Martin E. Brooks wasn’t a doctor in real life. He just played one on TV…very well.
As in the fictional Dr. Rudy Wells, first on The Six Million Dollar Man and later on The Bionic Woman, Brooks pieced together with precision and compassion the iconic cyborgs played by Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner.
On Monday, December 7th in Studio City, Brooks passed away of natural causes or, as Wagner recently stated on her website: “My friend and fellow actor Marty E Brooks transitioned yesterday. What a joy it was to know and work with him…sending many blessings to his family.”
Brooks had stepped into the Wells role on the heels of actors Alan Oppenheimer (who left to do another series), and Martin Balsam (who had originated the part in the 1973 90-minute Million Dollar pilot).
When The Bionic Woman was given a series of her own, Brooks (along with Bionic colleague Richard Anderson) became one of the first actors to play the same character on two different shows, and later, when Woman left ABC for NBC, on two different networks.
Decades after both series ended their original runs, Brooks then reprised the part in three successful Bionic reunion movies (The Return of the Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, Bionic Showdown - which introduced actress Sandra Bullock as The Bionic Girl - and Bionic Ever After?).
As the actor once recalled, Rudy Wells was a role he cherished playing in any format, particularly because of its social significance. He had researched the part at the UCLA medical facility and various hospitals.
"They were very close to creating a bionic arm and leg," he said, "which they are on the verge of doing right now." Minus the extent of utilizing super powers, "they are capable of connecting the nerves in the arms, with brainwaves and thought patterns."
Before portraying his most famous role, Brooks made several guest appearances on TV's Dallas, McMillan and Wife, General Hospital, Cagney & Lacey, Jessie (with Lindsay Wagner), Quincy, Combat, The New Perry Mason, Night Gallery, Playhouse 90, and more.
As fate would have it, Brooks’ feature film credits include two with Martin Balsam (The Man in 1972 and The Old Man Who Cried Wolf in 1970), while he had also appeared on Broadway in live stage productions of “Lt. Col. Chipman” in The Andersonville Trial (replacing George C. Scott), among other stage roles.
As fate would further have it, years before playing Rudy on Six, Brooks was replaced by Alan Oppenheimer as a character in Broadway's I Am A Camera. "So Marty and I have known each other for a very long time," Oppenheimer said, "and we were amused at the fact that he replaced me in The Six Million Dollar Man."
However, before he formally replaced Oppenheimer, there was talk of axing the Rudy character altogether. As Bennett explained it, he told the actor, “We're only going to do one more show with Rudy. Are you interested?"
"Sure,” Brooks replied. “I'd be happy to do it."
One more Wells segment turned into three additional seasons of episodes as the character, with additional appearances in the three sequels. Through it all, Rudy became Steve and Jaime's closest confident and friend, next to Anderson’s Goldman.
Brooks drew upon the perception some made about Goldman's relationship with Major’s Col. Steve Austin and Wagner’s Jaime Sommers characters. "Rudy didn't really behave any differently with Steve, than with Jaime," he observed. "But in a sense, he was their father, because he created them."
As a dad tends to favor a daughter, Brooks added, "Rudy was somewhat closer to Jaime as a parent, than he was to Steve, with whom he reacted in more of like a buddy-buddy way" [as Majors’s Steve Austin did with Goldman].
Brooks characterized the chemistry between himself, Anderson, Wagner and Majors as one of the strong points on the shows. While remaining close friends with Anderson, Brooks only periodically bumped into Lindsay and Lee.
"We all got along on the set, and that filtered over into their performances on screen, especially with Anderson. That's because Oscar and Rudy were together more than Rudy was with Jaime or Steve. Oscar and Rudy would always talk of how to solve the problem at hand. Rudy would really only see Steve when he would break down, or when he would be in need of repairs, to install another atomic pack, telling him what to do with it or what not to do with it."
Strangely, even though Brooks and Majors worked together for years, the two did not film many of the same scenes. "Rudy was mostly seen in a hospital setting," Brooks revealed, "while Steve did most of his stuff outside."
Yet there was an interior sequence between the two actors that Brooks recalled playing “particularly well." In one episode, the actor went on to say, "Rudy was showing Steve how to handle some technical equipment, and it became difficult to shoot the scene. It all had to be timed properly with the dialogue, and we were having trouble doing that. We did one take, and then another, and another.
"Well, after about 10 takes, Lee is laughing his head off, and everybody is laughing their heads off, because I couldn't get it right. Finally, I do, and we get the take."
Later, the tables turned. Majors, as Steve, had to show Brooks, as Rudy, that he knows how to handle the equipment. "I don't know how much of this made it on screen," Brooks said. "But after eight, nine or ten takes from him, we're all still laughing our heads off. I'm laughing at Lee, and everyone else is laughing at Lee. He finally gets it right."
Brooks had the opportunity to meet the real-life Wells, via Martin Caidin, the best-selling, critically-acclaimed sci-fi writer of over 200 novels, including Cyborg, which spawned The Six Million Dollar Man.
"Martin Caidin introduced us," the actor remembered, "and we had a great conversation. I remember him as a very pleasant, easy-going gentleman. His was a surgeon but, of course, he didn't worry in the same manner that the fictional Rudy Wells did."
Million Dollar Man and Woman fans, meanwhile, would never have to worry about the authenticity of Brooks’s portrayal.
Martin E. Brooks came through each time…with flying Bionic colors.
Herbie J Pilato is the author of The Bionic Book: The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman Reconstructed.