Looking Back on “The Fall Guy” — an Aria of 80s Sexism

The Lee Majors-crooned theme song from his old TV show “The Fall Guy” snuck into my head this morning.  It’s a stumper as to why or how this happened, and it proves only that I watched way too much TV in my youth.

The series (about a stunt man who is also a bounty hunter with two young assistants) ran 1981-1986 with a staggering 19.9 rating.  The theme song (which ran for a staggering minute and forty-one seconds) got stuck deep enough in my cranium that some odd collision of neurons brought it back up to consciousness.

So I went to YouTube, repository of all video ephemera, and found the theme song in seconds:

The first two lines (four seconds) of the “Fall Guy” theme song reveal a lot about the show:

Well, I’m not the kind to kiss and tell,

But I’ve been seen with Farrah.

Nobody under 40 will get the reference: Lee Majors was married to Farrah Fawcett in 1976, when she hit it big with “Charlie’s Angels.”  He was already a big hit with “The Six Million Dollar Man.”  They separated in 1979, divorced in 1982, but apparently remained on stable enough terms for him to include the reference and for her to cameo in the 1981 pilot.

What’s interesting about the reference is that in the first moments of the series (and each episode) the viewer is reminded that the star of the show — not the character, the star — has  been famous for quite a while, played other characters, had a famous marriage to another star.  From the first moment, in other words, the series deliberately blurs the line between star and character.

This is somewhat rare for movies and television.  Ordinarily, our default definition of “immersion” is to think of losing ourselves completely in a story where we forget that the character is played by a person with a life.  Instead, “The Fall Guy” credits — and the series’ habit of getting celebrities to make cameo appearances — articulated a different sort of immersion that included both characters and performers.

Back to the theme song: this morning I sunk into my chair to watch the opening credits on YouTube… and found myself surprised by an aria of sexism across at least three dimensions. 

Dimension #1: the theme song, “The Unknown Stuntman” (lyrics by series creator Glen A Larson, Gail Jensen, and David Sommerville) talks about how the singer performs deadly stunts with actresses, only to then watch as the actresses fall into the arms of their leading men rather than into those of the brave stuntman.  But the singer is a chauvinist, saying that he has “never been with anything less than a 9” and brags that “I never spend much time in school, but I taught ladies plenty.”  It’s not a surprise that the ladies decline to spend time with him.

There’s also a weird anti-logic in the song in which the male actors are valuable enough to merit stunt doubles but the actresses do their own stunts.

Dimension #2 isn’t about the theme itself, but about the history of the performers named in the song: Farrah Fawcett, Bo Derek, Sally Field, Cheryl Tiegs, Raquel Welch, Robert Redford and Clint Eastwood. Of them all, actor-directors Redford and Eastwood still have vibrant careers, while the actresses are all either dead or largely retired.  Career longevity for women is criminally shorter in Hollywood than it is for men.

Dimension #3: in the opening credits, there are many, many images of Lee Majors and co-star Douglas Barr in various action sequences, but only one image of the third stunt person cum bounty hunter, Heather Thomas, who wanders through swinging doors in a tiny bikini.

While “The Fall Guy” was never my favorite show, I did have fond memories of it… memories now complicated.  Allegedly, there’s a movie version in development with Dwayne Johnson attached. 

I wonder if they’ll keep the song.

[Cross-posted on Medium.]

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8 thoughts on “Looking Back on “The Fall Guy” — an Aria of 80s Sexism”

  1. I would love to be in this production. Gail Jensen hired me to work for her and David on the Carradine Ranch on LA Tuna Canyon .I was a personal assistant. It was the more fun than ever could have ever imagined. Five awesome years ! Peace Hallmark

  2. i think sally fields would be very dissapionted in your comments ,,,, maybe you should be more intrested in female roles yourself!

  3. On the suject of sexism what about the stunt that gave a misleading conclusion.
    Ok, so in the intro Colt sings “But when I wind up hittin’ the hay, it’s only hay.” Along with this was a scene of a biplane crashing into a barn.
    But as the verse ends with “Hey Hey” Colt is scene thrown into the hay.
    But here is where things get kinky. Immediately after the initial impact hitting the hay, his body bounces back up but his left leg comes completely up and out from the hay just to come back down over the hay as Colt begins to turn his body from an angle to a complete face down position with his legs spread apart to the hay all at the same time as he ends the verse with “Hey Hey” as if he was being caught for doing something explicitly kinky.

  4. Because Colt hit the hay and opened his left leg for more hay, my guess is similar to humping a pillow and due to his lack of getting a female celebrity to have sex with him, this leaves him to resort to hay humping.
    What a better way to descretely do so is through performing a stunt that would cause him to not only hit the hay but also sexually bang the hay.
    How kinky is that?

  5. In Heather Thomas’ case, there would’ve been absolutely nothing wrong with female characters learning even appriciating what it takes to be a stunt performer in the movie/ television industry.
    Further more there have been women barnstormers as there have been guys performing countless of aeronautical stunts that would amaze and possibily inspire girls and young women of the 80’s.
    As long as Heather Thomas has been in ‘The Fall Guy’ it would’ve been nice to see her carry on with the show as The Fall Gal giving a feminine twist on the role of an Unknown Stuntwoman.
    When looking at the barnstorming/ hay hitting stunt as seen in the intro, not only does it look better performed by a stuntwoman but also it would be more entertaining.

  6. Realising the potential of using the expression “Hey Hey” at the end of other verses in The Fall Guy theme song, then notice that there are only two verses that end with “Hey Hey”.
    Then notice what is being said in those verses, “It’s true I hire my body out for pay”; and “When I wind up hittin’ the hay, it’s only hay”.
    In addition, you also have the various editings of the intro placing and mis-placing where the lyrics to match the stunt scenes.
    I would say there were no coincident when it was edited in season 2 of The Fall Guy that when Colt sang “It’s true I hire my body out for pay” & “When I wind up hittin’ the hay, it’s only hay” that it was intended to place attention upon the stuntman while performing his stunts. However as it was priorly mentioned that when the stuntman hit the hay, as his body bounces back up on the hay the stuntman lifting and spreading his left leg apart from his other leg gave the impression of something perversely kinky or intimate was taking place concluding the stunt with an expression surely to embarass as the stuntman was also seen burying his face into the hay with his hands.9

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