The Six Million Dollar Man was one of the most popular television series of the 1970s (I watched it as a kid). It starred Lee Majors as former astronaut Colonel Steve Austin who, while test-flying a new, prototype aircraft, suffers a terrible 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 anyone’s radar. The long-running series (which followed in the wake of three, successful made-for-television movies) was an immediate hit with the viewing public. It ran for 100 episodes and six movies and provoked a spin-off show, in 1976, The Bionic Woman (starring Lindsay Wagner). "The Secret of Bigfoot" was a two-part adventure that aired in February 1976. It was, and still is, one of the most popular of all the many and varied stories told in The Six Million Dollar Man. In terms of Bigfoot, the 1970s was the one period, more than any other, in which there was a significant focus by the monster-hunting community on the Ssasquatch-flying saucer connection and controversy. Today, the vast majority of Bigfoot investigators are highly intolerant of the idea that there might be a link between cryptid apes and aliens. Back then, however, things were very different. And that seventies-era fascination for the UFO-Bigfoot link also spilled over into the domain of fiction.
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. That the OSI, under Steve Austin’s boss, Oscar Goldman (actor Richard Anderson), is working with the geologists, Ivan and Marlene Bekey, means that Austin soon plays a leading role in the quest to find the pair. And particularly so when huge, humanlike 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 wrestling legend, 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 nuclear explosion from taking place, since they believe – correctly – that it may also destroy their mountainous, secret abode. Austin is determined that the earthquake must be stopped and he succeeds in thwarting the plans of the aliens to prevent it – as well as finding Marlene, much to the relief of Ivan. In the final scenes, we see that the atomic explosion has indeed prevented the catastrophic earthquake from occurring, but, as suspected, it has also caused major damage to the extraterrestrial facility. 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 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. Unfortunately, given that he made an excellent Bigfoot, Andre the Giant was nowhere to be seen. He was replaced by Ted Cassidy (Lurch, in The Addams Family), who reprised the role a year later, in 1977, in a one-off episode titled "Bigfoot V." For fans of The Six Million Dollar Man, "The Secret of Bigfoot" remains a firm favorite of robot devotees. And of Bigfoot, too.
Now, let's have a look at the facts of UFOs and Bigfoot in the 1970s. Stan Gordon is one of the United States’ leading researchers of the stranger sides of the Bigfoot phenomenon. And they don’t come much stranger than a case that Gordon investigated, in late 1973, in his home state of Pennsylvania. It’s important to note that the case in question was one of dozens that Gordon received from 1972 to 1974, which, collectively, suggested the presence of unknown, hairy, man-beasts all across Pennsylvania. Many of the cases that Gordon investigated, however, were dominated by phenomena that, for many Bigfoot investigators, fell far outside what one could call the norm – including a certain event that occurred at Fayette County, in October 1973. It was the dark night of October 25 when all hell broke loose in the heart of the county. The primary player in the story was one Steve Palmer who was both amazed and frightened to see a brightly illuminated UFO hovering over local farmland, around 9.00 p.m. But that wasn’t all that Palmer encountered: a pair of immense, ape-like animals with very long and muscular arms surfaced out of the shadows of the dark field and proceeded to walk right towards Palmer, himself. He wasted no time and blasted them with a salvo of bullets. Very weirdly, the bullets appeared to have no effect – at all – on either creature, and they retreated into the darkness. The UFO did likewise, vanishing in an instant. That was not the end of the affair, however. Approximately four hours later, things took on even stranger, and far more terrifying, proportions.
It was roughly 1.00 a.m. when Stan Gordon arrived on the scene, having been alerted to the Palmer encounter by a local police officer, one who had been apprised of the facts. Along with Gordon were fellow investigators Dennis Smeltzer, Fred Pitt, David Smith, and George Lutz. They met with Palmer, who proceeded to tell them of his unearthly encounter with the two Bigfoot and the UFO. Then, quite out of the blue, something horrifying occurred: Palmer’s breathing changed, to the extent that he was literally panting heavily and deeply, and he broke into a deep, guttural growl and knocked both his own father and Lutz to the field floor. And that was only the start of things. Pitt found himself unable to breathe properly, Smeltzer felt faint, and Palmer fell to the ground, having apparently passed out. A powerful, rotten odor of brimstone suddenly dominated the cold night air. The terrified group knew that it was vital they get out of the field – and quickly, too – before things got even worse. Later, when Palmer regained consciousness, he told Gordon and his team that he, Palmer, while in his passed out state, had seen before him a sickle-carrying, dark-robed figure that warned him the Human Race was on the verge of destroying itself – and would do exactly that unless it curbed its violent instincts.
