The Wild Wild West
|The Wild Wild West|
|Created by||Michael Garrison|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||4|
|No. of episodes||104 (list of episodes)|
|Running time||50 min.|
|Production company(s)||Michael Garrison Productions
|Distributor||Viacom Enterprises (1971-1995)
Paramount Domestic Television (1995-2006)
CBS Paramount Domestic Television (2006-2007)
CBS Television Distribution (2007-present)
|Original release||September 17, 1965 – April 4, 1969|
|Related shows||Wild Wild West (film)|
The Wild Wild West is an American television series that ran on CBS for four seasons (104 episodes) from September 17, 1965 to April 4, 1969. Two television movies were made with the original cast in 1979 and 1980, and the series was adapted for a motion picture in 1999.
Developed at a time when the television western was losing ground to the spy genre, this show was conceived by its creator, Michael Garrison, as "James Bond on horseback." Set during the administration of President Ulysses Grant (1869–77), the series followed Secret Service agents James West (Robert Conrad) and Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin) as they solved crimes, protected the President, and foiled the plans of megalomaniacal villains to take over all or part of the United States.
The show also featured a number of fantasy elements, such as the technologically advanced devices used by the agents and their adversaries. The combination of the Victorian era time-frame and the use of Verne-esque technology has inspired some to give the show credit as being one of the more "visible" origins of the steampunk subculture. These elements were accentuated even more in the 1999 movie adaptation.
Despite high ratings, the series was cancelled near the end of its fourth season as a concession to Congress over television violence.
- 1 Concept summary
- 2 Creation, writing and production
- 3 Characters
- 4 The train
- 5 Theme music
- 6 Graphics
- 7 Gadgets
- 8 Violence, cancellation and syndication
- 9 TV-movies
- 10 In other media
- 11 Revivals
- 12 See also
- 13 References
- 14 External links
The Wild Wild West told the story of two Secret Service agents: the fearless and handsome James T. West (played by Robert Conrad), and Artemus Gordon (played by Ross Martin), a brilliant gadgeteer and master of disguise. Their unending mission was to protect President Ulysses S. Grant and the United States from all manner of dangerous threats. The agents traveled in luxury aboard their own train, the Wanderer, equipped with everything from a stable car to a laboratory. James West had served as an intelligence and cavalry officer in the US Civil War; his "cover," at least in the pilot episode, is that he is "a dandy, a high-roller from the East." Thereafter, however, there is no pretense, and his reputation as the foremost Secret Service agent often precedes him. According to the TV movies, West retires from the Service by 1880 and lives on a ranch in Mexico. Gordon, who was a captain in the Civil War, had also been in show business. When he retires in 1880 he returns to performing as the head of a Shakespeare traveling players troupe.
The show incorporated classic Western elements with an espionage thriller, science fiction/alternate history ideas (in a similar vein to what would later be called steampunk), in one case horror ("The Night of the Man Eating House") and plenty of humor. In the tradition of James Bond, there were always beautiful women, clever gadgets, and delusional arch-enemies with half-insane plots to take over the country or the world.
The title of each episode begins with "The Night" (except for the first-season episode "Night of the Casual Killer", which omitted the definite article "The"). This followed other idiosyncratic naming conventions established by shows like Rawhide, where each episode title began with "Incident at" or "Incident of," and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., where episodes were titled "The (Blank) Affair."
Creation, writing and production
In 1954, Michael Garrison and Gregory Ratoff purchased the film rights to Ian Fleming's first Bond novel, Casino Royale for $600. CBS bought the TV rights for $1000, and on October 21, 1954 broadcast an hour-long adaptation on its Climax! series, with Barry Nelson playing American agent ‘Jimmy Bond’ and Peter Lorre playing the villain, Le Chiffre. CBS also approached Fleming about developing a Bond TV series. In 1955 Ratoff and Garrison bought the rights to the novel in perpetuity for an additional $6,000 and pitched the idea to 20th Century Fox. The studio turned them down. After Ratoff died in 1960, his widow and Garrison sold the film rights to Charles K. Feldman for $75,000. Feldman eventually produced the spoof Casino Royale in 1967. By then, Garrison and CBS had brought James Bond to television in a unique way.
