“I’m just a country boy” says Lee Majors — but that hasn’t stopped him getting up into the saddle and riding straight to success as Heath in the Western The Big Valley.
DEBBIE SHERWOOD – ©fab-ulous magazine 1967
If you could go to Hollywood looking for Lee Majors, you would not find him in a fancy night club, sipping champagne and surrounded by a horde of beautiful starlet-type girls. Because, while Lee looks exactly as you would expect a typical Hollywood star to look, his private life is about as far removed from the “celluloid” cities as it can be. “I’m basically the simple type,” he says with a shrug of his broad shoulders. “I don’t go in for dressing up and going to a lot of fancy places all the time.” Instead, he spends almost all his free time on his farm outside Hollywood, where he rides, hikes, fishes and swims to his heart’s content. “It may sound funny to hear me say this,” he says, “but horseback riding is something I’ve only just discovered. Before I got the part on The Big Valley, I tad never been on a horse!” Watching him on the show, you’d never suspect Lee wasn’t “born to the saddle.” He seems so at ease on horse-back it’s hard to believe riding is a newly acquired art. But the sport was easy for him to pick up because he’s been a natural athlete almost from the day he was born.
He’s a product of a little town in Kentucky called Middlesboro, and he grew up in the Blue Ridge – Smoky Mountain region—sort of back of beyond. In high school, he was a star football player and dreamed of becom-ing a coach someday. He won a foot-ball scholarship to Eastern Kentucky Teacher’s College and was working toward his goal when an accident on the playing field dashed his hopes for once and for all.
“I wrenched my back during a game,” he recalls with a grimace. “And the next day I found myself paralysed from the waist down.”
For months, Lee didn’t know whether he’d ever walk again. Finally, the doctors told him he would walk, but he would have to give up football and other strenuous sports. This, of course, also meant that he would have to give up his dream of becoming an athletic coach.
“I was really worried about my future for a while,” he admits. “There wasn’t anything else I wanted to do.”
Then he started thinking about acting. He had always been fascinated by the late James Dean and he began to think he might be able to follow in the actor’s footsteps.
“I read everything I could find about him,” he remembers. “It seemed as if we had a lot in common.”
Lee was sure his friends would laugh at his idea of becoming an actor, but nobody even snickered, so after graduation, he packed up and headed for California.
The first person he looked up in Hollywood was Dick Clayton, James Dean’s agent. Clayton was impressed by Lee’s rugged good looks and driving ambition, but he wasn’t ready to take a chance on him just then. He told Lee to study acting for a year and come back.
Lee followed the agent’s advice and a year later he was given the role of Heath on The Big Valley. Today he is that enviable thing—a star. How does it feel ?
“It took some getting used to at first,” he declares. “I’m just a country boy. I’m not used to the Hollywood way of life.”
When Lee was invited to his first Hollywood party, he didn’t even own a suit, so he had to borrow one from actor Gary Lockwood. “When I got to the party, I was so nervous that I couldn’t think what to do with my hands, so I tried to put them in my pockets,” he laughs. “But Gary had one of those new fashioned suits that have no pants pockets. It was quite a problem.”
Now, of course, he does have a suit of his own—in fact, he has several. But he still gets nervous at cocktail parties and so he attends as few as possible. “I’m happiest when I’m out on the ranch with the animals,” he says simply.
Lee expects the girls he dates to be happy there, too. “If all a girl cares about is getting dressed up and going to some big party, there’s no point in our going out together,” he says.
“I’m not sure I’m mature enough to handle marriage just now,” he declares.
So for a while at least, Lee Majors is content to live the bachelor life on his farm, with only his animals—and a few “cowgirls”—for company.