Robert Conrad, Star of TV's 'The Wild Wild West,' Dies at 84


Category:  News & Politics

Via:  vic-eldred  •  8 months ago  •  11 comments

By:   by Mike Barnes and Duane Byrge

Robert Conrad, Star of TV's 'The Wild Wild West,' Dies at 84
Renowned for doing his own stunts, he also starred on such shows as 'Hawaiian Eye' and 'Baa Baa Black Sheep' and on the miniseries 'Centennial.'

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T

Robert Conrad, the athletic, two-fisted actor who starred as Secret Service agent James West and did his own spectacular stunts on the 1960s futuristic CBS Western  The Wild Wild West , has died. He was 84.

"He lived a wonderfully long life and while the family is saddened by his passing, he will live forever in their hearts," family spokesman Jeff Ballard   told   People   magazine. No other details of his death were immediately available.

Conrad, among the actors employed by Warner Bros. Television to appear on the studio's stable of shows starting in the 1950s, first gained attention for playing Tom Lopaka, a partner in a detective agency, on ABC's  Hawaiian Eye .

The Chicago native also was known for starring as real-life World War II pilot Maj. Greg "Pappy" Boyington on NBC's 1976-78 period drama  Baa Baa Black Sheep  (later known in syndication as  Black Sheep Squadron ), one of the first series created by Stephen J. Cannell.

Conrad, though, always said that the performance he was most proud of was his turn as the French-Canadian trapper Pasquinel in James Michener's  Centennial , the 16 1/2-hour, 12-episode miniseries about the evolution of the American West that aired on NBC in 1978-79. 

He said Michener was on the set during production and told him that he "played the character better than he had written it," Conrad noted during a 2006 chat for the website The Interviews: An Oral History of Television.

On  The Wild Wild West , the lithe, blue-eyed Conrad starred as a government agent, working for President Ulysses S. Grant, who employed modern technology to combat villains in the 19th century. Jim West, who wore his spiffy clothes a bit too tight, rode a champion horse and had an eye for the ladies, was paired with Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin), a master of disguise.

The show was "James Bond as a cowboy," and indeed, series creator Michael Garrison had once owned the movie rights to Ian Fleming's first 007 novel,  Casino Royale Wild Wild West  lasted four seasons, on the air from September 1965 through April 1969, and attracted another legion of fans in reruns.

Conrad and stuntman Whitey Hughes usually choreographed the show's acrobatic fights (the scripts gave them an amount of time to do them, and they figured things out). Near the end of one season, Conrad said he almost was killed when he fell 14 feet onto a cement floor; he suffered what he described as a "six-inch linear fracture with a high temporal concussion."

Concerned that they would lose the star of their show, CBS executives insisted a stunt double step in for Conrad, but that practice lasted only a couple of episodes, and, after a summer of healing, he was soon back "breaking things," just as he always did.

He was one of the few actors to have been inducted into the Stuntmen's Hall of Fame.

"Ross Martin once said in an interview on the Johnny Carson show, 'Robert does his own stunts, and I do my own acting,' " he said. Asked if he took offense to that, Conrad replied: "I applauded it, it was the truth. I did my acting tongue in cheek. I didn't take any of it seriously. The last year, I didn't even read the scripts, I just read my part. And it worked."

Conrad's ego and toughness also were on display during the  Battle of the Network Stars  specials, where he more often than not captained the NBC squad to victory. (He did lose one memorable race to  Welcome Back Kotter 's Gabe Kaplan, getting caught down in the stretch.) 

And in three years as a popular Eveready pitchman, Conrad stared into the camera and challenged anyone to knock a battery off his shoulder.

"Come on, I dare you," he said.

Conrad Robert Falk was born on the South Side of Chicago on March 1, 1935. His father, Leonard, worked in construction and became vice president of the National Sugar Co., and his mother, Jacqueline, did PR and had clients including Patti Page and Vic Damone.

He played running back in high school, thought about a career as a boxer and, when he wasn't loading or driving a truck, sang in a trio that performed in Chicago hotels.

After standing outside theaters to drum up publicity for 1956's  Giant  (his mother had been dating a Warner Bros. executive, and Conrad bore a resemblance to the recently deceased James Dean), he thought he might try acting.

He attended Northwestern University, majoring in theater arts, and became friends with  Rebel Without a Cause  actor Nick Adams, who got him a part in  Juvenile Jungle  (1958).

For a TV show, Conrad landed a gig as a Native American who gets shot and falls off his horse. He fell backward, risking great injury. "That established me as having the talent to do stunts," he said. "So when there was a speaking role associated with a stunt, they'd hire me. You got two for the price of one." 

