Born in the Southern Detroit suburb of Wyadotte along the Detroit River as Harvey Lee Yeary, Lee Majors got his start like most burgeoning actors of the day: he did his time in a studio-sponsored acting school, in Major’s case, at MGM with acclaimed acting teacher Estelle Harman, who guided the careers of Tony Curtis and Rock Hudson.
But — like Kurt Russell — before acting, Harvey Yeary was all about sports. And his skills in track and football at Middlesboro High School in Kentucky led to a scholarship at Indiana University. A back injury during his first college game while attending Eastern Kentucky University ended his collegiate career. And, like Kurt Russell, who torn out a shoulder and ended his potential professional baseball career, Harvey Lee Yeary pursued his second love: acting.
Using his degree in Physical Education (he also has a degree in History), he worked as a Recreation Director in the Los Angeles Parks and Recreation Department. Among the many industry professionals he met during that time was Dick Clayton, James Dean’s agent. Liking his personality, looks and physique — and the fact he had stage acting experience back in Kentucky — Clayton suggested Yeary try acting professionally.
Soon after, at the age of 25, the man we came to know as Lee Majors booked his first, although uncredited role, as Joan Crawford’s cheating husband in Strait-Jacket. Then he booked his first credited role in a 1965 episode of TV’s Gunsmoke. After a support role in the 1967 Charlton Heston-starring western Will Penny (directed by Tom Gries of Earth II fame), Lee Majors beat out 400 young acting hopefuls, including another ex-college football player, Burt Reynolds, for a co-starring role as Heath Barkley on the ABC-TV western series, The Big Valley. Then came Majors’s first starring role in The Ballad of Andy Crocker, which aired as an ABC-TV Movie of the Week. In 1971, Majors then landed the co-starring role of Jess Brandon for the three-season run of the ABC-TV law drama, Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law.
And all of that work with the ABC network paid off: Lee was offered a leading-man role that would change his life and turn him into our beloved pop icon: USAF Colonel Steve Austin, a character created by Harve Bennett (The Astronaut, Salvage I) for a series of three TV movies eventually picked up as a four-year run TV series.
And the rest is history. And we reviewed Lee Majors’s film history all of this week, from Sunday, April 18 to Saturday, April 24.
Well, yeah, because Lee’s 82nd birthday is on April 23, but also, because we dig Lee Majors and our ’70s childhood memories. For when you’re immortalized twice as a toy and have not one, but two, lunch boxes, and two board games with your likeness, well, your career kicked ass and a bag o’ chips. And while the bionic eye on our Steve Austin action figure (it’s not a doll!) eventually fogged up, and the button in the back that controlled the bionic arm broke, and the skin we peeled back to reveal Steve’s bionic modules dry rotted, Steve Austin still kicked our full-sized G.I Joe’s asses.
Here’s the film’s we reviewed this week, by year of release:
The Ballad of Andy Crocker (1969)
The Liberation of L.B Jones (1970)
Weekend of Terror (1970)
The Six Million Dollar Man (1973)
The True Story of the U-2 Spy Incident (1976)
The Norseman (1978)
Killer Fish (1979)
High Noon, Part II: The Return of Will Kane (1980)
The Last Chase (1981)
Starflight One (1983)
Spring Break ’83 (1983)
A Smoky Mountain Christmas (1986)
Keaton’s Cop (1990)
Fire: Trapped on the 37th Floor (1991)
The Cover Girl Murders (1994)
Trojan War (1997)
Musketeers Forever (1998)
Big Fat Liar (2002)
Hell to Pay (2005)
The Witnessing of Angels (2006)
Ben 10: Race Against Time (2007)
The Brothers Solomon (2007)
Jerusalem Countdown (2011)
Do You Believe? (2015)
Almosting It (2016)
Wild Bill Hickok: Swift Justice (2016)
And Lee’s career just keeps on truckin’! We were stoked to learn that Lee is in post-production on his 127th project, the U.K.-produced Renegades, in which he co-stars with . . . wait for it . . . Danny Trejo and Michael Pare! So, oh, hell yeah. When you give us a movie with Danny, Micheal and Lee Majors, we are so there. You can learn more about Renegades, scheduled to hit all streaming platforms in 2021, at Variety.com. And yes, you impressionable youngins, you know Lee as Brock Williams, Ash’s pop, in the second and third seasons of Starz’s Ash vs. Evil Dead.
While we didn’t get a chance to review them, you may be interested in checking out two more of Lee’s films that we discovered: When I Find the Ocean (2008; on Tubi) and the just-released Narco Sub (2021; official website).
We dig you, Lee. Keep on thespin’.