Robert Conrad was the only person Robert Conrad wanted to perform his stunts

Conrad believed he could get a better bang (literally) for his buck when it came to performing stunts.

When famed The Wild Wild West actor Robert Conrad comes to mind, so does a tough guy persona. The actor became synonymous with stunts and his ability and willingness to do them on his own, and do them well. 

The actor, who starred as James West in The Wild Wild West, would argue he did stunts better than even some of the most seasoned stuntmen the entertainment industry.

Performing stunts was a way for aspiring actors to get some exposure and make a good wage in exchange for a blunt fall or hard hit. It's how Conrad got his start in the business, and he knew how to play the game, even early on. 

He told The Hollywood Reporter in 1977 he'd take a tumble for some cash, sure, but he needed something more. 

"Somebody offered me $80 to fall off a horse, and I agreed to do it on one condition: that he give me two lines in the scene," Conrad said. "I got my two lines — and the reputation for being a guy who'd take a fall for a line."

While that notion was true for the Northwestern University drama department graduate, it wasn't the whole story. Doing his own stunts throughout his career went beyond trading a bruise for a buck. Conrad felt he did them better than any stuntman would, and it'd be cheaper. 

"Why pay a double $1,300 for a $150 stunt that I knew I could do better?" he said. With this mindset, Conrad "performed more than 500 stunts in [The Wild Wild West] and never used a double," according to the article. 

From his time as detective Tom Lopaka on Hawaiian Eye to his Jim West character, that tough guy persona followed him whether he wanted it or not. Though he had altercations before, he never wanted a fight. 

"I never look for trouble... In fact, I do everything I can to avoid confrontation, but if someone really gets on my case, I cool him fast. I don't turn the other cheek."

So, according to Conrad, he may not have looked for trouble, but he didn't shy away from it either. With that said, there were other benefits to having all of the fights, falls and bruises take place infront of a camera and not in the streets. 

"I can't afford fist fights either, because the legal fees are astronomical." 

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18 Comments

Concrete64 23 days ago
I remember years ago he was on the Merv Griffin show talking about a metal plate he had in him after a really bad fall on the show. They even showed the scene where it happened. A lot of the women in the audience were ewing and stuff and he smiled and said, " Well nobody's perfect". Just a funny memory I have of him.
Avie 24 days ago
"'Why pay a double $1,300 for a $150 stunt that I knew I could do better?' [Conrad] said."

Why? Because if the lead actor should be injured, production SHUTS DOWN and that $1300 starts to look awfully cheap compared to what the company is losing by having everybody sitting around on salary, and not being able to deliver the episode to the network for its scheduled air date.

THAT'S why, and the producers were crazy to cave in to Conrad's demands.
Pacificsun Avie 24 days ago
😉
Not at all, and not to be disagreeable, just extending the conversation 😉

No one (meaning anyone) would be more impacted by a shut down or delay than those immediately involved. Not just about compensation but reputation and reliability. They had an agreement to fill with the Network which gave them the go-ahead for so many episodes per season. Like a "contract."

Robert Conrad was a special case. There are other articles, where he said, they did all the action with about 5 regular stunt people. They were made up to look differently for the episodes, but they all worked together routinely. That means, in response to any scene, the action is first choregraphed properly. And, as all Fans know, it's about how and where actors fall (for example). If stunt people aren't continually successful and reliable, they don't get the next job, so they have more to loose. RC said he learned much from his mentors to augment his instinct for action and acting. Even falling from a horse, the horse is trained for it, and falls on cue. Falls from height have padding below. Much of it is done with camera work.

I believe (but welcome correction) is that RC was also a boxing enthusiast. His body was completely toned. Even Costuming said they had a tough time regarding his clothes, because he was always ripping them. So they had a couple of identicals in reserve so that a costuming mishap would NOT hold up production!

Watch West closely in fist fights, his center of gravity is very low, and he puts all his energy into "throwing" the punch, but the camera angle means he doesn't touch is opponent.

Mannix (Mike Connors) does the same thing. Their style of fighting is very consistent, in order to survive all that action within the episodes. Also note how Ross Martin knew his limitations and never took the chances.
You're correct regarding Bob being a boxer. Former boxer Dick Cangey was a former professional boxer who was hired as a stuntman on TWWW. Dick also became Bob's personal assistant. Cangey got Conrad interested in boxing during the run of the show and became his trainer.
Thank you for sharing!
dphil40 24 days ago
Loved the Wild Wild West when I was growing up! Great show!!
TheKodakKid 24 days ago
Actually, Conrad didn’t do all his own stunts on “Wild, Wild West,” and he admitted as much.

I have the first season on DVD, which includes commentary by Conrad. Early on he said he did “most” of his own stunts. However, there were times that they did use stunt doubles.

In one episode, he commented that it was a stunt double riding down a hill on horseback. He didn’t remember the scene, but could tell by the way he was riding (“I’d never hold my arm out like that”), that it was a stunt double.

Once, when Ross Martin was guesting on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson,” Carson asked Martin something about acting with Conrad in the show (which was still on the air at the time). Martin said, “I do the acting. He does the heavy lifting.” Conrad said he hit the floor laughing, when he watched it.

Martin did come up with a number of the looks for his disguises. The collection I referred to showed sketches he made that helped the makeup people design the finished product.
AgingDisgracefully 24 days ago
Remember, manly men often (the t is silent) get manly back injuries.
You want it. You take it. You pay the price.
Or so once was sung.
Pacificsun 25 days ago
If the Reader here is looking for more depth regarding Robert Conrad, this article [[ https://brianscottmackenzie.medium.com/robert-conrad-revolutionized-the-action-genre-25fcd14431d8 ]] is a nice summary. In the day, The Wild, Wild West (CBS) nailed down Friday Night viewing for youthful audiences. And which developed their own very strong fanbases. Followed by The Man from UNCLE (NBC) and then Star Trek:TOS (NBC). All partner based Series, with outstanding chemistry.

So glad MeTV is bringing The Wild, Wild West back into the lineup. If if can't be caught early in morning, DVR it to run it on Sci-Fi Saturday Night, where it used to be a part of the lead-in, and where it actually belongs.
Runeshaper 26 days ago
It's cool that he performed all of his own stunts.
daDoctah Runeshaper 25 days ago
And I understand Ross Martin did all his own makeup for his various disguises.
Runeshaper daDoctah 25 days ago
That's cool too!
LoveMETV22 26 days ago
Interesting article. Thanks MeTV. I wonder if his philosophy carried over to a few current day actors that prefer to perform their own stunts as well. Of course there are the safety minded actors who leave it to the professionals.
Pacificsun LoveMETV22 25 days ago
Like Mannix (perhaps). Either that or he has the best double look-alike I've ever seen. I'm pretty sure he does all his fight scenes that are done ground level. He does a lot of climbing and jumping off of stuff too.

In the end, the extent of risk is always determined by insurance stipulations. No production can afford time and labor delays, and not to meet a weekly deadline. I have a feeling that Series took a cues from Robert Conrad's dedication to action sequences. Oh sorry, and those outstanding driving sequences, where "Mannix" is credited as being a Race Car driver too.
RobertM 26 days ago
What wasn't mentioned in the article was his famous battery commercial, where he put one on his shoulder and said, "Go ahead--knock it off--I dare you!"
LoveMETV22 RobertM 26 days ago
I suppose the motorcycle riding might be considered stunt work.

There are a few others. Where he was playing baseball and handball, Those were relatively on the safe side.
MrsPhilHarris RobertM 25 days ago
I was thinking the same thing.
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