Monday, October 26, 2015

Bigfoot: Big in the 1970s

Monsters and strange creatures are intrinsic to Halloween, so this seems a fitting time to blog about Bigfoot.

The legends date back centuries though few believers remain in our skeptical times. But the name still resonates – Animal Planet is currently airing a series called Finding Bigfoot, and we’ve all seen those “Messin’ with Sasquatch” beef jerky commercials.

Bigfoot was biggest in the 1970s, a time when hairy dudes were everywhere, from Burt Reynolds and Barry Gibb to Billy Preston and Grizzly Adams. The phenomenon was likely launched by what is known as the Patterson/Gimlin film, shot in 1967 in Bluff Creek, California. It purported to be the first footage ever captured of the “real” Bigfoot, and it made frequent rounds on various news shows, talk shows and documentaries for years. 

Having thus captured the public’s imagination, it was inevitable that versions of Bigfoot would start turning up in several TV series, perhaps most memorably in The Six Million Dollar Man. “The Secret of Bigfoot” was a two-part episode from the show’s third season that is probably the most famous story they ever tried. 

The high point was a mano a mano throwdown between Col. Steve Austin, then one of the coolest dudes on the planet, and Bigfoot, played here by wrestler Andre the Giant. It was difficult to find believable opponents for someone with Austin’s bionic upgrades, so this was a rare opportunity for the show to cut loose with a full-out, slow motion slugfest, that ends shockingly when Austin rips the creature’s arm off.

Before the PETA folks could start writing angry letters, it’s revealed that the secret alluded to in the episode’s title is that Bigfoot was a robot, created by an alien race who were living inside a mountain, observing humanity. Fortunately they’re friendly visitors, especially the hottie scientist played by Stefanie Powers who asks Steve, “What makes a woman attractive in your world?”

The episodes were so popular that Bigfoot even got his own action figure.

I'd rather have had one of Stefanie Powers.

Bigfoot was quickly brought back for a crossover story between The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman. In “The Return of Bigfoot” the aliens have split into two camps: an evil ring led by John Saxon and the original “we come in peace” group, featuring Powers and Sandy Duncan ("We need someone to play a strange visitor from another world. Quick - get me Sandy Duncan!"). 

Unfortunately the nasty ones control Bigfoot (now played by Ted Cassidy), and it’s up to Steve and Jaime to set things right.

Episodes like these exemplify ‘70s adventure TV: slightly silly but good-natured fun, with unambiguous heroes, action, suspense and a positive message that doesn’t pound you into submission.

It’s probably not surprising that Bigfoot was especially popular among children, hence his appearances in several Saturday morning shows.

Of course, you’d expect the meddling kids at Mystery Inc. to run into him eventually, and it happened in 1972 on The New Scooby Doo Movies. In “The Ghost of Bigfoot,” the Scooby gang find their vacation at the MacKinac Lodge interrupted by the spirit of Bigfoot. They solve the case with help from bellhops Laurel & Hardy. It was not one of the better shows of the run. 

Over on The Krofft Supershow, “Bigfoot and Wildboy” featured a Bigfoot (Ray Young) whose existence was known at the local ranger station. As with many Krofft series the opening theme/narration tells you everything you need to know:

Out of the Great Northwest comes the legendary Bigfoot
who, eight years ago, saved a young child lost in the vast wilderness
and raised that child until he grew up to be Wildboy

Bigfoot – hero and single parent – took on aliens, poachers, vampires, mummies and mad scientists. The series lasted 20 episodes, which is about the average run for a Krofft show. It wasn’t one of my favorites, mainly because I always hated the escalating, cacophonous electronic sound effect that accompanied Bigfoot’s running and leaping. Seemed totally out of place. 

I’ll mention one more ‘70s Bigfoot story here, though I’m sure I’ve missed a few others. Isis was and remains my favorite Comfort TV kids show, and the episode “Bigfoot” is an example of this kindhearted, uplifting series at its best.  

A high school field trip ends after two students spot a huge, shadowy figure in the mountains. One of them, Lee, wonders if it might be Bigfoot, and the next day suggests getting a group together to hunt it down. 

"Why?" asks Dr. Barnes, the principal.

Lee: "Why? Because that thing is dangerous!"

Dr. Barnes: "Why?"

Lee: "Well…it’s big, and we don’t know what it is."

Dr. Barnes: "So it must be dangerous…too many people think that anything they don’t understand is dangerous. That’s wrong. If you don’t know what something is you should be cautious but not afraid, not set out to hunt it down."

There’s a show that laid down some knowledge and lessons in tolerance to go with our Frosted Flakes and Fruity Pebbles. But some of the kids do head back to the mountains, where Lee meets not Bigfoot but a long-bearded hermit named Richard, who turns out to be the gentlest of giants. 

Isis invites him to come back with them, but Richard has been told he’s big and ugly all his life and is still too afraid to return to civilization. 

“Sometimes people are very cruel to those who seem different,” Isis says. “But it’s worth giving them a chance.”

Seems like a graceful note on which to end. Let's all keep that in mind as we head toward an election year. Happy Halloween.


  1. "I always hated the escalating, cacophonous electronic sound effect that accompanied Bigfoot’s running and leaping."
    I think that was done to deliberately confuse the kiddies and make them think this was the same Bigfoot that appeared in the bionic shows, thus riding the coattails of the popularity of those shows without getting sued. At least, that's the effect it had on me as a youngster way back then.

  2. That's an interesting thought that never occurred to me! You could be right. But for me the sound effects on the bionic shows enhanced the action on screen - here, they just made me grateful for the invention of the Mute button.