Sticking: The Wild, Wild West

Posted on October 25, 2012

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I have been a fan of The Wild, Wild West since I was a child. I never saw it in primetime (I’m not that old), but I watched it in syndication. It ran for 104 episodes between 1965 and 1969.

At the time of Ross Martin’s death in 1981, he and Robert Conrad were planning a revival of the series.

When our local nostalgia channel, KVOS, started airing the series from the very first episode, I started watching again.

We Watched It

Two Secret Service agents, James West and Artemus Gordon, travel the Old West in their private train, the Wanderer, fighting threats to the young United States at the behest of President Ulysses S Grant.

Sticking

Well, on the one hand, there’s Bob Conrad. Robert Conrad did most of his own stunts for the show. He was a professional boxer, a dockworker, a milkman, and a deputy sheriff. His work on this show, among others, earned him an induction into the Stuntman’s Hall of Fame. His tough guy cred grounded the show.

On another hand, there’s Ross Martin. By 1965, Martin had been in the business for 15 years and was 45 years old (Conrad was 36). Prior to working in Hollywood, he sang on Broadway, performed in radio, and taught acting (He was Peter Falk’s instructor, among others). His quick wit and sly way of hamming things up added charm to the series.

As I watch the show, one thing I really like is how from first season to second, Artie comes into his own as a character. In the first season, he’s a foil for Jim West, and the butt of West’s jokes. In the second season, he becomes a strong romantic character on his own, and often gives as good as he gets.

Then again, the show simply has a child-like appeal. It’s almost as if the creators knew that they had to hook the kids on watching, too. Why else cast a 5’8” leading man? No offense meant to anyone, but Hollywood typically casts taller men in romantic leads.

The show is silly and campy, particularly in later seasons, and that appeals to kids, who are often willing to overlook the illogical parts. The show is full of anachronisms, which kids are less likely to notice.

Then there’s Doctor Miguelito Loveless…

WTF

Played by 3’11” Michael Dunn (1934-1973), Loveless starts off as a real villain. When the agents first encounter him, he has a legitimate claim on half of California through his Spanish ancestry.

Over the next several encounters, he loses that grounded legitimacy. His plans stop focusing on regaining something he arguably has a right to, and alternate between killing West and Gordon and trying to destroy all of the United States.

As his plans become more and more grandiose, they become sillier and sillier – and so does his character. I actually feel bad for the late Mr. Dunn, who had an IQ of 178. He was a cheerleader, a newspaper editor,  singer, sports reporter, hotel detective, and a missionary.

In 1963, he was nominated for a Tony award. His co-star, Phoebe Dorin, was the other half of his popular New York song-and-comedy nightclub act.

I mention him because I think Loveless, on the surface, appeals to kids. He’s smaller than everyone around him. He’s constantly trying to earn respect and attention. Even his best ideas are, finally, thwarted by bigger people. I think kids related to Loveless, even while understanding that he was the bad guy.

I think that’s why Loveless so rarely kills anyone, at least, on camera. That would be too much for the kids to stand.

Thoughts?

It’s tough to watch a beloved character become something you pity or dislike. Have you felt that way about a syndicated or franchise character?

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Posted in: television