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A tall, blonde actress who went from playing "The Bionic Woman" to becoming one of the most prolific TV-movie queens in the history of the genre, Lindsay Wagner managed to convey a quiet intelligence in her roles, whether through tears or athletics, or even pitching for Ford automobiles, as she has done in numerous TV commercial spots since the late 1980s.
Wagner once described her birthplace as an "Hispanic slum in L.A." (although her ancestry was not specified as Latino). When she was 13, she became a Nina Blanchard model, but at age 14, began suffering from ulcers, a condition which lasted until she was 21 years old. Wagner quit modeling when she was 16, drifting into acting after dropping out of the University of Oregon after only two semesters. A meeting with a Universal casting director led to a role on "Marcus Welby, M.D." and a contract with the studio.
Wagner made her feature film debut in 1973 in Universal's "Two People," in which she was a West Virginian-born model who becomes involved with Peter Fonda, an army deserter. That same year, she starred in "The Paper Chase," playing the daughter of John Houseman and the object of Timothy Bottoms' affections. Although she would later play Sylvester Stallone's lady love in "Nighthawks" (1981), and also co-star in "Ricochet" (1991), TV beckoned early on in Wagner's career. In 1975, she made appearances on "The Six Million Dollar Man," as the female cyborg counterpart to Lee Majors' Colonel Steve Austin. In 1976, ABC gave her own series, "The Bionic Woman," which ran for a season on that network, a season on NBC, and made Wagner not just one of the first female action stars, but also won her an Emmy for her performance. She became a TV star, even headlining her own ABC variety special in 1977 called "Lindsay Wagner: Another Side of Me."
Although Wagner would later return to her Bionic character in TV-movies alongside Majors in the late 80s and early 90s, after the demise of the initial series run, she quickly moved into what would become her staple: playing thoughtful, intelligent women who find their strength and win the day in TV movies. While TV-movies were a staple of the small screen before Wagner began doing them, along with Jaclyn Smith, she all but defined the prototypical leading lady character in them. In 1979, Wagner starred in "The Two Worlds of Jennie Logan" and "The Incredible Journey of Dr. Meg Laurel" (both CBS). In the latter, she was a big city physician returning to her back-country roots. In 1980, she was the rags-to-riches boutique owner Billy Ikehorn in the CBS miniseries "Scruples," based on the Judith Krantz novel, and was in the Krantz-inspired "Princess Daisy" (NBC) in 1983. She was a mother returning to her family after years in a mental institution in "Memories Never Die" (CBS, 1982), recreated the role of Barbara Graham in the TV version of "I Want to Live" (ABC, 1983) and was a farm wife who creates havoc in a small town when she takes on the mayor, who is teaching anti-Semitic concepts in her son's high school history class in "Evil in Clear River" (ABC, 1988). Wagner was the flight attendant coping with a hijacking in "The Taking of Flight 847: The Uli Derickson Story" (NBC, 1989), the battered wife of a government official in "Shattered Dreams" (CBS, 1990), and a woman posing as a hooker to save her daughter in "Fighting for My Daughter" (ABC, 1995). Through this river of tears and trauma, Wagner did do a turn at comedy as a school principal in "Student Exchange" (ABC, 1987).
With her iconic show a hard act to follow, Wagner was less successful in attempts at series since her "Bionic" days. "Jessie" (ABC, 1984), in which she played a police department psychiatrist, failed, as did "Peaceable Kingdom" (CBS, 1989), in which she was the managing director of a zoo raising her three children on-site. Wagner's mellifluous voice has also been used for narration and she has hosted reality specials and series, such as "Scandals" (ABC, 1988) and "Against All Odds" (NBC, 1992).
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