The Wild Wild West was an American sci-fi, espionage, Western series that ran on CBS for four seasons between September 1965 and April 1969. If that mash-up of genres sounds ‘wild’ to you, that’s because the series was truly one of a kind.
The show developed during a period in television history when the Western finally beginning to lose ground to the spy-thriller genre. It conceived by producer Michael Garrison as a sort of ‘007 on Horseback’ kind of show.
It set during the Ulysses S. Grant administration and revolved around Secret Service Agents Artemus Gordon and James West, played by Ross Martin and Robert Conrad, respectively. Gordon and West went around solving crimes, protecting the president, and squashing diabolical plans dreamed up by megalomaniacal bad guys who had their sights set on taking over the United States.
If you’re wondering where the sci-fi elemental came in, the agents and villains frequently had access to technology that was absurdly beyond their time. Steampunk fans often cite The Wild Wild West as being an early pioneer of the genre, owing to the way the show combined Victorian era aesthetics with Jules Verne-inspired tech.
Even though the series performed well in the ratings, it abruptly canceled nearing the end of it’s fourth season. Some episodes came under fire for being too violent for their time. After the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson created a committee called the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence.
One of the issues that the commission investigated was television violence and its potential correlation with mounting violence in America. Anticipating that the commission was going to take aim at the television industry, networks made moves to curtail the levels of violence featured in their programs by canceling a number of programs that had already received negative media coverage for their violent content. As such, The Wild Wild West one of the series to given the ax for it’s perceived overtly violent themes.
It’s been more than 50 years since The Wild Wild West wrapped up it’s four-season run. It later adapted into two satirical comedy television films in 1979 and 1980 and was rebooted for a full-length theatrical release that hit theaters in 1999. But fans of the series still lament the fact that it canceled so prematurely.
What made the show so great, besides it’s novel themes and stylized action, was it’s phenomenal cast of characters. Sadly every cast member of the series has since passed away. Join Facts verse as we discover how all of the principal cast members of The Wild Wild West died.
Born on March 1, 1935, Conrad grew up in a family of German descent in his birth town of Chicago. His father, Leonard Falk, was 17 when he was born while his mother, Alice Jacqueline Hartman, was just 15. After dropping out of New Trier High School at the age of 15 to work full-time at the loading docks of Consolidated Freightways. Conrad started studying theater at Northwestern University.
In 1957, Conrad met Actor Nick Adams at James Dean’s Gravesite in Indiana. They quickly became close friends. And Adams eventually invited him out to California to pursue his dream of becoming an actor.
One of his first acting roles in the 1958 film Juvenile Jungle. His next role was in Thundering Jets which hit theaters later that same year. Around this same time, Conrad signed a recording contract with Warner Brothers and proceeded to release several records. His biggest song, Bye Bye Baby, reached number 113 on the Billboard charts in 1961.
From 1959 to 1963, Conrad starred as Detective Tom Lopaka on the 77 Sunset Strip spin-off series Hawaiian Eye. In 1965, he was cast as government agent James West on The Wild Wild West.
That role would prove to be the biggest of his career. But he would later find success once again playing World War II ace Pappy Boyington on the NBC series Baa Baa Black Sheep from 1976 to 1978.
For the remainder of his acting career, he made numerous guest-starring appearances on dozens of TV shows. And beginning in 2008, he hosted a weekly two-hour national radio program called The PM Show With Robert Conrad on CRN Digital Talk Radio.
Conrad died of heart failure at a hospital in Malibu on the 8th of February, 2020, at the age of 84.
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Born Martin Rosenblatt on the 22nd of March, 1920 in Grodek, Poland. Martin migrated to the United States, settling in the Big Apple when he was just an infant. He later attended City College in New York City before earning a law degree at the National University School of Law in DC.
Even though he formally trained in law and business, Martin chose to pursue an acting career. He got his start in show business as part of comedy team with Bernie West before appearing on many radio and live television broadcasts. He made his Broadway debut in 1953 and his film debut in 1955s Conquest of Space.
Martin would best remembered, however, for his role as Artemus Gordon on The Wild Wild West. Other notable roles included that of Doctor Paul Williams in the 1972 animated series Sealab 2020. Several characters in 1973s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids, and various voices in 1978s Jana of the Jungle.
