Comedy legend Richard Pryor's first acting role was this episode of The Wild Wild West

Just a year after his first Ed Sullivan appearance, audiences saw him as a ventriloquist assassin.

Today, Richard Pryor is regarded as one of the all-time greats of comedy and one of the most influental stand-up comics ever. With one Emmy, five Grammys, and the very first Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, it's no wonder why he came in #1 on Rolling Stone's 2017 list of best stand-up comics of all time.

But before all of that, he first appeared on our screens as a ventriloquist with muderous intentions.

"The Night of the Eccentrics" was the season two premiere of The Wild Wild West. It has a pretty typical zany Wild Wild West plot — West is lured to a deserted carnival after another agent was found dead with the carnival poster pinned onto his back with a knife. There, he meets a group of assassins called "The Eccentrics" led by the magician Count Carlos Mario Vincenzo Robespierre Manzeppi (whew, now that's a name!)

Manzeppi's crew includes a marksman, a strongman, a whip expert, and a ventiloquist. West has learned that their next plot is an assassination of the president of Mexico, and they give West a choice: join them or die. Of course, if he's going to join them, he has to prove his loyalty... by killing Gordon. 

The character that we want to take a closer look at is Villar the Ventriloquist and his dummy, Julio (Julio is voiced by Ross Martin, in a double role.) Audiences in 1966 may not have recognized Richard Pryor, who had made his first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show only a year earlier and was still very early in his career — Sullivan introduced him as "the youthful Richard Pryor". 

Villar was the nation's first exposure to Pryor as an acting force. His role in his first movie, The Busy Body, was still a year away, and his first comedy album Richard Pryor wouldn't come out for another year after that. He went on to act in a string of comedy movies with Gene Wilder, appeared as the titular character in The Wiz, and landed a part in Superman III.

At the end of the episode, while Villar escapes with Manzeppi, we don't see him again, even when Manzeppi returns to antagonize Jim West once more. However, if you're a fan of Pryor, his early role as a ventriloquist is not to be missed.

Watch The Wild Wild West on MeTV!

Saturdays at 10 AM

*available in most MeTV markets
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14 Comments

Jameswest22 5 months ago
The Best Wild Wild West
The Night of the Eccentric's !!!!!
Runeshaper 14 months ago
Pryor and Wilder were a GREAT team!
MichaelVegas 14 months ago
I did not like him in Superman III it just did not fit him, they should have geared it to him or put another actor it
Avie 14 months ago
You might've mentioned that Manzeppi was played by the great Victor Buono.
CurtisP70 15 months ago
I'm beginning to question the logic behind the programming at MeTV. They bring in The Wild, Wild West and screw around with it's seasons. They remove Maverick too soon, they decide to move The Beverly Hillbillies to evenings (Monday - Friday) S1 - E1 and keep in on Saturdays after Pettycoat Junction? Saturday morning cartoons have become stale sine they teemed up Popeye and the Pink Panther. Why kill Batman and keep the Moronic Sventoonie? I, can't stomach that stupid tuna. Sorry for ranting, but since I can't get an answer from programming, I couldn't help myself! Please forgive me! 🙏
mbar321 15 months ago
I am very curious as to why METV does not show the entire 1st season of The Wild Wild West during the regular schedule. In many ways season one is the best season of the series. Great storylines and great guest stars are featured in almost every episode.

The black & white format fits in well with all of the other black & white westerns that air on Saturdays. It's a shame that regular viewers of METV are deprived of seeing this series the way it was meant to be seen. I think we are at least owed an explanation for why season one is always cut from the schedule.

Also, why was Maverick limited to mostly James Garner episodes???

As regular viewers we should demand that all episodes of our favorite series be aired in full and not limited to the programming staff's personal picks.
ASFLLM mbar321 14 months ago
Yeah. What he said.
mbar321 14 months ago
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MichaelPowers 15 months ago
I was surprised to see that today's episode on MeTV was season two's, episode one "The Night of the Eccentrics." MeTV started showing TWWW episodes in order with the first season black & white episodes just a few weeks ago. They showed only a handful before jumping to season two which was in color as were the next two seasons. I wonder if season one's black and white episodes don't draw as large an audience as the color seasons do?
tootsieg MichaelPowers 15 months ago
I watched this morning as well and wondered why the episode was in color when the first season’s episodes are b/w. You could be right about color episodes being more popular.
Mike 15 months ago
Fun Facts:
- Richard Pryor's most frequent appearances in his early career were on
Merv Griffin's syndicated talk show in New York.
- On Wild Wild West, "Count Manzeppi" was played by Victor Buono.
When Richard Pryor appeared on Merv's show to plug the West appearance, he always called him Victor Bruno.
MrsPhilHarris Mike 15 months ago
Loved watching The Merv Griffin Sow when I was a kid.
Mblack 15 months ago
Don't forget, Richard Pryor was on the Partridge Family. "Soul Club", with
Lou Gossett. They run a club that the Famiky has been sent to in error. So the Partridges organize a block party, and Danny drafts the local equivalent of the Black Panthers.

I don't remember it in first run, but when I saw it as an adult, it was great.
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