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ROBERT CONRAD - SECRET AGENT MAN    
Robert Conrad as James West
from TV Zone #116
While James Bond dazzled cinema audiences with his exploits in the Sixties, the small screen provided its own selection of super secret agents… Here Robert Conrad, the original Jim West, looks back on the series

The Wild Wild West was a show with undercover agents using high-tech gadgetry to fight super criminals, but with a difference. Its heroes, James T West and Artemus Gordon, lived in the 1870s and had been chosen by United States President Ulysses S Grant to enforce law and order. Their enemies were crazed criminal geniuses who threatened the world with everything from a giant tuning fork to a tidal wave machine. With this series the emphasis was on ‘wild’ and, according to its handsome leading man Robert Conrad, who played West, that was the secret of its success

“It was a fantasy,” he says. “The Wild Wild West was pure camp and it was high camp. It was out there, you know? The show didn’t have a beginning, middle or end. It was just fun, plain and simple. We had lots and lots of action, outrageous costumes and wonderful guest performances from some of the great actors of the time like Ed Begley, Hurd Hatfield, and Ida Lupino, a lovely woman who I found very attractive. She played this tough, sultry broad who kept hitting West over the head,” laughs Conrad.

Idol Work

“I got to work with my idols, people I admired when I was someone on the outside looking in. It was a thrill to come to the set and ask, “Who’s here today? You’re kidding! Boris Karloff – on our show!’ We also had some very talented directors who went on to become quite famous, like Richard Donner, who did all the Lethal Weapon movies with Mel Gibson. Then, of course, there all were those gorgeous women who had nothing whatsoever to do with the story but always seemed to be there at the end of each segment. Those were the days,” says the actor. “The Wild Wild West was what it was and people loved it.”

The show’s black and white pilot was filmed in December 1964 and was the most expensive pilot made at the time. “It cost $750,000, which was an enormous amount of money back then,” says Conrad. “Everything came together very quickly and I don’t remember anything specific that happened on the set except that the beautiful Suzanne Pleshette played our leading lady. Although the story isn’t, in my opinion, one of our better ones, it was fun, but it took us, I think, three or four episodes to really get a rhythm going.”

“Looking back at my character of James West it’s almost difficult now to identify with the kid,” continues Conrad. “I use the term ‘kid’ because West was young, 29 to 34 was the age range for the character. I was still in my twenties when we did the pilot. He was a dashing hero, bigger-than-life, a rough and ready guy whose wardrobe was, perhaps, a touch flamboyant for the time and his pants tighter than normal, but I had the athletic build to wear them. While West could easily take care of himself in a fight with the toughest of men, when it came to women he could still be tender, although he was nobody’s fool...”

Steven Eramo

More of this reflective interview in TV Zone #116, with
eleven pages of Wild Wild West coverage, including writers Ken Kolb and Leigh Chapman, and the many guises of Artemus Gordon

 
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