Richard Anderson: The Bionic Boss
Remembering actor Richard Anderson
It was all style and all substance for actor Richard Anderson, who passed away from natural causes at age 91 on August 31, 2017.
When Anderson delivered a line, you believed him; it was like you were in the room with him, and not watching from any distance one of his countless performances on television, the big screen, or the stage.
Best known to TV viewers as Oscar Goldman, the government supervising official for the O.S.I. ("Office of Strategic Intelligence" - a.k.a. "Information") on The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, Anderson's staple role on those two sci-fi superhero series of the '70s became signature for several reasons.
It is Anderson's distinctive voice heard in the now-legendary narrative of the opening credit sequences for Man with the pulsating phrasing accented by the show's heart-beat medical sound effects: "A man barely alive…we have the technology. We can rebuild him…make it stronger…faster…better."
Lee Majors played that man, Col. Steve Austin, an astronaut turned test-pilot whose body is shattered in a near-fatal accident, and then rebuilt into a secret service cyborg (the latter word of which was the title of Martin Caidin's original sci-fi novel that spawned the series).
Lindsay Wagner portrayed former-tennis pro Jaime Sommers, a first love to Austin who is injured in a sky-diving accident. She, too, like Austin, is rebuilt – under Goldman's watchful eye and budget (her parts were smaller, clocking in at $5 million).
Both Man and Woman were born and originally aired on ABC, but when the latter switched to NBC in its third and final season, Anderson benchmarked his performance as one of the first actors to play the same character on two different shows on two opposing networks.
Although his performance as Goldman was consistent on both shows, Anderson delivered a twin but unique interpretation of the character opposite Austin and Sommers.
Goldman was the protective older brother-type boss in each case, but alongside Majors as Austin it was more business than casual as when appearing next to Wagner as Sommers. Minus any sexist stigma, Oscar referred to Steve as his "Pal," and Jaime as "Babe," and all was well, and safe and good in the Bionic world.
Today, the "Babe" reference in some circles may be considered politically incorrect, but according to what Anderson relayed in The Bionic Book, during Woman's initial reign, "Oscar was attaching it to a person for whom he cared a great deal."
As Anderson further explained of the bionic dichotomy between Man and Woman, "When we did Six Mill, we concentrated on the Washington scene. It was more of a straight adventure show.
"The Bionic Woman did more emotional stories. It was funnier, looser [than Six] because Lindsay has a relaxed, humorous quality. Jaime allowed me to add some colors. Oscar was firm and brotherly with Steve, and had to constantly reestablish that he, not Steve, was the boss. With Jaime, he was lenient and fatherly, almost overly protective, and only argued with her out of concern for her health and safety."
Producer/director Kenneth Johnson, who guided both shows (and created Woman), remembered when he first saw Anderson playing Oscar on the Man set. The actor was sunning himself with an aluminum reflector, off-stage, looking somewhat austere.
"I didn't know really what he was going to be like," Johnson admitted. "Then I walked past him, and he said, 'You're Kenny, aren't you. I just want to tell you big guy, that you write really great love stories. Why can't you write one for me. Why can't I be in love with The Bionic Woman?'"
From that point on, Johnson was on to Anderson's humor, and the two became "very good friends."
But what about the assumption by some fans of both shows that Oscar was in love with Jaime?
"I won't try to hide behind that," Anderson mused. "I think he was in love with her, and I tried to convey that in very subtle ways. He couldn't help himself." [As with the wedding scene in the 1994's TV-reunion movie, Bionic Ever After, when a smile momentarily disappears from Oscar's face as if ultimately realizes that Steve is the one who finally weds Jaime.]
As to Anderson's twin-performance as Goldman, he says, ABC was initially apprehensive about having him appear on Woman when the show switched to NBC in the fall of 1978. ABC didn't want their advertisers to move any of their accounts over to the newly-ordained NBC edition of Woman on a rival network.
