Movie Fan Man: Cinema Connoisseur

Traditional, Artsy, Genre-Within-Genre: A Little Something for Everyone

HAPPY (Belated) 55TH, JIM AND ARTIE!!!!

by Tony Nash

(All Opinions are of the Author Alone)

Tickle Me: The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Watery Death (1966)
The Iconic Opening Title (from Tickle Me)

The Wild Wild West (1965-1969) ***** TV-PG

Robert Conrad: James T. “Jim” West

Ross Martin: Artemus “Artie” Gordon

Michael Dunn: Dr. Miguelito Quixote Loveless

Phoebe Dorin: Antoinette

Roy Engel: President Ulysses S. Grant

Douglas Henderson: Colonel Richmond

William Schallert: Frank Harper/Silas Grigsby/Rufus Krause

Nehemiah Persoff: Gen. Andreas Cassinello/Adam Barclay/Major Hazard

Victor Buono: Count Carlos Manzeppi/Juan Manolo

Ford Rainey: Hellfire Simon/Pa Garrison/Adm. Charles Hammond

Anthony Caruso: Chief Bright Star/Deuce/Jose Aguila

Robert Ellenstein: Dr. Horatio Occularis/ Dr. Theobald Raker/Luis Vasquez/Arthur Tickle

Christopher Carey: Tycho/Snakes Tolliver

Theodore Marcuse: Abdul Hassan/Gustave Mauvais/Dr. Jonathan Kirby (as Theo Marcuse)

Richard Kiel: Voltaire/Dimas Buckley

Charles Aidman: Jeremy Pike

Other Notable Guest Stars Including: Boris Karloff, Sammy Davis Jr, Peter Lawford, Jackie Coogan, Leslie Neilson, Robert Duvall, James Gregory, Jack Elam, Alan Hale Jr., Jim Backus, Floyd Patterson, Keenan Wynn, Martin Landau, Agnes Moorehead, Burgess Meredith, Barbara Luna, Nick Adams, Brad Dillman, Beverly Garland, Don Rickles, Ed Asner, and Simon Oakland

Created by: Michael Garrison

Produced by: Bruce Lansbury

Synopsis: In post Civil War America, government agents Jim West and Artie Gordon, under direct orders from President Grant, save the world from varying maniacal madmen, corrupt businessmen & politicians, and sometimes elements bordering the fantastical/supernatural.

Robert Conrad, Two-Fisted TV Star of 'Wild Wild West,' Dies at 84 - The New  York Times
Jim and Artie Investigating a Lead (from NY Times)

This September will mark the 55th Anniversary of my 2nd all time favorite TV show from childhood, The Wild Wild West. I can still recall many a Saturday and Sunday morning watching this show with my Dad on TNT (back when stations still aired classic TV), and thoroughly have a good time. Finally getting the TV show for varying Christmas and Birthday gifts allows me (and my Dad) to revisit the show anytime I want.

Artie Reads a Note to Jim About the Large Crate Sent to Them (from aboard the wanderer)

What made the show so cool for me was the unique adventures Jim and Artie would have, the varying gadgets they would employ to escape and outsmart the bad guys, and the seemingly endless array of disguises Artie would use to help Jim out of a jam and to infiltrate suspects to get info they needed. The fight scenes with Robert Conrad taking on the various henchmen of the villain or villains at hand were always my favorite parts to watch as Conrad did all of his own fight choreography and the majority other stunts (he would’ve done the full 100% had one particularly tricky stunt not gone haywire and put him in the hospital). Seeing Jim West take on legions of baddies and kicking ass every time was/and still is a big thrill for me, something not a lot of TV Westerns I was able to catch glimpses of here and there did. Even now I prefer a good solid storyline with well timed action over to character study Westerns any day, although now that I’m older I do find I enjoy some of those types of stories as well.

Cool Ass Cinema: From Beyond Television: The Wildest Episodes of The Wild,  Wild West Season 1
West and Dr. Loveless – Sworn Enemies (from Cool Ass Cinema)

I may need to backtrack my previous statement about character depth, as some of the best episodes were the frequent battle of barbs, wit, and wills between Jim West and Dr. Miguelito Loveless, who labeled West as his archenemy. Robert Conrad and Michael Dunn had a fantastic chemistry (as good as the chemistry Conrad had with Ross Martin) together that led to great dialogue and spicing up the storyline the duo were involved in. Whether Loveless was trying to threaten the US government with violence if he didn’t get what he wanted, or was simply looking to take over the World, West was always around to confound and drive Loveless batty. The ultimate irony was is that over time, both men developed a type of respect for one another, although West would never approve of Loveless’ methods and Loveless would always be baffled by West’s unwavering optimism in his government and country. Michael Dunn’s increasing poor health stemming from Dwarfism resulted in the actor’s less frequent appearances after Season 2, and while several attempts were made to give West a couple other recurring villains so Dunn wouldn’t have as high a workload, no one ever matched the same click chemistry Dunn and Conrad enjoyed.

Classic TV & Movie Hits - The Wild Wild West / The Wild, Wild West
A Promotional Still (from Classic TV Hits)

Another cool thing that separated the series from others like it was the take on violence. While there were gunfights, they were often instigated by the baddies, West and Gordon acting completely in self defense. The producers and writers focused more on well choreographed fight scenes where West and Gordon would knock the baddies out and send them to the nearest police or federal officers. When death usually happened on the show, usually the bad guys did the killing, and when West often did kill someone, it was because he had no other choice. Ironically, all the fighting is why people demanded the show be canceled, though in all honestly there wasn’t a whole lot of killing, in fact shows like Gunsmoke, Bonanza, The Rifleman, The High Chaparral, etc. had far more deaths each episode than the Wild Wild West per season. Granted, sometimes it was nice seeing the bad guy get the ultimate comeuppance, but I more often I find it a lot more refreshing to see them get the ever loving crap beat out them as their taken to jail.

Only a true fan of 'The Wild Wild West' can score 8/10 on this quiz
Some of the Noted Guest Stars (from MeTV)

The show also broke ground by having several high profile actors and actresses make guest appearances. Legends like Boris Karloff, Sammy Davis Jr., Ida Lupino, Peter Lawford, Agnes Moorehead, and Jackie Coogan all became known to future new audiences thanks to the series. Future successes like Robert Duvall and Richard Kiel had some of their earliest big time gigs with the series that would lead to more work and their eventual work with The Godfather and James Bond franchises respectively. For stuntmen, working on the Wild Wild West meant for good paychecks as Robert Conrad would sometimes get to fight up to 20 men for the stunt fights, some guys appearing in multiple fights per episodes.

(I missed out on doing this post last year thanks to the craziness of COVID, but better late than never. What great childhood memories this show has for me, and will continue to have. I highly recommend the show. seasons 2 and 3 in particular as they have some of the cleverest stuff. It’s just pure all around fun. I know Robert Conrad had some regrets with the show, claiming after it ended that no other producers took him seriously for more character driven roles, but I still thank him for the hours of entertainment and joy he gave me and probably loads of other boys over the years )

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Filed under: TV: Analysis/Overview, TV: Special Topics