The pilot episode, "The Night of the Inferno", was produced by Garrison and, according to Robert Conrad, cost $685,000. The episode was scripted by Gilbert Ralston, who had written for numerous episodic TV series in the 1950s and 1960s. In a later deposition, Ralston explained that he was approached by Michael Garrison, who "said he had an idea for a series, good commercial idea, and wanted to know if I could glue the idea of a western hero and a James Bond type together in the same show." Ralston said he then created the Civil War characters, the format, the story outline and nine drafts of the script that was the basis for the television series. It was his idea, for example, to have a secret agent named Jim West who would perform secret missions for President Ulysses S. Grant.
As indicated by Robert Conrad on his DVD commentary, the show went through several changes in producers in its first season. This was apparently due to conflicts between the network and Garrison, who had no experience producing for television and had trouble staying on budget. At first, Ben Brady was named producer, but he was shifted to Rawhide, which had its own crisis when star Eric Fleming quit at the end of the 1964-65 season. (The series lasted for another thirteen episodes before it was cancelled by CBS.)
The network then hired Collier Young. In an interview, Young said he saw the series as The Rogues set in 1870. (The Rogues, which he had produced, was about con men who swindled swindlers, much like the 1970s series Switch.) Young also claimed to have added the wry second "Wild" to the series title, which had been simply "The Wild West" in its early stages of production. Young lasted three episodes (2–4). His shows featured a butler named Tennyson who traveled with West and Gordon, but since the episodes were not broadcast in production order, the character popped up at different times during the first season.
Young's replacement, Fred Freiberger, returned the series to its original concept. It was on his watch that writer John Kneubuhl, inspired by a magazine article on Michael Dunn, created the arch-villain Dr. Miguelito Loveless. Phoebe Dorin, who played Loveless' assistant, Antoinette, recalled: "Michael Garrison came to see [our] nightclub act when he was in New York. Garrison said to himself, 'Michael Dunn would make the most extraordinary villain. People have never seen anything like him before, and he's a fabulous little actor and he's funny as hell.' And, Garrison felt, if Michael Dunn sang on every show, with the girl, it would be an extraordinary running villain. He came backstage and he told us who he was and he said he was going to do a television show called The Wild Wild West and we would be called. We thought, 'Yeah, yeah, we've heard all that before.' But he did call us and the show was a fantastic success. And that's how it started, because he saw the nightclub act." Loveless was introduced in the show's sixth produced, but third televised episode, "The Night the Wizard Shook The Earth." The character became an immediate hit and Dunn was contracted to appear in four episodes per season.
After ten episodes (5–14), Freiberger was replaced by John Mantley, reputedly due to a behind-the-scenes power struggle. Mantley, who had been associate producer on Gunsmoke, produced seven (15–21) episodes before he, too, was replaced. While Mantley returned to his former position on Gunsmoke, Gene L. Coon took over the production reins of The Wild Wild West. Coon, however, left after six episodes (22–27) to go over to Desilu Studios to work with Gene Roddenberry on what would become Star Trek.
By then, Garrison's conflict with CBS was resolved and he returned to produce the last episode of season one and the initial episodes of season two. The producer's return was much to the relief of Ross Martin, who once revealed that he was so disenchanted during the first season that he tried to quit three times. He explained that Garrison "saw the show as a Bond spoof laid in 1870, and we all knew where we stood. Each new producer tried to put his stamp on the show and I had a terrible struggle. I fought them line by line in every script. They knew they couldn't change the James West role very much, but it was open season on Artemus Gordon because they had never seen anything like him before."
On August 17, 1966, however, during production of the new season's ninth episode, "The Night of the Ready-Made Corpse", Garrison fell down a flight of stairs in his home, fractured his skull, and died. CBS brought in Bruce Lansbury, head of programming in New York, to produce the show for the remainder of its run.
