The 1970s was the one period, more than any other, in which the monster-hunting community focused on the controversial Bigfoot/UFO connection. Or, depending on your perspective, the lack of connection. Indeed, today, the vast majority of Bigfoot investigators are highly intolerant of the idea that there might be a link between cryptid apes and aliens. Although, I definitely recommend Stan Gordon’s 2010 book, Silent Invasion, which is an excellent study of Bigfoot and Fortean high-strangeness in 1970s-era Pennsylvania. And, it was also in the seventies that the fascination for the UFO-Bigfoot link spilled over into the domain of fiction.
The Six Million Dollar Man was one of the most popular television series of the 1970s. It starred Lee Majors as astronaut Colonel Steve Austin who, while test-flying a new, prototype aircraft, suffers a severe accident in which he loses both of his legs, his right arm, and his left eye. It could have spelled the end of any kind of meaningful life for Austin. Except for one thing: thanks to the work of a secret government agency – the Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI) – Austin is rebuilt, using sophisticated robotic technology called bionics. In short, he becomes a cyborg: a half-human, half-machine, long before Robocop was on the scene. The long-running series was an immediate hit with the viewing public. And it provoked a spin-off show, in 1976, The Bionic Woman (starring Lindsay Wagner).
“The Secret of Bigfoot” was a two-part Six Million Dollar Man adventure that aired in February 1976. It was, and still is, one of the most popular of all. The story is set in the heavily forested mountains of California – from where a great deal of real-life sightings of Bigfoot have been made. From the outset, the tale is shrouded in intrigue. A pair of geologists, monitoring earthquake activity in the area, have vanished. The OSI, under Steve Austin’s boss, Oscar Goldman (actor Richard Anderson), is working with the geologists, Ivan and Marlene Bekey. As a result, Austin soon plays a leading role in the quest to find the pair. And particularly so when huge, human-like footprints are found in the area.
While Marlene remains missing, Ivan turns up, in a condition of near-hysteria. He is not the only one who turns up. A huge Bigfoot (played by wrestler, Andre the Giant) is soon on the scene, too, and launches a violent assault on Austin’s and Goldman’s encampment. It’s during the attack that Austin wrenches off one of the arms of the hairy monster, which reveals it to be not a flesh and blood animal, but a highly sophisticated robot. We also learn that the Bigfoot is controlled by a group of aliens, who have a secret installation built inside one of the huge mountains.
Austin soon becomes a victim of alien abduction, in which he discovers that Marlene and Ivan were attacked because they had inadvertently uncovered evidence of the alien base. Even worse, OSI’s studies in the area show that the entire West Coast is about to be hit by a devastating earthquake, one that could potentially kill millions. The only available option is to detonate, underground, a small atomic device on the fault line, thus preventing the quake from occurring. Unknown to Austin, the aliens try and prevent the atomic explosion from taking place, since they believe – correctly – that it may also destroy their mountainous, secret abode.
In the final scenes, we see that the atomic explosion does indeed prevent the catastrophic earthquake from occurring. As suspected, however, it also causes major damage to the extraterrestrial facility. We also see Ivan and Marlene reunited. As a result, Austin – with help from Bigfoot, no less – gives the aliens assistance in repairing the damaged parts, and systems, of their base. Careful to ensure that the truth of the alien presence, and of the real nature of Bigfoot, remains hidden, the visitors from beyond wipe out Austin’s memories of the bizarre and near-catastrophic events. Bigfoot is once again the enigma that it always has been.
Such was the success of this particular story, Bigfoot was brought back, in September 1976, for another two-part story: “The Return of Bigfoot.” Again, the focus was on aliens, Sasquatch, and underground bases. To help boost ratings on The Bionic Woman, part-two of the story became the opening episode of the new series of that particular show, in which Austin and the bionic woman herself, Jaime Summers, clash with both ETs and Sasquatch. Andre the Giant, however, was replaced by Ted Cassidy (Lurch, in The Addams Family), who, in 1977, took on the role yet again, in a one-off episode titled “Bigfoot V.” For fans of The Six Million Dollar Man, “The Secret of Bigfoot” remains a firm favorite. However, it probably makes more than a few Bigfoot-seekers cringe, and particularly so those rigidly in the “Bigfoot is just an unknown ape” camp.