In early July, 1981, Martin had a fatal heart attack after playing a game of tennis at the San Diego County Club in Ramona, California. He was 61 when he died.
Born Gary Neil Miller in Oklahoma in 1934, Dunn and his parents moved to Detroit when he was 4. A year later, he realized that he had dwarfism but became determined not to let the condition hold him back from being independent. After graduating from Redford High School in 1951. It is where he had actively involved in the school’s student council and was captain of the cheerleading team, Dunn enrolled at the University of Michigan. He forced to leave the school. However, after getting knocked down a flight of stairs and sustaining a leg injury because of that incident.
He would later transfer to the University of Miami where he began acting while also cheerleading and serving as the editor of the school’s paper. To support himself during college, Dunn would sing at local bars. By the time he graduated in 1956, he knew for certain that he wanted to be an actor.
Before landing his big break, he worked as a sports reporter, hotel detective, and missionary.
After moving to New York, he started landing parts in off-Broadway plays. In ’63, he nominated for a Tony Award for his role in Ballad of a Sad Cafe. He then appeared in the 1965 film Ship of Fools, which earned him an Oscar nomination.
Dunn would best remembered for his recurring role as the mad scientist Dr. Miguelito Lovelass on The Wild Wild West. A few of his other noteworthy credits included roles in Star Trek, Tarzan, Get Smart, and House of the Damned.
Sadly, since he suffered from spinal deformities, his rib cage also distorted. This restricted his lung growth and function and resulted in heart problems. Dunn tragically died in his sleep in his hotel room in London on August 30, 1973, at the age of 38. At the time, he was on location filming the British historical drama film The Abdication.
Best known for his role as Colonel Milt in John Frankenheimer’s 1962 film The Manchurian Candidate, Henderson, who was born in Montclair, New Jersey in 1919, got his start performing in stock theater on the Eastern Seaboard.
He made his film debut in 1952, appearing in Stanley Kramer’s film Eight Iron Man. He followed that up with a notable appearance in 1955s King Dinosaur. From 1966 to 1969, Henderson played Colonel James Richmond on The Wild Wild West.
Henderson continued to act until 1971, appearing in films and television shows like Stay Away Joe, Mannix, and The FBI. He died of a non-communicable disease on April 5, 1978, at the age of 59.
Kiel was born in Detroit, Michigan, on September 13, 1939. He was known for his large stature which a result of the condition called gigantism. When he was 9, his family moved to LA. After graduating from Baldwin Park High School, Kiel worked several odd jobs. Including that of a vacuum cleaner salesman, nightclub bouncer, and cemetery plot salesman.
In the early to mid-60s, he worked as a night-school math teacher at William B. Ogden Radio Operational School in Burbank. Around this same time, he started landing minor roles in television shows like The Twilight Zone, Laramie, I Dream of Jeannie, and Gilligan’s Island, to name a few.
Given his size and uncharacteristic appearance, Kiel often cast as a villain. On The Wild Wild West, he played Dr Miguelito Lovelass’s towering yet mute assistant Voltaire. Kiel played similar villainous roles in shows like The Man from UNCLE and The Monkees.
Kiel would later make another appearance in an episode of The Wild Wild West, playing the character Dimas. A son of a wealthy family who was banished because of birth defects that damaged his body and mind.
In 1977, Kiel beat out Arnold Schwarzenegger for the role of the Hulk in The Incredible Hulk. Unfortunately, after filming the pilot, the producers of the show decided that they wanted someone more muscular for the role. He was subsequently replaced by Lou Ferrigno.
As far as films go, Kiel appeared in movies like 1962s Eegah, 1963s The Nutty Professor, 1977s The Spy Who Loved Me, and 1991s The Giant of Thunder Mountain. Kiel retired after appearing in 1996s Happy Gilmore. In 2010, he left retirement briefly to record the voice for the character Vlad in Disney’s Tangled.
Three days shy of his 75th birthday, on September 10, 2014, Kiel died at the St. Agnes Medical Center in Fresno, California, after having a heart attack.
Well, that about wraps up this video, but now we’d love to hear from you. Who was your favorite character on The Wild Wild West? And what do you think about it being canceled for supposedly being too violent? Let us know in the comments.
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