Actor best known for his role as Oscar Goldman in ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’
RICHARD Anderson, who died last month, aged 91, was best known for playing Oscar Goldman, director of operations at the Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI), a secret US government agency, in The Six Million Dollar Man and its spin-off, The Bionic Woman.
The character had been created by Martin Caidin in his 1972 novel Cyborg and is the snappily-dressed superior to the bionic heroes, Colonel Steve Austin (played by Lee Majors) and Jaime Sommers (Lindsay Wagner).
The conceit of The Six Million Dollar Man is that Austin had been the pilot of an experimental aircraft that had crashed, leaving him barely alive. He would be “rebuilt” with state-of-the-art electronic prostheses in surgery costing $6m (about $34m today) and would have strength, speed and vision far beyond human norms. Anderson’s resonant tones were heard over the opening credits saying: “Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology…”
The franchise started with three TV movies in 1973, although in the first, Killer Wind, the Goldman of the books was replaced by Oliver Spencer (played by Darren McGavin).No explanation was given for why Goldman took over in Wine, Women and War and The Solid Gold Kidnapping. However, the character remained when the TV series began the following year.
“They didn’t even ask me to read or audition,” he recalled. His character, who was tall (Anderson stood 6 ft 4 in), good-looking and sophisticated, became well known for removing his glasses for dramatic emphasis while speaking, a gesture known in fan circles as “the move”.
He claimed that the addition of a female character to the series was his idea. Jaime Sommers, a former tennis player, has acquired her injuries in a parachuting accident. Her body initially rejects the bionic hardware but she is saved by an experimental procedure, leading to her own series, The Bionic Woman, in 1976. Both series ran until 1978.
When The Bionic Woman moved from ABC to NBC for its final season, Anderson was in the unusual position of playing the same character simultaneously on rival television networks.
Richard Norman Anderson was born in Long Branch, New Jersey, on August 8, 1926, and grew up in New York, where he would watch films at the weekend, before the family moved to Los Angeles. He recalled being impressed by a particular taciturn star. “I want to be an actor like him,” Anderson told his brother. Later he learnt that the actor was Gary Cooper.
Years later, Anderson asked Cooper the secret of his success. “Don’t say too much,” replied Cooper. Spencer Tracy, on the other hand, advised Anderson that the trick to acting was “Learn the lyrics and don’t bump into the furniture.”
He appeared in school plays, served in the US Army, studied at the Actors’ Laboratory in Los Angeles and began taking bit parts on the radio.
His first screen role was as a wounded airman in Twelve O’Clock High (1949), starring Gregory Peck. He was spotted by Betsy Drake, Cary Grant’s wife, on Lights, Camera, Action!, a television comedy show, and was then introduced to MGM, where his first job was in the mail room.
Anderson spent five years with the studio, making 28 films including the sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet (1956), in which he played Quinn, the chief engineer. He appeared in Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (1957), the work that “changed my whole career”, and John Frankenheimer’s Seven Days in May (1964). By the 1960s he was graduating towards television, including Thriller, hosted by Boris Karloff, and several episodes of Perry Mason and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
He reprised Goldman in a trio of television film sequels in the late 1980s, culminating in Bionic Ever After? (1994), in which he is best man at the wedding of Austin and the Bionic Woman.
Long after the bionic man and woman had been laid to rest, Anderson would goodnaturedly charm a new generation of fans at screen-hero conventions. He kept a large collection of vintage cars, including a 1936 Ford Phaeton.
In 1955 Anderson married Carol Lee Ladd, daughter of Alan Ladd, but the marriage was dissolved the following year. In 1961 he married Katharine Thalberg, daughter of Norma Shearer and the producer Irving Thalberg. They were divorced in 1973, and he is survived by their three daughters.
DIRECTOR: Richard Anderson