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Classic Television Memories: The Wild Wild West 1965-1969

Updated on August 4, 2017
Ross Martin as Artemus Gordon and Robert Conrad as James West, circa 1965
Ross Martin as Artemus Gordon and Robert Conrad as James West, circa 1965

Welcome to my Classic Television Time Capsule. I assume the reason you are here is because you're a lover of classic television shows as I am. My aim is to provide some information about the shows and its actors, while at the same time attempt to make it entertaining for you.

Please bear in mind, I am not nor have I ever been connected with the entertainment industry. My excursion into these shows comes from the perspective of a child spending many hours in front of the TV set, instead of playing outside with friends.

I chose the decade of 1960-1969, because in my opinion, this era produced the greatest shows on television. Many of these classics have been remade and updated for today, some also have been made into feature films, for example Mission:Impossible, so the importance of these shows cannot be understated.

That being said, welcome. Have a seat - no not that one, that's mine. Make yourself comfortable.

Okay, I'm back. Whew! must 've been something I ate. How did you like the video? I chose it for two reasons; first, because I've liked it since I heard it at 8 years old, and the year it came out is the same year the subject of our journey premiered. So lets travel back to 1965.

Two of the most popular genres prevalent in 1960s televsion were spy and western series. Spy shows were popular I believe for two reasons: The Cold War and James Bond. The war between the superpowers was heating up at this time, and the world it seems was poised for nuclear annihilation. This was reflected in popular culture, particularly films. Sir Ian Fleming's superspy James Bond, Aent 007, portrayed by Sean Connery's first film was entitled From Russia With Love (1962). It was complete with gadgets, beautiful women, and a maniacal villain bent on world domination. This film set the stage and became the pattern for shows like Code Name:Blue Light, Get Smart, Mission: Impossible, I Spy and others.

Westerns took off on television in the mid-fifties with shows like Marshall Dillon, and Cheyenne, and were a staple throughout the 60's.

The show we're going to visit employed both these elements, for it was a western with a James Bondian theme. The series is The Wild Wild West, starring Robert Conrad and Ross Martin. So sit back, and let's go!

Created by producer Michael Garrison, The Wild Wild West premiered September 17, 1965 on CBS. The first shows were shot in Black and White, which suited me just fine, because it played well on my mother's black and white TV set. I prefer the earlier shows, because they were less campy-looking than the later color episodes. The series mixed western, science fiction, surrealism, and alternate realities.

Robert Conrad was James T. West, and I just found out via Youtube, that 50's western actor Rory Calhoun was originally up for the role. I'm glad Conrad won out. Prior to Wild Wild West, Mr. Conrad co-starred in the detective series, Hawaiian Eye (1959-1963) with Connie Stevens.

The role of West's partner Artemus Gordon went to Ross Martin. Mr. Martin co-starred in the series Mr. Lucky (1959), starred in the science fiction film, The Colossus of New York (1958), and played a sadistic kidnapper of Stephanie Powers (later The Girl From U.N.C.L.E (1966) in Experiment In Terror, starring Glenn Ford (1960). This role was far removed from the likeable Gordon.

Set in the old west, the series followed the adventures of Secret Service Agents West and Gordon, both of whom reported directly to President Ulysses S. Grant. Their weekly mission is to protect the United States from threats domestic and from abroad; these threats usually come in the form of the aforementioned maniacal villain bent on world domination.

Although the show employed many villains in its 5 year run, only one could truly be called West's archenemy; the diabolical Dr. Miguelito Loveless, brilliantly played by the late diminutive actor, Michael Dunn.

Appearing in 10 episodes, Loveless' evil genius was at times more than a match for Mr. West's prowess. Mr. Dunn made his role a likeable one, at times sharing a romantic duet ballad with his female accomplice, and restraining his hulking henchman Voltaire, played by Richard Kiel ("Jaws" in the James Bond films The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Moonraker (1979), from tearing West apart.

James West is a man-of-action and of few words. Although he uses gadgets in his work, it is his fighting expertise that gripped me. Taking on at least five men at once, the fights, choreographed by Mr. Conrad and his stunt team, are the most realistic and breathtaking on television. Mr. Conrad and members of his group spent time in the hospital for their insistance on realism.

Artemus Gordon, is the creator of the gadgets and gizmos, a genius, and a master of disguise. He would be considered the comic relief of the duo, but will not back down from a fight when the need arose.

In the romance department, James West, like Bond and Captain Kirk of Star Trek, always manages to get the girl.

More after these messages.

West and Gordon travel either by horseback or their private train. The Train has a separate car for the horses, and the decked out main car that houses West and Gordon contains their weapons, is booby-trapped for those unwanted guests, and has a compartment for Arabella, the carrier pigeon.

In 1968, Mr. Martin suffered a near-fatal heart attack, and was replaced by a few actors; Character actor Charles Aidman, William Schallert (Martin Lane of The Patty Duke Show (1963), Alan Hale, Jr. (Skipper from Gilligan's Island (1964), and Pat Paulsen, (The Smothers Brothers variety show (1967). Mr. Aidman as Jeremy Pike was my favorite.

The show ended its run on April 4, 1969, cancelled due to restrictions placed on television violence. Apparently, the restrictions have been lifted.

The series' popularity spawned two made-for-TV movies, The Wild Wild West Revisited in 1979, and More Wild Wild West in 1980.

In 1981, Ross Martin succumbs to a fatal heart attack.

That's it for this trip. Before you go, enjoy this mini-documentary with Robert Conrad. See you next time.

Gone But Not Forgotten

Ross Martin (Artemus Gordon) 1920-1981

Michael Dunn (Dr. Miguelito Loveless) 1934-1973

Alan Hale, Jr. (Ned Brown) 1921-1990

Charles Aidman (Jeremy Pike) 1925-1993

Pat Paulsen (Bosley Cranston) 1927-1997

Michael Garrison (Creator, Producer ) 1922-1966


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