The Wild Wild West: Where Western Meets SciFi Spy

by Guy Belleranti
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The mid-1960's brought a number of secret agent/spy shows to television. One of the most unique was The Wild Wild West.

What made The Wild Wild West different was the way it combined the western genre with the secret agent/spy/science fiction genres. All other spy shows of the era were set in present day surroundings. The Wild Wild West, however, was set during the time of President Ulysses S. Grant's presidency (1869-1877) – a time when the west was still wild.

Each of the 104 episodes was 60 minutes in length. The series began on CBS in 1965 and ran for four seasons. The first season was black and white, and the following seasons were in color. All seasons combined action, adventure and humor to great effect.

Robert Conrad starred as James T. West, and Ross Martin was his partner Artemus Gordon. West and Gordon were unconventional secret service agents with the job of protecting both President and country from evil doers.

Conrad and Martin were perfect for their roles, and the chemistry between the two added immeasurable to the program. Conrad's James (Jim) West was as good-looking, cool and physically fit as James Bond. And like Bond, he had an attraction for ladies both good and bad.

Martin's Artemus (Artie) Gordon was an actor, inventor, conman and master of disguise and languages. He often helped West out of precarious situations.

West and Gordon traveled the country in a luxurious private train car equipped with a laboratory and many high-tech devices.

The two agents encountered many a bad guy, but without a doubt the best was the four foot tall Dr. Miguelito Loveless. Played wonderfully by the diminutive Michael Dunn, Loveless was an insane, but brilliant scientist whose goal was to create his own empire. Loveless appeared in ten wacky episodes.

Other actors and actresses to appear on the program included Victor Buono, Don Rickles, Elisha Cook, Jr, Leslie Nielsen, Katherine Ross, Ruta Lee, Agnes Moorehead and Robert Loggia. Roy Engel appeared a number of times as Ulysses S. Grant.

Each episode's title (except one) began with the words "The Night of. . .". The single episode that didn't begin with "The Night of. . ., came close being called "Night of the Casual Killer". Each episode had four acts, with the first three usually ending in cliff hangers.

Word has it that Robert Conrad performed many of his own stunts and that Ross Martin did a few of his as well.

The action and violence level was high, with West often getting in fist fights or having to resort to using hidden weapons (like a sleeve gun, a sleeve knife, etc.) to defend himself. In fact, it is said that it was the violence that eventually led to the program being cancelled. However, I think that when you compare the comic book style violence of The Wild Wild West to much of today's television's fare the show wasn't that violent at all, at least not in a gratuitous way.

Television did bring back the program in two TV movies - the first in 1979 and the second in 1980. Both reunited Conrad and Martin and their James T. West and Artemus Gordon characters.

And in 1999 Hollywood released a big screen Wild Wild West starring Will Smith and Kevin Kline. The picture, however, received very poor reviews. So when people talk about The Wild Wild West in an admiring way they are probably referring to the original TV program from the 1960's.

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