11 whopping facts about 'The Wild Wild West'

Learn how the Western spy series relates to Richard Pryor, Mexican pop, 'The A-Team' and shoe lifts.

Top image: The Everett Collection

In 1960s Hollywood, few genres were bigger than Westerns and spy adventures. James Bond and Clint Eastwood were the epitome of cool and manhood, so it was inevitable that someone would think to combine the two.

The Wild Wild West can trace its origins back to Bond. The show's creator, Michael Garrison, was half of the duo that purchased the film rights to Ian Fleming's first Bond novel, Casino Royale, way back in 1954. They paid $600. A decade later, Garrison pitched the concept of "James Bond on horseback" to CBS.

Enter West, James West, secret agent for President Ulysses S. Grant.

In combining cowboys with spy-fi, the show also pioneered the steampunk genre with its mid-19th-century gadgets. The Wild Wild West ran for four seasons, from 1965–1969, and only met its end after Congress pressured networks to tone down violence on television. Still, you can't keep a good man down. Jim West had returned again and again over the decades.

Here are some things you might not know about The Wild Wild West.


1. Robert Conrad was born Conrad Falk and changed his name to hide.

Conrad was the perfect man to play James West. The Northwestern University grad had a fascinating background, too. Born Conrad Robert Falk, he eloped at the age of 17 in 1952, and the legend goes that the couple lived under the name Mr. and Mrs. Robert Conrad to avoid the detection of their parents.

Image: The Everett Collection

2. Conrad released pop records as Bob Conrad in the 1950s and '60s.

The dreamy actor pursued a side career as a pop singer. "Bye Bye Baby" barely managed to bother the bottom of the Billboard charts, peaking at No. 113. In Mexico, he released a record under the moniker Tom Lopaka, which was the name of his character on Hawaiian Eye. Take a listen to "Ballin' the Jack."

3. Conrad loved doing his own stunts.

The star was always ready for a fake fight. In the book A Sci-Fi Swarm and Horror Horde: Interviews with 62 Filmmakers, series stuntman and stunt coordinator Whitey Hughes fondly recalls Conrad's zeal for fisticuffs: "Bob's favorite expression was, 'Get 'em up, Whitey, get 'em up! Put the needle in 'em!'—meaning 'Get the [stuntmen's] adrenaline going."

4. However, he seriously injured himself.

While filming the season four episode "Night of the Fugitives," Conrad fell a dozen feet and landed on his head. The stunt called for the star to dive from the top of a saloon staircase, catch a chandelier, and swing a vicious kick into one unfortunate guy. Conrad lost his grip from the chandelier and konked his head rather severly. He was rushed to the hospital. Unfortunately, stunt coordinator Whitey Hughes was off filming a commercial that day.

Image: The Everett Collection

5. Conrad was almost the star of 'I Dream of Jeannine' and 'The A-Team.'

The Wild Wild West was just one of many leading roles for Conrad, who also headlined series such as Black Sheep Squadron and the aforementioned Hawaiian Eye. However, his resume could have been drastically different. He was one of the finalists up for the role of astronaut Captain Tony Nelson on I Dream of Jeannie (which eventually went to Larry Hagman) and he reportedly turned down the role of Hannibal on The A-Team.

Jeannie image: Sony Pictures Television

6. Conrad's height influenced the casting of the show.

Though Conrad stands at 5' 8", CBS claimed its young star was 5'10". The actor wore lifts in his shoes to compensate. Additionally, the network asked casting agents to only hire women under 5' 6" for the show. "We always put Bobby in the foreground and the other actors in the background," CBS exec Ethel Winant once explained.

Image: The Everett Collection

7. There was a made-for-TV movie sequel in 1980.

A decade after riding off into the sunset, Conrad and costar Ross Martin returned for More Wild Wild West, which also featured Jonathan Winters, Harry Morgan, Jack LaLanne and Joyce Brothers. The small-screen flick might have led to a revival series. Alas, Martin passed away in 1981.

