Hello everyone, Today I will be writing about my memories of watching The Wild Wild West. The TV show debuted on CBS-TV from September 17, 1965, to April 11, 1969. The show was about two Secret Service agents and their chief mission was to protect President Ulysses A Grant from evildoers that would harm him. The agents were James West and Artemus Gordon. Robert Conrad and Ross Martin played the agents. At the time the series was on the air, many people called it,” James Bond in a TV Western.”
The first memory of the show was when I was living in the Roseland neighborhood of Chicago in the early 1970s, I saw the promos for the upcoming fall show on WFLD-TV Channel 32 in 1973. They consisted of The Lucy Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, Mission: Impossible, Night Gallery, and The Wild Wild West. I never saw on its CBS run, just in syndication. It was thrilling to see those shows during the time.
There were so many things the show had that was entertaining and endearing. The time setting of the 1870s, the fashionable clothes, fight scenes, gadgets, and the villain of the week. James West charmed all the ladies on the show, and Artemus invented the gadgets and was a master of clever disguise. Their primary villain was Dr. Miguelito Loveless, a megalomaniacal dwarf of repeatedly saying he would take over the world. He would appear in every season. He was a lot of fun to watch.
Both West and Gordon world and lived in the train provided by the U.S. Government. The train was very luxurious, and it was equipped with gadgets. The theme song of the show was very memorable. The animated title sequence was another unique element of the series. According to Wikipedia, the original animal sequence was:
- The Hero strikes a match lights a cigar and begins walking in profile to the right.
- Behind the Hero, in the lower-left panel, a robber backs out of a bank; the Hero subdues him with a karate chop to the back.
- In the upper right panel, a cardsharp tries to pull an ace of spades from his boot, but the Hero draws his gun and the cardsharp drops the ace.
- In the upper left panel, a gunman points a six-shooter at the Hero, who drops his gun and puts his hands up. The Hero shoots the gunman with his sleeve derringer; the gunman’s hand falls limp. The Hero then quickly retrieves his own gun and puts it back in his holster.
- A woman in the lower right panel taps the Hero on the hat with her parasol. He pulls her close and kisses her. She draws a knife but, mesmerized by his kiss, turns away and slumps against the side of the frame. He tips his hat and walks away with his back to the camera. There were two versions of this vignette; this one appears during the first season. When the show switched to color, the Hero knocked the woman down with a right cross to the jaw. This variant also appears in the original pilot episode (included on the DVD release) when the series was titled The Wild West. Despite this, James West never hit a woman in any episode, although he grappled with many. The closest he came was when he slammed a door against the shotgun-holding evil Countess Zorana in “The Night of the Iron Fist”. In “The Night of the Running Death” he slugged a woman named Miss Tyler, but “she” was a man in drag (actor T. C. Jones). The original animation, with the Hero winning the woman over with a kiss, was a more accurate representation of West’s methods than the right cross. Ironically, it is another example of the emphasis on violence in the show.
- The Hero walks away into the distance, and the camera zooms into his panel. The title The Wild Wild West appears. The camera then swish pans to an illustration of the train, with Conrad’s and Martin’s names on the ends of different cars.
The teaser part of the show was also fun to watch. Each episode had four acts. At the end of each act, the scene, usually a cliffhanger moment, would freeze, and a sketch or photograph of the scene faded in to replace the cartoon art in one of the four corner panels. The style of freeze-frame art changed for the series. In all first-season episodes other than the pilot, the panels were live-action stills made to evoke 19th-century engravings. In season two (the first in color) the scenes dissolved to tinted stills; from “The Night of the Flying Pie Plate” on, however, the panels were home to Warhol-like serigraphs of the freeze-frames. The end credits were displayed over each episode’s unique mosaic except in the final season when a standardized design was used (curiously, in this design the bank robber is unconscious, the cardsharp has no card and the lady is on the ground, but the sixshooter in the upper left-hand panel has returned).
The Wild Wild West aired on Channel 32 for many years. The reruns later aired on WGN-TV Channel 9 in the 80s. The show to me was like other shows that had the heroes and the villains like The Man From U.N.C.L.E and Batman. I bought the DVDs for about ten years and watched every episode on them. They are still excellent. They made two television movies in 1979 and 1980. They were okay, but the series was better. The Wild Wild West movie was released in 1999. Robert Conrad watched the movie, and he despised it. I never saw it and I don’t intend to do so.
Robert Conrad passed away on February 8, 2020. I was so sad about the news because I grew up watching him on television. He was from Chicago, and his first TV series was Hawaiian Eye. I maybe watched one or two episodes of it, and I liked it. I wish the show was on DVD. The Wild Wild West was a unique show during the 1960s. It wasn’t a typical western. It was a mixture of fantasy, action, and a couple of laughs. It was beautifully done. No other show can match that one. Thank you. Pete Kastanes, Admin for Vanished Chicagoland Facebook Page.