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11 whopping facts about 'The Wild Wild West'

Top image: The Everett Collection

In 1960s Hollywood, few genres were bigger than Westerns and spy adventures. James Bond and Clint Eastwood were the epitome of cool and manhood, so it was inevitable that someone would think to combine the two. 

The Wild Wild West can trace its origins back to Bond. The show's creator, Michael Garrison, was half of the duo that purchased the film rights to Ian Fleming's first Bond novel, Casino Royale, way back in 1954. They paid $600. A decade later, Garrison pitched the concept of "James Bond on horseback" to CBS.

Enter West, James West, secret agent for President Ulysses S. Grant.

In combining cowboys with spy-fi, the show also pioneered the steampunk genre with its mid-19th-century gadgets. The Wild Wild West ran for four seasons, from 1965–1969, and only met its end after Congress pressured networks to tone down violence on television. Still, you can't keep a good man down. Jim West had returned again and again over the decades.

Here are some things you might not know about The Wild Wild West.


Robert Conrad was born Conrad Falk and changed his name to hide.

Conrad was the perfect man to play James West. The Northwestern University grad had a fascinating background, too. Born Conrad Robert Falk, he eloped at the age of 17 in 1952, and the legend goes that the couple lived under the name Mr. and Mrs. Robert Conrad to avoid the detection of their parents.

Image: The Everett Collection


Conrad released pop records as Bob Conrad in the 1950s and '60s.

The dreamy actor pursued a side career as a pop singer. "Bye Bye Baby" barely managed to bother the bottom of the Billboard charts, peaking at No. 113. In Mexico, he released a record under the moniker Tom Lopaka, which was the name of his character on Hawaiian Eye. Take a listen to "Ballin' the Jack."


Conrad loved doing his own stunts.

The star was always ready for a fake fight. In the book A Sci-Fi Swarm and Horror Horde: Interviews with 62 Filmmakers, series stuntman and stunt coordinator Whitey Hughes fondly recalls Conrad's zeal for fisticuffs: "Bob's favorite expression was, 'Get 'em up, Whitey, get 'em up! Put the needle in 'em!'—meaning 'Get the [stuntmen's] adrenaline going."


However, he seriously injured himself.

While filming the season four episode "Night of the Fugitives," Conrad fell a dozen feet and landed on his head. The stunt called for the star to dive from the top of a saloon staircase, catch a chandelier, and swing a vicious kick into one unfortunate guy. Conrad lost his grip from the chandelier and konked his head rather severly. He was rushed to the hospital. Unfortunately, stunt coordinator Whitey Hughes was off filming a commercial that day.

Image: The Everett Collection


Conrad was almost the star of 'I Dream of Jeannine' and 'The A-Team.'

The Wild Wild West was just one of many leading roles for Conrad, who also headlined series such as Black Sheep Squadron and the aforementioned Hawaiian Eye. However, his resume could have been drastically different. He was one of the finalists up for the role of astronaut Captain Tony Nelson on I Dream of Jeannie (which eventually went to Larry Hagman) and he reportedly turned down the role of Hannibal on The A-Team.

Jeannie image: Sony Pictures Television


Conrad's height influenced the casting of the show.

Though Conrad stands at 5' 8", CBS claimed its young star was 5'10". The actor wore lifts in his shoes to compensate. Additionally, the network asked casting agents to only hire women under 5' 6" for the show. "We always put Bobby in the foreground and the other actors in the background," CBS exec Ethel Winant once explained.

Image: The Everett Collection


There was a made-for-TV movie sequel in 1980.

A decade after riding off into the sunset, Conrad and costar Ross Martin returned for More Wild Wild West, which also featured Jonathan Winters, Harry Morgan, Jack LaLanne and Joyce Brothers. The small-screen flick might have led to a revival series. Alas, Martin passed away in 1981.

Image: AP Photo / Wally Fong


Ross Martin had a heart attack during production.

The man who played Artemus Gordon missed nine episodes in 1968 after suffering a heart attack. The actor was temporarily replaced by familiar faces like William Schallert and Alan Hale, Jr.


The show was originally called 'The Wild West' and they also considered 'The Wild West West.'

Early in production, the pilot was called The Wild West. Playing off the character's name, The Wild West West was also up for consideration and thankfully scrapped. That's just confusing.


Richard Pryor's first screen credit is playing a ventriloquist on the show.

The groundbreaking stand-up comic appears in "The Night of the Eccentrics," the season two premiere and first episode broadcast in color. Pryor plays Villar, a creepy ventriloquist. However, it was Ross Martin who provided the voice of the dummy, Giulio.


Conrad accepted the Razzie awards on behalf of the 1999 'Wild Wild West' remake.

The less said about the 1999 movie reboot, the better. Even Will Smith recently expressed regret for the blockbuster that featured Kevin Kline in drag and a giant mechanical spider. The Barry Sonnenfeld film "won" five Razzies, the anti-Oscars given each year to Hollywood turkeys. Conrad attended the ceremony and accepted the awards to demonstrate his objections to the remake.

Image: Warner Bros. / AP Photo/Rene Macura

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