Image: AP Photo / Wally Fong

8. Ross Martin had a heart attack during production.

The man who played Artemus Gordon missed nine episodes in 1968 after suffering a heart attack. The actor was temporarily replaced by familiar MeTV faces like William Schallert and Alan Hale, Jr.

9. The show was originally called 'The Wild West' and they also considered 'The Wild West West.'

Early in production, the pilot was called The Wild West. Playing off the character's name, The Wild West West was also up for consideration and thankfully scrapped. That's just confusing.

10. Richard Pryor's first screen credit is playing a ventriloquist on the show.

The groundbreaking stand-up comic appears in "The Night of the Eccentrics," the season two premiere and first episode broadcast in color. Pryor plays Villar, a creepy ventriloquist. However, it was Ross Martin who provided the voice of the dummy, Giulio.

11. Conrad accepted the Razzie awards on behalf of the 1999 'Wild Wild West' remake.

The less said about the 1999 movie reboot, the better. Even Will Smith recently expressed regret for the blockbuster that featured Kevin Kline in drag and a giant mechanical spider. The Barry Sonnenfeld film "won" five Razzies, the anti-Oscars given each year to Hollywood turkeys. Conrad attended the ceremony and accepted the awards to demonstrate his objections to the remake.

Image: Warner Bros. / AP Photo/Rene Macura

 
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JAMESWEST66 6 months ago
The Best Wild Wild West was The Night of the Eccentric"s
It came on CBS Friday night, I wish MeTV would bring back Wild Wild West.
JoeSHill 10 months ago
What I enjoyed about "THE WILD, WILD, WEST" (1965-70) was Robert Conrad's amazing fight choreography as he used both Boxing and Martial Arts, especially in the 1965-66 episodes, and it was pretty impressive. one episode, in particular, was "The Night Of The Dancing Death", with guest star, Peter Mark Richman as "Prince Gio" an Albanian prince skilled in the art of "Gung Fu"- which, more or less wasn't exactly Bruce Lee here, but it was still fun to watch Robert Conrad using his boxing skills and his kicks, but Bruce Lee, he wasn't (Lee came on the scene as "Kato" on ABC's "THE GREEN HORNET" in Fall 1966, opposite CBS's "WILD, WILD, WEST", now, In Color) but either way, Robert Conrad's "James West" was truly the 007 of the American West!
JoeSHill JoeSHill 10 months ago
Oh, and by a remarkable coincidence, Peter Mark Richman and Bruce Lee both did a scene from the ABC-TV series "LONGSTREET" in 1971 called "Way Of The Intercepting Fist" where Lee played "Li Sung" a martial arts instructor who was trying to train "Longstreet" (James Franciscus) in the course of self-defense, since the character was an Insurance agent blinded by an explosion.
BRUCEOBRIEN 10 months ago
The best episodes are those in B/W from the first season. Almost a "film noir" quality to them
RedSamRackham 10 months ago
Besides being a western and a spy show it can also be considered sci-fi dealing with later century technology in some episodes and even some sci-fi inventions by villains! ♣
jeopardyhead 10 months ago
I've read that another reason the show was cancelled is that making it took a physical toll on the cast.
Randy 18 months ago
Any show is suppose to entertain. Well the wild,wild,west did that then and continues to this day . It's still one of the best.
Rich 20 months ago
The series may not have been the 'greatest ever' (though I have no idea which would be), it was one of the most enjoyable to my friends and I. We always admired the fact that Conrad did his own stunts and we would practice and imitate staged fights and stunts all the time. We learned how to fall without getting hurt. We practiced a few simple Judo tricks that really worked and I guess all that helped me later in life when I did find myself having to apply one or the other!
Jess 27 months ago
I always looked forward to watching this at 6 on Saturdays. It was the perfect transition from the Saturday Westerns to the later science fiction programs. Here's hoping you bring it back soon.
alex 31 months ago
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