Rerun Junkie Guest Stars–Victor Buono

Oh, Victor Buono, how do I love you? Let me count the ways.

Funny, campy, witty, clever, a man whose presence was more than his size, this lover of Shakespeare dedicated himself to his craft in a way that let him fully embody a character, even take it over the top (and in some cases way over the top), yet never take himself too seriously nor lose credibility with the audience in the process.

Obviously, if Batman was the only rerun I’d ever seen Victor Buono in, that would be enough. His King Tut is my favorite Batman villain and with good reason. He embraces the camp of the show, revels in it. He bellows, he insults, he bosses, he throws tantrums. He goes from joyful to angry and back again. He thinks torture is good clean fun. He is royalty. Every line is quotable and so much of it is in King Tut’s delivery. My personal favorite is “My queen is disloyal, my handmaiden is a traitor, and everybody’s being mean to me!” It’s delivered as only Victor Buono can.

Though he never made it onto The Green Hornet, Mr. Buono did guest start in two other short-lived series starring Van Williams, Burbon Street Beat and Surfside 6.

And Batman wasn’t the only show in which he was a recurring character. He also did six episodes of the short-lived (I’m sensing a theme) series Man from Atlantis and six episodes on the longer-lived series Vega$.

He also did a couple of episodes as Count Manzeppi on my beloved The Wild Wild West (including an episode with Richard Pryor in one of his first TV acting appearances), however, Victor Buono also appeared in the pilot episode of the series in the bizarre role of a Mexican in disguise as a Chinese man. I will repeat that because it bears repeating. White Victor Buono played a Mexican in disguise as a Chinese man.

The ’60s were wild.

Speaking of the ’60s, those were busy guest star times for Mr. Buono. He appeared on Westerns Sugarfoot, The Rebel, and Daniel Boone; had some watery fun on Seahunt and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea; went undercover on The Man from UNCLE, The Girl from UNCLE, and I Spy; found himself on various sides of the law in Hawaiian EyeThe Untouchables, 77 Sunset Strip, and Perry Mason; and  he found time to thrill on Thriller and visit The Flying Nun.

Lucky for me, Mr. Buono graced Hawaii Five-O with his presence, playing a European master criminal after a rare Liberty head nickel. I believe this is also the episode that features the husband and wife in charming matching outfits. Only that could challenge the presence of Victor Buono and Jack Lord together onscreen.

Though he never made it on The Love Boat, Mr. Buono did manage to board Super Train and land on Fantasy Island. He also browsed The Night Gallery; again tangled with the law on The Mod Squad, Mannix, and Ellery Queen; and generated more than a few laughs on Here’s Lucy, The Odd Couple, and Alice.

One of his more memorable sitcom turns was on Taxi, playing Reverend Jim Ignatowski’s father, Mr. Caldwell, despite being only 8 months older than Christopher Lloyd. It was a naturally funny, but also sweet role, one that Taxi acknowledged in a later episode. After Victor Buono died of a heart attack in 1982, Reverend Jim’s father did, too.

 

 

 

Though Victor Buono died tragically early (only 43), we are left with a wealth of guest spots on some great reruns to enjoy. An immortal gift if there ever was one.

Rerun Junkie– The Wild Wild West

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 Wild Wild West

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.

They can also pull off fringe and chaps without looking like pro-wrestling gimmicks.

They can also pull off fringe and chaps without looking like pro-wrestling gimmicks.

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?

Cheers!

Cheers!

 

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