Robert Conrad dared Will Smith to do his own stunts on The Wild Wild West movie

It would've been Conrad's fault if The Fresh Prince got trampled by that giant mechanical tarantula thing

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Watch Richard Kiel fight Jim West on this early episode of The Wild Wild West!
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In 1999, Will Smith seemed unstoppable. He transitioned seamlessly from television to movies, trading in Fresh Prince for box office receipts. He was a Fourth of July mainstay. Fireworks, hot dogs, Will Smith. With Independence Day and Men In Black under his belt, the actor was a summertime tradition. Expectations (and budgets) were high in anticipation of Wild Wild West, a reimagining of the classic TV western of the '60s.

CBS television network aired The Wild Wild West for four seasons from September 17, 1965, to April 11, 1969. Thirty years later, the series seemed like an odd choice for a movie posed to be the biggest of the summer. Starring Robert Conrad and Ross Martin, The Wild Wild West came towards the tail-end of the ubiquitous popularity of cowboys on American television. By comparison, Gunsmoke had already been on the air for a decade. The Rifleman, Rawhide, and Wagon Train had already come to an end. Knowing that the genre was in its twilight years, series creator Michael Garrison added the element of espionage, pitching The Wild Wild West as "James Bond on horseback."

Westerns weren't exactly at their peak in popularity in the late-'90s either. Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven was seven years in the rearview by 1999. The previous year's Mask of Zorro was more "swashbuckling adventure" than strict "Western," and even that succeeded in spite of its genre, not because of it. For every reason that Will Smith seemed like a guarantee, there was a reason why Wild Wild West did not.

Unfettered by negative publicity regarding the ballooning budget, Smith was characteristically upbeat in a July interview with the Scripps Howard News Service. It turns out that he was actually more concerned by the words of Robert Conrad, who originated the role of Smith's character, Jim West. Conrad was, of course, swept up in the press fervor surrounding Wild Wild West, and was given multiple chances to speak his thoughts on the project. He took it as an opportunity to throw the gauntlet, at least in Smith's eyes.

"Early in the process, Robert Conrad did an interview, and they asked him how he felt about Will Smith playing James West," Smith said. "And [Conrad] said 'I just want everyone to know that Robert Conrad did all his own stunts.' So, now I'm trying to do my own stunts." 

Those stunts were no small feat; Smith spends one sequence riding a push cart between and under two speeding trains. 

"The train was probably doing 45 or 50 mph, and I'm whippin' through, so I have to be whippin' through at 65 mph or something like that," said Smith. "It was a little scary. I'm under there trying to figure out, 'Why the hell did I let Robert Conrad make me do this?'"

Wild Wild West would go on to gross $222 million, a slew of bad reviews, and five Golden Razzie Awards, including "Worst Picture," and "Worst Original Song." By comparison, Robert Conrad spent 1999 starring as himself in a single episode of Just Shoot Me!

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23 Comments

TulipDaisy1003 9 months ago
Robert Conrad was THE man….and he looked greatttttttttttt in that costume. Check out this website dedicated entirely to Mr.Conrad’s derrière : https://www.intomore.com/culture/icons/appreciation-robert-conrads-legendary-butt/
Coldnorth TulipDaisy1003 8 months ago
I always wondered how many pair of pants he split during that show. Jumping oj his horse. Fighting etc. they looked like they were painted on. Not that I would ever complain about that. Pure eye candy
JHP 13 months ago
anyone remember the energizer tv ad?
Wiseguy70005 JHP 13 months ago
I believe one of the commercials was featured in the extras on The Wild Wild West Season One DVD set. Also, it was Eveready Alkaline Powercell before the Energizer battery was commonplace.
SteveMcnary 13 months ago
I find most of these movies that were previously TV shows are awful. The Wild Wild West, Starsky & Hutch, Miami Vice, Lost In Space, The Twilight Zone, Get Smart, The Beverly Hillbillies, etc. are just a few of the examples of this.
Moverfan SteveMcnary 13 months ago
The biggest problem with the movie version of Starsky & Hutch was that apparently nobody connected with it was old enough to remember that it was a DRAMA series on television. They made it a comedy (supposedly) like Barney Miller...no, they probably would have screwed up Barney Miller, too...
Wiseguy70005 13 months ago
The Wild Wild West was not created as a western (except for the third season when CBS put their foot down and briefly changed it to a traditional western). It was a spy program that just happened to take place in the time period of the traditional western.
Moverfan Wiseguy70005 3 months ago
If you think about it, Wild Wild West was steampunk...
drcrumpler 13 months ago
Loved Richard Kiel as Voltaire and wished he'd have stayed on in at least 1 or 2 more episode, though he did appear as Demas in The Night of the Simian Terror. Loved the fight scenes. Kiel's hands are enormous when he was grabbing Conrad's head, threatening to twist it off like a pickle jar lid on too tight.
JHP drcrumpler 13 months ago
I just remember Kiel getting it in the nads by Clint Eastwood:) (pale rider?)
Ivan 13 months ago
Having loved the WWW tv series I actually enjoyed Will Smith’s version. I felt his acting was excellent and an enjoyable fun film. The original show was pure entertainment as was the film. You can please some of the people some times etc.
Bapa1 13 months ago
Bad movie. We walked out. my daughter was I think 8 at the time, and our nephew was 11, and they were glad to walk out. I like Will Smith (I Robot is a great movie), but this was a stinker. Conrad was upset with the casting.
Wiseguy70005 Bapa1 13 months ago
Another problem was having a comedian (what Will Smith was essentially back then) play an actor's part. Of course, if it's your movie you can do what you want.
Andybandit 13 months ago
I didn't know Will Smith was in a WWW movie. Not to be mean, but did he slap anyone in the face.
Bapa1 Andybandit 13 months ago
The movie goers.
Coldnorth Andybandit 13 months ago
That slap seemed like it was part of the routine. Boy was I wrong
Moody 13 months ago
I watched about 15 minutes of the WWW movie. Robert Conrad was right to hate that script.
MrsPhilHarris Moody 13 months ago
Dreadful movie.
cperrynaples 13 months ago
Conrad was asked to played President Grant, but he hated the script! BTW, Smith's theme is so horrible Stevie Wonder should have slapped HIM! "Keep my damn song out of your [BLANK]ing mouth"...LOL!
cperrynaples cperrynaples 13 months ago
PS Loved that JSM! In it George Segal said he could beat up Robert until he realized he meant William Conrad [AKA Cannon]!
MrsPhilHarris cperrynaples 13 months ago
I loved that show too! George Segal was my favourite.
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