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

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IMO, Wild Wild West was a better representation of superheroes than the Batman show.

The Wild, Wild West was my favorite TV show as a kid. I don't think I missed a single episode during its original Friday night run on CBS.

Even though the show still had decent ratings, it was supposedly cancelled in response to a campaign against TV violence. I always found that amusing since syndicated reruns were broadcast daily at 4pm making it perfect after school viewing.

RIP Mr. Conrad

Robert Conrad was one of those television actors from whom one could make a pretty good guess about another's age from the question "When you think of this actor, which television show first comes to mind?"  For example, James Garner:  Maverick or The Rockford Files?; Robert Reed:  The Defenders or The Brady Bunch?  Sebastian Cabot:  Checkmate or Family Affair?  (It probably wouldn't surprise you that, for me, the answer in each case is the former, and if you have to say, "I never heard of Checkmate," just go away and let me take my Geritol in peace.)

For me, Robert Conrad recalled, first and foremost, Hawaiian Eye, the first of Warner Brothers' clones of its successful 77 Sunset Strip.  I loved W.B.'s detective series (and their westerns, too), and, unlike many series from the golden age of television, they hold up when viewed a half-century later.

Conrad was the actor most associated with Hawaiian Eye, even though he was wasn't first-billed until the show's fourth season.  (Quick, outside of Conrad and Connie Stevens, who was 'way down in the credits, name any other two regular cast members of the show from any season . . . Time's up!)

Perhaps not startling, Conrad's Tom Lopaka wasn't any different than his Jim West, except for time period.  He played both characters the same:  intelligent and perceptive, but slightly edgy, ready to burst into action at any moment.  No-one would ever accuse Conrad of being Anthony Hopkins; he owed his television popularity to his good looks and that aura of physicality.

Which is what he also brought to The Wild, Wild West.  I was fond of that show, too.  But as in the case of many television series, I preferred the first couple of seasons, especially the first, when the show's paradigm was slanted more toward the detective side of West and Gordon's adventures, with only a few 19th-century futuristic gimmicks thrown in.  As often happens, as the show grew more successful, it began to almost parody itself, with a distinct turn toward science fiction in the outlandish devices employed by the villains.  (The change in tone is best marked in the episodes after Conrad changed his hairstyle from being brushed back to an extreme side-part.)

1968 marked the confluence of two developments:  parents' action groups, such as Peggy Charren's ACT, had finally gained enough political ground to influence broadcasters; and the extreme violence in the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.  The networks had to appear responsible, and for CBS, The Wild, Wild West became its sacrificial lamb.  The suits at CBS memo-ed the show to death with entreaties to reduce the violence, but the show's producers ignored them, knowing that Conrad was a very physical actor, the action put him in his best light, and that was one of the things drawing high ratings.

However, political pressure from two congressional committees finally forced CBS to put its foot down.  The last dozen WWW episodes have their violence notably diluted.  Then, as a gesture to show its concern for public welfare, CBS cancelled the show in February, 1969.

Given some of the stuff that appears on television now, worrying about a few brawls and knivings and gunfights seems quaint.

The first season was certainly the best. The second season of 1966-67 went camp, due no doubt to the influence of the Batman show. Fortunately the series backed off from that approach in the subsequent years. Season Four suffers somewhat from the absence of Ross Martin due to a heart attack that limited the number of his appearances. The chemistry between Conrad and Martin was a big part of the shows success.

I remember my older brother watching the show before I was old enough to appreciate it. I caught a few episodes in college and discovered what the fuss was about, but I've never pursued watching it in its entirety.

Afraid I don't remember Hawaiian Eye at all.

Although I didn't see it until syndicated reruns in the 1970s, I loved The Wild, Wild West too. There has been nothing original like it on TV since, and that is a dang shame in an age of copying this and rebooting that.

Besides the "problems" mentioned with the show above, the only other thing I hated was how the Doctor Miguelito Loveless character disintegrated over the course of the series.

At first Loveless was (possibly justifiably) angry over his family being cheated out of owning some land in California as well as his scientific accomplishments being overlooked.

But by his last (out of 10) appearances over the course of the program, it had been pared down to just a Loveless versus West rivalry akin to Luthor versus Superman.

Despite his love of westerns, my dad thought TW,WW was "okay", but was a much bigger fan of Baa Baa Black Sheep (where Conrad played Major Greg "Pappy" Boyington) to the point of even watching reruns. That was high praise from him, considering my dad usually didn't like reruns when you could spend the time watching or doing something else instead.

Either way, Robert Conrad was a good actor (akin to a TV version of John Wayne or any other tough but fair hombre you care to name) who will be missed.

Now if someone would just reprint or Kindle the Gold Key or Millennium comics or the previous prose novels for West...

I never saw Wild Wild West as a kid. It was never on in syndication that I can remember, though I was aware of the show and saw the reunion TV movie.

I did watch Baa Baa Black Sheep aka Black Sheep Squadron regularly though not recently. Still Robert Conrad was one of the great heroes from TV!

I watched The Wild Wild West in reruns; it was after-school fare on weekdays. (Like doc photo, I find it odd that the Blue Nose Mothers of America could so aggresively clamp down on prime-time TV shows for their violence and not at all prevent reruns of those same shows from appearing in the daytime, when plenty of kids were home watching.)

The Wild Wild West didn't aspire to be deep, just entertaining, and it was, in large part to the charms of Robert Conrad and his chemistry with Ross Martin -- a perfectly cast duo. 

I wasn't so taken with Baa Baa Black Sheep (also known as Black Sheep Squadron), which was loosely -- very loosely -- based on the life of Marine fighter pilot Greg "Pappy" BoyingtonBaa Baa Black Sheep also didn't aim to be deep, just entertaining -- an adventure show more along the lines of McHale's Navy with wartime hijinks, not grim like Combat or preachy like M*A*S*H.

Since Baa Baa Black Sheep wasn't grim, it didn't represent one of the most harrowing aspects of Boyington's life -- the time he was shot down in the Pacific Ocean, captured by the Japanese Navy and subsequently spent a year and half being shuttled between different prisoner of war camps. At one point, he was in the same camp as Louis Zamperini, whose life was chronicled in the films Unbroken and Unbroken: Path to Redemption.

Could Robert Conrad have pulled off a serious movie version of Boyington's life? I don't know, but it might have been interesting to see it. I remember Conrad starring in a TV movie biopic of Watergate conspirator G. Gordon Liddy (Will: The Autobiography of G. Gordon Liddy) and he was plenty compelling.

Wild Wil West was one of those shows I loved and hated at the same time. You see, once the show was over, I had to go to bed, lest I not wake up in time for school the next day. Needless to say, each time the scene froze, and the commercials rolled, I cringed. That being said, I really looked forward to the show each week. Nobody but Conrad could have made an old west charactor so cool ( ok, so, yeah cowboys are naturally cool, but not James West cool. West had style).

As for Black Sheep Sqaudron, again, Conrad made the charactor ( no disrespect to the real Greg Bowington, whose real life efforts were far more admirable.). Conrad's fictionalized rendition of Bowington's WWII exploits were highlt valuable and entertaining. If not for Conrad's efforts, I may have never heard of the real life Bowington, or had the abition to learn enough about the man to know the the tv show, as good as as it was, was nearly complete bull@!#$%.

Rest well Robert Conrad.

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