biography - 1 OF 4
THE EARLY YEARS
Lee Majors was born in Wyandotte, Michigan, Harvey Lee Yeary [Lee took his acting name Lee Majors, from the University of Tennesse football coach Johnny Majors], on the 23rd of April 1939,. He grew up in Middleboro, Kentucky, where he had been adopted by relatives after the death of his parents, when he was less than three years old.
He discovered about his adoption on rainy afternoon during his teenage years. He was alone in the house, and overcome with boredom when for some reason he decided to go up into the attic and start poking around in the old boxes and suitcases he found there.
He came across a bundle of newspaper clippings all from the same period, which mentioned the deaths of a man and a woman, one killed in a road accident fatality, the other a factory-related incident. Reading through the old clippings, Lee learnt the awful truth about his "real" parents. "Both my parents were killed. My father in a steel mill accident just before I was born, and a couple of years later, my mother was hit by a drunk driver as she was standing on a corner waiting to go to her job as a nurse." The report went on to say that the couple left behind a child - a boy - who had been adopted by relatives, a Harvey and Mildred Yearly, of Kentucky.
Lee realized he was the surviving child the article spoke of. "I made up my mind right then that my stepparents would never regret having adopted me," he remembered "I set out to prove myself."He put the clippings back in the trunk and it wasn't until some five years-or-so later that he told his "mother and father" of that rainy day in the attic. This action was a character trait that would stay with Lee throughout his adult life - that of only revealing his inner most feelings and thoughts when he feels it appropriate. As George Takei discovered when he guest starred on the SMDM. The series star spent most of his time when not in front of the camera, alone in his trailer. studying the day's script. "He is a very quiet, private, person." commented Takei.
Lee, for some reason, felt guilty. He knew the Yeary's had made alot of sacrifices for him, and he could have just as easily have grown up in an orphanage if not for them. The Yeary's were far from rich, and most of the area he grew up in, he later described as completely poverty stricken. Perhaps it was this fact that made him determined to prove his worth to them, in return. His foster brother, five years his senior, was a keen athlete, and it was in this field that Lee decided to "prove" himself. The young Lee, despite his light build, threw himself into one of America's toughest sport, American Football, with a dedication that made him something of a local idol. at the local high school, and is featured in the Middlesboro Sports Hall of Fame [At the beginning of 2000 Lee helped pay for renovations to the Middlesboro stadium and football field, which was subsequently named after him]. He became a first-line member of the Kentucky All-State High School football team, and his efforts won him a scholarship to University of Indianna.
Things were going well, and life was looking rosy for the young sportsman. But during his freshman year Lee sustained a serious back injury. The injury to his lower back was critical, and resulted in him being paralyzed from the waist down for two weeks, and even then he was not assured he would ever walk again and may have to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. Lee's injury was aggravated by the fact that, previously unknown to him or anyone else, he had been suffering from a defect in his spine. The defect resulted in a condition known as spondylolisthesis.
But despite the doctors and experts advice, Lee knew he was going to walk again. He was determined to get out of his hospital bed, and get back to playing football.. Once more, the urge to win, and overcome the odds, spurred him on. To the amazement of everyone, within two weeks he was standing up, and a fortnight after that was able to leave the hospital."Those two weeks I didn't think I was going to have a life," admits Lee. "I was really frightened. You realise how wonderful things really are...how grateful you are for all things. I had to wear a back brace for almost a year"
It was whilst recovering from his injury that the seventeen year old's carefree bachelor days came to end, when he met and married Karen Robinson. A year later, in 1962 Lee Majors Jr., was born. Due to the extent of his back injury, Lee was kept from competing in college football for a further two years, and it was only when he transferred to Eastern Kentucky State College, in Richmond, Kentucky that he started playing again, and gained a teaching certificate. Lee attracted the interest of NFL scouts, in his last year at the college and was offered the chance to try out for the St. Louis Cardinals, but his earlier injury, which continued to plague the young Lee Majors over the past couple of years, caused him to turn the offer down after seeking advice from several doctors .It was about this time that a mutual friend introduced Lee to the movie star, Rock Hudson. The two men became firm friends, and from their meeting, Lee's thoughts turned to acting.
THE ACTING BUG
In the Summer of 1962, Lee won a role in a play entitled 7 Husbands, at the Pioneer Playhouse, in Danville, Kentucky, alongside his wife, Kathy. He was interviewed by it's owner-director, Eben Henson, who thought from the start that "...this man Majors had the right potential. The build, the looks, that go down well on the screen.". Henson took Lee on at the Playhouse, coached him, and tutored him.
Lee also graduated college in 1962, with a degree in both History and Physical Education, as a well as now being a qualified teacher. Lee college, and football, career behind him, he planned to pursue a career in education combined with coaching. There was something lurking at the back of the newly graduated Lee majors mind. Throughout college he had wanted not to just be a professional football player, but a great one, however his back injury had now put this ambition out of his reach. This was when Lee reconsidered the acting field, rather than the football one. He could still achieve national recognition and world-wide attention through acting, as he had strived for through football. His drive he felt to continually prove himself came to the fore once more, and when friends doubted his chances of making it in Hollywood, Lee replied, "I'm going to make it...I've got to!." He took the decision to move west to California. Quite a move for a small town lad from Kentucky, who had previously never been farther west than Mississippi.
Lee moved to Los Angeles, and became a recreation director for the L.A. Department of Parks and Recreation, in North Hollywood, at a salary of $2.83 and hour, nursing ambitions of a career in acting. The park is located in the San Fernando Valley, and during his free time found himself playing touch football, with other athletically inclined young men, some of whom were actors. Lee chatted with them, listening to their experiences and opinions of their chosen profession. Nothing he heard discouraged him from his ambition to break into acting, in fact, it merely strengthened his resolve to succeed.
He finally contacted Dick Clayton, for advice on how to break into acting, by boldly turning up at Clayton's Hollywood's office, and brazenly talking his way past the agent's secretary. Clayton took on the "unknown" Majors, much as he had the "unknown" James Dean years earlier, something that was rare in Hollywood, certainly for one the top agents in the business. Clayton became Lee's advisor and helped him find a drama coach. He also obtained MGM's permission for Lee to attend the studio drama school - without charge!. Lee enrolled in the MGM drama school, studying under acting teacher, Estelle Harmon.
1964 turned out to be a year of highs and lows. Lee got his first on-screen role in the Joan Crawford movie Strait-Jacket, credited as Harvey Yearly [he appears, and dies, in the 5 minute pre-credit sequence!], there then followed guest spots on Alfred Hitchcock Presents ["The Monkey's Paw - A Retelling"] and Gunsmoke. Alas, his first marriage also ended this year, and the couple divorced, with Kathy returning to Kentucky with their young son.