"They didn't like that idea at all," Anderson said. "In fact, they tried kill it. They were quite adamant about it, and made a big deal. They didn't want me appearing on the competition in any manner, much less one of their own born and bred characters."
Frank Price, the executive for Universal Studio, proprietor of both series, then stepped up to the plate for Anderson, believing his Goldman role was intrinsically pertinent to both shows.
In the end, Anderson stayed put on both networks and both shows, an experience he described in total as "enjoyable."
"It was a very happy time, and a unique experience," he explained. "I had the chance to play a very respectable character, who was involved privately and on a business level with two very special people. As Steve and Jaime grew and developed, Oscar did as well."
Bionic writer/producer Arthur Rowe (father to actress Misty Rowe) praised Anderson's "Oscar-winning" performance. He liked working with the actor and later employed him on Fantasy Island, for which he served as supervising producer.
"Richard is an extremely decent individual," Rowe said. "He played Oscar about as perfect as the character could be played. You had the ultimate head of this secret government organization who, despite his heady position, expressed sympathy in his dealings with Steve and Jaime."
Anderson's performance legacy, however, extends beyond his Bionic brood.
Born Richard Norman Anderson on August 8, 1926 in New Jersey, Anderson began his career in the mailroom at MGM, where he soon transitioned into a contract player on-screen with feature films The Magnificent Yankee (1950), Scaramouche (1952), Escape From Fort Bravo (1953; opposite William Holden) and Forbidden Planet (1956), and in Stanley Kubrick's anti-war classic Paths of Glory (1957).
In 1958, he moved to Fox and portrayed Allan Stuart, the subservient boyfriend to Joanne Woodward in The Long, Hot Summer (1958), juxtaposed to his usual commanding presence, which was later re-ignited in more military movies, including the Rod Serling-penned screenplay for John Frankenheimer's Seven Days in May (1964), and with a second Frankenheimer film, a science-fiction movie called Seconds (1966), playing opposite Rock Hudson.
On television, he guest-starred on shows like Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Daniel Boone, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Hawaii Five-O, Ironside, Charlie's Angels, Dynasty, The A-Team, and Murder, She Wrote, as well as in the highly-rated, final two-part segment of ABC's 1960s series, The Fugitive, a development that ultimately went on to set the precedent for series finale scenario utilized by various shows ever since.
Additionally, Anderson, who authored Richard Anderson: At Last…A Memoir, had played police Lt. Steve Drumm on the final season of CBS' Perry Mason and Santa Luisa Police Chief George Untermeyer on ABC's Dan August, starring Burt Reynolds, and in TV-movies like The Night Strangler, a sequel to The Night Stalker movie that lead to the pre-X-Files weekly supernatural series starring Darren McGavin.
As fate would have it, McGavin had appeared in a similarly-supervisory role to Oscar Goldman in the 1973 90-minute pilot for The Six Million Dollar Man.
But as Lee Majors recently assessed to Deadline.com, once Anderson was cast as Goldman, he became irreplaceable.
"I met Richard in 1967 when he first guest starred on The Big Valley - we worked together on five episodes," Majors said. "In 1974, he joined me as my boss, Oscar Goldman, in The Six Million Dollar Man. Richard became a dear and loyal friend, and I have never met a man like him.
"I called him 'Old Money.' His always stylish attire, his class, calmness and knowledge never faltered in his 91 years. He loved his daughters, tennis and his work as an actor. He was still the sweet, charming man when I spoke to him a few weeks ago. I will miss you, my friend."
Lindsay Wagner joined in Major's sentiment, defining Anderson's legacy and, in the process, subtly expressing the measure of loss that will resonate with his fans for years to come:
"I can't begin to say how much I have always admired and have been grateful for the elegance and loving friendship I was blessed to have with Richard Anderson. He will be greatly missed."
Herbie J Pilato is the author of The Bionic Book: The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman Reconstructed, for which Richard Anderson wrote the foreword. For more information, log on to www.HerbieJPilato.com.