who is another favorite. Lee had changed his last name from Yeary to Majors in honor of his hero when he became an actor.

Class act, couldn't have been nicer.

I showed him my 1977 booklet "Majors of Tennessee," distributed by The Tennessean when John Majors returned to UT that year. On one page, Lee Majors is shown (sporting a Pitt jacket) on the sidelines during the '76 Pitt/Penn State game.

He perked up when he saw the book. And he thumbed through it, remembering when he attended the Pitt national championship game.

I got so caught up in the moment, I almost forgot to pay for his autograph. He joked, "(You'd better), or else I'm keeping that!", pointing to the book. 

When I was a boy, Lee Majors and his then-wife Farrah Fawcett knew a couple who lived in Emory Estates in Halls. They'd sometimes visit. During the mid '80s, my dad and I would watch "The Fall Guy" on Wednesday nights together. I still have the "Fall Guy" lunchbox I carried throughout elementary school.

I've been waiting 35 years to meet Lee Majors. That moment happened today at the FanBoy Expo at the Jacob Building.

Also appearing at the event was William "The Greatest American Hero" Katt. I LOVED this show when I was a kid. I can remember watching it on Friday nights during the final months of its original ABC run.
When the FX cable network debuted in 1994, "The Greatest American Hero" was part of its original lineup. Dean Harned and I held a viewing party at his house. When the DVDs were released in 2005, I hunted all over Knoxville for a copy of Season 1.

Bill Katt was kind, gracious, unpretentious and serious in the good sense of the word. He confirmed that show creator Stephen J. Cannell fought the network to try to keep it fun but serious. He, Katt and co-star Robert Culp wanted the show to deal with humanistic and existential themes amid Ralph crashing into buildings, best evidenced in the first season episode "The Best Desk Scenario." The network wanted the show to be cartoonish and feature episodes in which Ralph saves the world week after week.  Tragically, Cannell's son died unexpectedly that year. Katt says some of the fight went out of Steve Cannell.

"That's when you started seeing lizards crawling out of the sewer," Katt said. "Steve Cannell came up and personally apologized to me for that. I think if (the change) hadn't happened, the show would have had a longer run."

(If the name Stephen J. Cannell doesn't at first ring a bell, perhaps this will jog your memory.)

He told us that NBC offered him a guaranteed two-year contract at double his ABC salary in the mid-1980s to revive the show after it became a hit in syndication. He turned it down, he said, shaking his head.

Katt says he performs in at least one stage play a year and would make a living doing it if he didn't have to relocate from Los Angeles to New York. His mother, by the way, is Barbara Hale, best known for playing Della Street on "Perry Mason." She's doing well at age 94, he says.

I have a migraine tonight, but that matters not. Today was a day to be a kid again. I took home three autographs (two from Katt) and a lifetime of memories.

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