One of the science fiction romances that really haunted my late childhood was the relationship between Steve Austin and Jamie Sommers.
Steve Austin was one of the television heroes of the 1970s. He was a test pilot/astronaut who survived a devastating plane crash and was reconstructed into cybernetic secret agent. About two years into the series, Steve was reunited with his childhood sweetheart, Jamie Sommers. Just as they had rekindled their old feelings for each other, Jamie was injured in a skydiving accident. Rather than see Jamie live out the rest of her life as an amputee, Steve talked his government handlers into giving Jamie the same kind of bionic rebuild they had given him. It worked…for a while. Jamie joined Steve on his bionic adventures, and the two of them were planning a wedding when tragedy struck a second time. Jamie’s body rejected the bionic implants, and she died on the operating table. This video sets the tragic love story of Steve and Jamie to the theme of the “Love Story” movie.
I remember seeing that two-part episode as a middle school student and really being torn up by it. I had never really been a fan of love stories before then, but that one really got to me. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one.
Everyone who followed the series then or in reruns knows Jamie didn’t stay dead. Yes, her heart had stopped, but a skilled surgeon had been able to resuscitate her. I still wonder if the network had really planned to leave Jamie dead. The following year, they revived her from a coma and gave her a spinoff series of her own. Sadly, she had suffered brain damage and forgotten Steve completely. They became friends again, but the romantic spark was gone. Steve had to sit back and watch as she fell in love with the surgeon who had saved her. How many times did he have to get her back only to lose her again? The writers really put Steve and the fans through the wringer emotionally.
Nineteen years later, in a made-for-TV movie, Steve, Jamie, and the old cast were reunited. Steve, by then, was in his fifties and Jamie was in her late forties. (They were supposed to be the same age but weren’t really.) Jamie’s memory had returned and, at the end of the episode, they were finally married.
Even though they finally got together, it was still sad to me that they lost so much time. Some of that was due to factors outside of their TV universe. I just read that The Bionic Woman was cancelled by ABC after its first season and picked up by another network. After that, there were no more crossover episodes between the two series. Steve and Jamie were isolated in their own TV worlds. Neither show lasted long after that. I wonder what would have happened if the network had let them marry and lead a team of bionic secret agents or something like that. We’ll never know.
Tragic romance aside, I will always look back fondly on those characters, and the time I spent in their world. I watched their shows, played with their action figures, and ran in slow-motion with my friends on the playground when we pretended to be them. At this writing, Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner, the actors who played Steve and Jamie, are both still alive. Lee is 78 and Lindsay is 68. Richard Anderson, who played their by-the-book but kind-hearted supervisor, Oscar Goldman, died last year at the age of 91. Thanks for the memories, folks.