Even stranger than that, a couple of weeks later, Palmer was visited at his home by two Air Force officers, one in uniform and the other in plainclothes. It became very clear, and very quickly, that the pair knew all about Palmer’s weird encounter and the later experience. They even confided in him they knew that both UFOs and Sasquatch were genuine. There was a specific reason for the visit: first, they showed Palmer a number of photos of Bigfoot creatures and wanted to know if the beast he encountered resembled them. Second, they asked if Palmer would be willing to be placed into a hypnotic state, to ensure that the military secured all the relevant data. Palmer agreed. And with all the information in hand, the two men got up, thanked Palmer, and left. Despite telling Palmer they would keep him informed of any future developments, they failed to do so. He never saw them again. It was a fitting end to a case steeped in mystery.
There was, however, more Bigfoot weirdness in the 1970s. In a 2010 book, Silent Invasion: The Pennsylvania UFO-Bigfoot Casebook, Stan delved deeper into the world of 1970s UFOs and Bigfoot. Now, I know for sure that any book suggesting Bigfoot may somehow be inextricably linked with the UFO phenomenon - and vice-versa, of course! - is bound to raise hackles in certain quarters. The fact of the matter, however, is that there is surely not a Bigfoot researcher out there who has not been exposed to (at the very least) a few creature cases that absolutely reek of high-strangeness, and that place the hairy man-beasts into definitively supernatural - rather than zoological or cryptozoological - realms. Whether those same Bigfoot researchers are willing to admit they have come across such cases - or are willing to give such reports some degree of credence - is a very different matter, however. Fortunately, there are a number of researchers who recognize that as much as it would be preferable to place Bigfoot in a purely flesh-and-blood category, there is a significant body of data and testimony that points in a very different direction. And it’s a direction that, to his credit, Stan Gordon does not shy away from. Indeed, Gordon’s book is a first-class study of a truly weird wave of Bigfoot-UFO activity that swamped the good folk of Pennsylvania in the period from 1972 to 1974.
In many ways, Silent Invasion is reminiscent of John Keel’s classic The Mothman Prophecies - as a result of the fact that it focuses on the in-depth research of a dedicated, investigative author who duly finds himself up to his neck in monstrous bizarreness, ufological weirdness, and downright supernatural menace. Silent Invasion is a swirling cauldron filled with dark and ominous woods; glowing-eyed beast-men prowling the countryside by night; strange lights in the sky; UFO landings; neighborhoods gripped by terror and fear; and much, much more, too. And, it's thanks to Gordon’ research, as well as his in-depth files prepared back when all the dark drama was going on, that we’re now able to appreciate the curious chaos and calamity that collectively hit the unsuspecting folk of Pennsylvania all those years ago. But, that's not all: macabre Men in Black, paranormal activity, psychic possession, secret government interest in Bigfoot, and prophetic visions of a dark and foreboding future all come to the fore in a book that is guaranteed to make you think twice about the true nature of Bigfoot. Gordon does not take the simplistic approach that Bigfoot is some sort of “pet of the aliens,” as some might assume. Instead, he logically, forthrightly and with supportive data in-hand, makes it abundantly clear that - even if we don’t have all the answers - addressing the Bigfoot controversy from a purely zoological perspective does not work - at all.
Stan notes the problematic lack of a body (even just one would be nice!), the meager evidence of Bigfoot’s eating habits, and its uncanny ability to always avoid capture - not to mention that the beast appears to be nigh-on bullet-proof. And I do mean that literally. And Gordon hammers home, time and again, that where Bigfoot turns up, so - very often - do a host of other supernatural favorites. Something strange and diabolical was afoot in Pennsylvania between 1972 and 1974. Bigfoot, UFOs and a plethora of paranormal activity were all in evidence. Somewhere, somehow, there is a connection - even if it’s one we're not fully able to understand, just yet. Until we do, however, Silent Invasion will provide you with much to think about, to muse upon, and to ponder. And it may just make you totally revise your views on North America's most famous ape-man. A great, atmospheric and uncanny tale best devoured by a flickering candle as the witching-hour looms!