During rehearsals for a fight sequence on the Warner Bros./ABC series  Maverick , Conrad told his actor he was about to tussle with, " 'You're getting too close, you're getting too close,' " he recalled. "I said to the director, 'Why don't you double him?' He said, 'We don't have a double for him, he's going to have to smack you.' I said, 'If he does, he's going to regret it.'

"So we rolled cameras, and sure enough, he hit me, and I hit him back. That went out to one of the executives, and one of them said, 'I like that kid.' And then they put me under contract." 

He played Lopaka, who was half-Caucasian and half-native Hawaiian, for four seasons on  Hawaiian Eye , which also starred Anthony Eisley and Connie Stevens. (Lopaka also appeared on crossover episodes of another exotic WBTV show,  77 Sunset Strip .)

After starring with Marisol in the 1964 Spanish movie  La nueva Cenicienta  (The New Cinderella), Conrad was playing 'Pretty Boy' Floyd opposite Adams in  Young Dillinger  (1965) when he headed over to CBS after lunch to test for a new show,  The Wild Wild West

Very quickly, Conrad got a phone call saying he had been hired and was to start work the following Monday in Sonora, California. (He also said he turned down a chance to play Larry Hagman's part on  I Dream of Jeannie .)

Conrad said he trained in karate during the first season of  Wild Wild West , and as the series went on, he wore blue underwear so that when his tight pants ripped during fights, the audience couldn't tell.

With television violence coming under fire from politicians in the wake of the 1968 assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.,  Wild West West  was canceled despite drawing a 33 share of the audience in its 1968-69 season.

Conrad said  Baa Baa Black Sheep  was axed because it was deemed too violent as well. "I got a double hit," he said.

Wild Wild West , of course, was refashioned as a 1999 movie, with Will Smith passing up a chance to star in   The Matrix   to portray Jim West. Conrad called the remake "horrible" and "pathetic" and gladly accepted the Razzie Award for the film.

Conrad also starred on other short-lived series including  The D.A. Assignment: Vienna ,   The Duke A Man Called Sloane High Mountain Rangers  and  High Sierra Search and Rescue ; hosted  Saturday Night Live  (musical guest: The Allman Brothers) in 1982; and played John Dillinger in  The Lady in Red  (1979) and a Richard Nixon confidant in the 1982 NBC telefilm  Will: The Autobiography of G. Gordon Liddy .

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Vic Eldred
1  seeder  Vic Eldred    8 months ago

It's hard to believe he's gone.

Perrie Halpern R.A.
2  Perrie Halpern R.A.    8 months ago

I was totally saddened by this. Too many of the old greats are leaving us.

2.1  JBB  replied to  Perrie Halpern R.A. @2    8 months ago

103 year old Olivia de Havillan survives...

Buzz of the Orient
2.1.1  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  JBB @2.1    8 months ago

Although she died around 5 years ago, Louise Rainer lived to the age of 104.  Perhaps because of the kind of life they lived, not that many actors survive to such ages.  Come to think of it, I guess that applies to us as well.  

pat wilson
3  pat wilson    8 months ago

He was a very handsome, mediocre actor.

Buzz of the Orient
4  Buzz of the Orient    8 months ago

Although I have no real memories of him, I know I watched the TV series he was in back then.  

4.1  TTGA  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @4    8 months ago

He was actually pretty good Buzz.  He caught the spirit of his characters.  Major Boyington, the squadron commander of the Black Sheep, portrayed by Mr. Conrad, was originally one of the Flying Tigers, who went back into the Marine Corps when the US entered the war on Japan.  He was a "bad boy" as far as following regulations went, but he knew how to shoot down Japanese airplanes.  Mr Conrad will be greatly missed. Wild Wild West was essentially a comedy set in the old West.  The movie which followed the TV series made the comedy aspects even funnier, although it didn't have Mr. Conrad in it.

5  MrFrost    8 months ago

When I was a kid I remember my dad watching, "Baa Baa Black Sheep".. Never ever missed and episode. I didn't know it at the time, but my uncle, (my dads brother) was in the Black Sheep squadron in WWII. Not a pilot, he was ground crew. 

6  TTGA    8 months ago
Baa Baa Black Sheep  was axed because it was deemed too violent

Imagine that; a program showing what actually happened during WWII being considered too violent.  Says more about the society of the time than the program itself.

7  Kavika     8 months ago

RIP Mr. Conrad

8  Ed-NavDoc    8 months ago

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr Conrad when he toured MCAS Yuma when I was stationed there in the mid 70's. He toured the base as a promotion for Baa Baa Black Sheep. A vert friendly and fascinating man to talk to. RIP Sir and thanks for the memories.


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