Three in the afternoon was a dead zone for me. There really weren’t any reruns that I wanted to watch, so I’d usually just put on Me-TV until my next round came on, putting the TV on mute and listening to the radio (oldies, of course) while I worked and waited.
It just so happens that The Wild Wild West is on at three. And after several weeks of looking up to see what was going on and being completely baffled by what was onscreen, I turned on the sound. That didn’t always help, but what I did find was a new rerun for me to love.
The show features secret service agents James West (Robert Conrad), our dashing and daring hero, and his partner Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin), a master of disguise and gadgets, as they do the bidding of President Grant in the 1870’s, protecting him and the country from various fiends and schemes. They travel the country on a special train that’s stocked with every gadget they might need, most of which didn’t come into existence until after the time. And no matter how busy they were saving the country, they always found time to romance a girl or three (seriously, I don’t know how they found the time to do their sworn duty with all the tail they got). It’s a Western with a steampunk/Bond flavor.
The one real repeated villain the show had was Dr. Miguelito Loveless (Michael Dunn), a brilliant but dangerous and slightly mad man who often went to toe to toe with James West and though his plans were often spoiled, he always managed to get away. He was usually accompanied by his companions Voltaire (Richard Kiel) and Antoinette (Phoebe Dorin). Oh, and Dr. Loveless just so happened to be a little person.
Though the show was primarily an action gig, there was comedy supplied from the wit and quips of James and Artemus, usually poking at each other. It added a nice balance to all the death defying and saving of the country. The chemistry between Robert Conrad and Ross Martin is really quite delightful and makes the episodes without Mr. Martin more noticeable (Mr. Martin had a near-fatal heart attack during the fourth season and was replaced by Charles Aidman, Alan Hale Jr., and William Schallert for several episodes while he recovered). The replacement agents were all fine, but they just weren’t Artemus Gordon.
It’s also worth noting that since this is an action show, the two leads did get in on that action. Mr. Conrad did most of his own stunts until he fell 12 feet from a chandelier and sustained a concussion that ended filming on season 3 a couple of weeks early. Mr. Martin also broke his leg during an episode a few weeks before having his heart attack (though I don’t think he did quite as many of his own stunts as Mr. Conrad). Something you don’t see much of today.
In addition to our favorite villain and fellow agents, other guest stars included Victor Buono, Suzanne Pleshette, Robert Loggia, Harold Gould, Dabs Greer, Boris Karloff, Carroll O’Connor, Burgess Meredith, Ida Lupino, Ricardo Montalban, Robert Duvall, Ed Asner, Harvey Korman, Martin Landeau, James Gregory, and Leslie Nielsen.
This show is fun. Along with the wit and the action, you get some really nifty gadgets, complicated, diabolical plots, James West goes shirtless every other episode, and Artemus Gordon gets to be a dozen different people on any given day. What’s not to love?