Robert Conrad lived an interesting and colorful life as one would expect of an action star. While he did appear in several movies, Conrad is best known for his work in TV, notably the classic show The Wild Wild West, which combined western and sci-fi themes to create a very unique concoction of ‘60s television. Born in 1935, Conrad’s film idols growing up were Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, and John Garfield (great picks!). Conrad attended and graduated from Northwestern University, but his jobs out of school included being a milkman and working in a cabaret. He also worked in a shipping dock, because he had a family to support, having married at a young age. It was his friendship with the great actor, Nick Adams, that got his foot in the movies. Conrad’s first film and TV appearances were small supporting roles, but Warner Bros. took notice of him and signed him to a contract. This led him to the classic TV series, Hawaiian Eye. The show was one of the private eye ones that were popular at the time. Conrad starred as one of the main detectives, Tom Lopaka, who, along with Tracy Steele (Anthony Eisley), went around Hawaii solving cases. The show ran for four seasons. Conrad also guest-starred on Warner Bros. other show, 77 Sunset Strip as his Hawaiian Eye character.
When Hawaiian Eye ended, Conrad appeared in a few movies, such as Palm Springs Weekend (1963) with the show’s co-stars, Troy Donahue and Connie Stevens. He also played a fitting Pretty Boy Floyd with his friend Nick Adams as the title character in Young Dillinger (1965). Conrad, however, belonged on television and by 1965 he was signed for another show. The show was, of course, the beloved The Wild Wild West. The adventure series teamed Conrad and the always fine Ross Martin where the two played government agents working in the old west but using new technology to help them out. The show was incredibly unique for its time, is still critically well received, and ran for four seasons. Since Conrad had an athletic background that included being a star football player, he performed his own stunts on the show. Doing so got him inducted into the Stuntman’s Hall of Fame.
After The Wild Wild West, Conrad spent most of his time doing TV movies and trying out other shows. Conrad didn’t have another winner until Black Sheep Squadron in 1976. The action show took place during WWII and, despite only running for two seasons, had an impressive 32 rating (meaning 32 out of 100 TVs would be watching this when it was on) and is critically well received today. After that show ended, Conrad still devoted most of his time to television, including making the TV movie, More Wild Wild West (1980) with Ross Martin. Conrad and Martin were also planning on bringing back the popular show in the ‘80s, but Martin ended up dying in 1981, putting an end to their plans.
Of Conrad’s later TV movies and shows, one that definitely stands out is High Mountain Rangers, which had good ratings, but surprisingly only lasted for one season. In the ‘90s, Conrad also had a very funny guest-starring stint in the show Just Shoot Me! George Segal’s Jack claims to have beaten up Steve McQueen, Lee Marvin, and Conrad in a very fabricated “autobiography” he didn’t write. He ends up getting more than he bargained for when Conrad shows up wanting an explanation. To top it off, the book claims that Jack bitch-slapped Conrad and made him cry, which is something that’s so funny because it’s hard to picture tough-guy Conrad breaking up after being slapped. The man was once a boxer!
Another noteworthy thing to bring up in Conrad’s career is that his great show The Wild Wild West was turned into a sub-par movie in 1999, which cheapened the impact of the show. Conrad was very vocal about his dislike of the film adaptation, including that the character Dr. Miguelito Loveless (played by respected, Oscar-nominated dwarf actor Michael Dunn in the show), was made an amputee rather than a little person. Conrad thought that there were many dwarf and little people actors who could have done justice to the part, saying “How dare you!” When the film ended up winning 5 Razzie Awards, Conrad ended up accepting some of them on the film’s behalf to show his disapproval of what they had done to the show. It should be remembered, however, that the show will go down in history as being good and the movie will go down in history as being bad, mainly because it’s nothing like the show. Conrad retired from acting in 2002 and died today at 84.