R.I.P. Robert Conrad, star of The Wild Wild West and Black Sheep Squadron

The tough television action hero was 84.

In 1960s Hollywood, few genres were bigger than Westerns and spy adventures. James Bond and Clint Eastwood were the peak 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, as played by the rugged Robert Conrad.

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.

Conrad was the perfect man to play James West. The Northwestern University grad had a fascinating background, just like his character. 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.

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."

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 recalled 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."

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 severely. He was rushed to the hospital. Unfortunately, stunt coordinator Whitey Hughes was off filming a commercial that day.

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.

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.

Black Sheep producer Stephen J. Cannell — the action king behind shows like The Greatest American Hero, Hunter, The A-Team and so much more — was reluctant to cast Conrad, according to the actor himself. In an interview with Tony Medley for the book Sweaty Palms, Conrad recalled, "[Cannell] knew that I had a history of off-camera activities that were somewhat challenging. Never was I unprofessional at work. But after work with the cameras shut down, I went across the street to the bar, the tavern, and all hell would break loose… fights, pretty much barroom brawls."

No wonder he was introduced in a boxing ring on the show.

While based on history, much of Black Sheep Squadron was made up. The war series, which originally aired under the title Baa Baa Black Sheep in the late 1970s, takes place on the fictional island of Vella la Cava. Fictional characters comprised the bulk of the squadron of pilots — from Bob Anderson (a young John Larroquette in his first major role) to Jerry Bragg (Dirk Blocker).

But Greg "Pappy" Boyington? The main character? He was 100% real. The Marine Corp pilot flew his way into the history books as one of the most renowned aces of World War II. Serving in the South Pacific, Boyington led the courageous VMF-214 fighter squadron, dubbed the "Black Sheep." Boyington would serve as a consultant on the television series based on his career.

Robert Conrad was the perfect man to play "Pappy," too. He was the perfect man to play any tough guy.

Conrad died earlier this week at the age of 84, his family told People.

 
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Jcarba 1 month ago
Robert Conrad, we'll miss you on the big screen tough guy, you're one of the best!!
CDDIAMOND 1 month ago
I remember Hawaiian Eye, Baa Baa Black Sheep, and of course Wild Wild West, but how can anyone forget all the hours of work he did on the miniseries "CENTENNIAL"? It was 27 hours long and he was in most of them I think. I'd love to see it come back on. I loved it so much that I used to tape it and try to cut the commercials! (Later I bought the VHS tapes.)
trogg888 1 month ago
big fan of wild wild west and black sheep having a huge james bond fan this was such a great tribute to ian fleming and that entire genre of films and shows
Wiseguy 5 months ago
"The Night of the Fugitives" was intended to be the 25th episode (out of 28) filmed for the third season of the Wild Wild West. After the accident left the episode incomplete the rest of the third season was cancelled (including a two-parter which was eventually filmed in the 4th season). When production of the 4th season started the Fugitives episode was completed and broadcast as the seventh episode of that season.
rosemary 5 months ago
It was sad to hear of Robert Conrad's death..I watched him in my younger days on Hawaiian Eye then Wil,Wild West...R.I.P.
mancrile 5 months ago
Wild Wild West = Metv Saturday @ 6 !!! 🤠👍

QuintBatiatus mancrile 5 months ago
Have they put it back on??
EricEdmond QuintBatiatus 5 months ago
No, but I believe it is on fetv, I have dish and that is channel 82. They just ran a marathon and I believe I've seen it on there on other days too. Hope that helps.
MrBill 5 months ago
Robert Conrad's real name was Conrad Robert Falkowski.
dth1971 5 months ago
Robert Conrad in the late 1970's did Eveready battery TV commercials - "I dare you knock this battery off my shoulder! I dare you!"
Utzaake dth1971 5 months ago
A White Sox fan, Conrad reenacted that Eveready spot for a commercial that was part of the team's early-1990s "Good Guys Wear Black" marketing campaign. Instead of a battery, it was a baseball with the team's logo on it. He was also one of the most athletic participants in Battle of the Network Stars. His intensity (pardon the understatement) reminded me of Baseball Hall of Famer George Brett's.
jholton30062 Utzaake 5 months ago
I never knew he was a Sox fan! Makes me appreciate him that much more.
sandman 5 months ago
The Wild Wild West and The Black Sheep Squadron. To the networks it was television shows, for me they were bargaining chips for doing my homework
mancrile 5 months ago
For me, next to McQueen, Robert Conrad was the King of COOL ! ... RIP !
p.s. Please bring back Wild, Wild West to the Saturday 6pm schedule !
Beta6 mancrile 5 months ago
YES! PLEASE!!!
Tampammm 5 months ago
Like several others have mentioned on here, how about MeTV pursuing the classic Hawaiian Eye TV show starring Robert Conrad and Connue Stevens.

They had 77 Sunset Strip (which was fantastic) and are now running Barnaby Jones in the 4am (EST) time slot. So that show would be a great addition maybe after Barnaby runs its course. Thanks!
Tampammm Tampammm 5 months ago
Make that "Connie" Stevens.
jholton30062 Tampammm 5 months ago
Maybe run "Hawaiian Eye" and "77 Sunset Strip" back to back. There was a third show that was created at the same time, "Surfside Six," which starred Van Williams, that would be nice to get, too...
rosemary Tampammm 5 months ago
I WOULD LOVE TO SEE THAT AGAIN
Tampammm jholton30062 5 months ago
Actually there was a 4th Detective show also from WB which was "Bourbon Street Beat" starring Richard Long and Andrew Duggan. How about MeTV with a 4 hour block of all these great shows!
dcthornton 5 months ago
"Black Sheep Squadron" was the syndicated title for "Baa Baa Black Sheep", back when syndicators retitled programs for daytime reruns.
Wiseguy DCThornton 5 months ago
The title changed for the second season on NBC.
MrsPhilHarris 5 months ago
For some reason I thought he died a few years ago.
Lantern MrsPhilHarris 5 months ago
He was in a serious car accident a few years ago.
MrsPhilHarris Lantern 5 months ago
That might be why I thought he had already passed.
Tampammm Lantern 5 months ago
Actually 17 years ago/2003. Time flies.
SteveP 5 months ago
Does anybody know if MeTV will be having a tribute for him?
Michael 5 months ago
Saw WWW in syndication in the late 70s. RIP Mr. Conrad. MeTV, please do a marathon of WWW, say midweek or next weekend before CBS gets ghoulish and restricts the rights. Drop a few tweets announcing it, and your ratings will go way up. If I were in marketing at MeTV, that's what I would do.
MrsPhilHarris Michael 5 months ago
I would watch. As a kid I loved WWW.
Wiseguy Michael 5 months ago
The Decades channel did a Wild Wild West marathon on Feb. 15-16 for its weekend binge (replacing The Love Boat which had been scheduled).
Tampammm Wiseguy 5 months ago
Saw a lot of them. Fantastic show.
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