The Wild Wild West was filmed at CBS Studio Center on Radford Avenue in Studio City in the San Fernando Valley. The 70-acre lot was formerly the home of Republic Studios, which specialized in low-budget films including Westerns starring Roy Rogers and Gene Autry and Saturday morning serials (which The Wild Wild West appropriately echoed). CBS had a wall-to-wall lease on the lot starting in May 1963, and produced Gunsmoke and Rawhide there, as well as Gilligan's Island. The network bought the lot from Republic in February 1967, for $9.5 million. Beginning in 1971, MTM Enterprises (headed by actress Mary Tyler Moore and her then-husband, Grant Tinker) became the Studio Center's primary tenant. In the mid-1980s the western streets and sets were replaced with new sound stages and urban facades, including the New York streets seen in Seinfeld. In 1995 the lagoon set that was originally constructed for Gilligan's Island was paved over to create a parking lot.
Before The Wild Wild West, Robert Conrad played private eye Tom Lopaka in ABC's Hawaiian Eye for four seasons, 1959-63. Conrad claimed to be the 17th actor to test for the role of James West. (Rory Calhoun was initially announced for the part.) Conrad performed nearly all of his own stunts on The Wild Wild West. "For the first few episodes we tried stuntmen," Conrad explained, "but the setup time slowed production down, so I volunteered. Things started moving quicker when I took the jumps and the spills. We started meeting the budget." He was occasionally doubled on the more dangerous stunts by Louie Elias or Chuck O'Brien. On January 24, 1968, however, during filming of "The Night of the Fugitives", Conrad fell 12 ft (3.7 m) from a chandelier onto a concrete floor and suffered a concussion. As a result, production of the series (then near the end of its third season) ended two weeks early. Conrad spent weeks in the hospital, and had a long convalescence slowed by constant dizziness. The episode was eventually completed and aired during the fourth season, with footage of the fall left in.
Prior to The Wild Wild West, Ross Martin co-starred in the CBS series Mr. Lucky from 1959 to 1960, portraying Mr. Lucky's sidekick, Andamo. The series was created by Blake Edwards, who also cast Martin in his films Experiment in Terror (1962) and The Great Race (1964). Martin once called his role as Artemus Gordon "a show-off's showcase" because it allowed him to portray over 100 different characters during the course of the series, and perform dozens of different dialects. Martin sketched his ideas for his characterizations and worked with the makeup artists to execute the final look. Martin was nominated for an Emmy in 1969.
Martin broke his leg in a fourth season episode, "The Night of the Avaricious Actuary". A few weeks later, after completing "The Night of Fire and Brimstone", Martin suffered a heart attack on August 17, 1968. (This was exactly two years after Michael Garrison died.) Martin's character was replaced temporarily by other agents played by Charles Aidman (four episodes), Alan Hale, Jr. and William Schallert. Aidman said the producers had promised to rewrite the scripts for his new character, but this simply amounted to scratching out the name "Artemus Gordon" and penciling in "Jeremy Pike" (his character's name). Pat Paulsen is frequently thought of as a Martin substitute, but he in fact appeared in one of Aidman's episodes, and his character would have been present even if Martin appeared.
The show's most memorable recurring arch-villain was Dr. Miguelito Quixote Loveless, a brilliant but megalomaniacal dwarf portrayed by Michael Dunn. Like Professor Moriarty for Sherlock Holmes, Loveless provided West and Gordon with a worthy adversary, whose plans could be foiled but who resisted all attempts to capture him and bring him to justice. Initially he had two constant companions: the huge Voltaire, played by Richard Kiel; and the beautiful Antoinette, played by Dunn's real-life singing partner, Phoebe Dorin. Voltaire disappeared without explanation after his third episode (although Richard Kiel returned in a different role in "The Night of the Simian Terror"), and Antoinette after her sixth. According to the TV movie The Wild Wild West Revisited, Loveless eventually dies in 1880 from ulcers, brought on by anger and frustration at having his plans consistently ruined by West and Gordon. (His son, played by Paul Williams, subsequently seeks revenge on the agents.)
Though several actors appeared in multiple villainous roles, only one other character had a second encounter with West and Gordon: Count Manzeppi (played flamboyantly by Victor Buono, who played another, different villain in the pilot), a diabolical genius of "black magic" and crime, who—like Dr. Loveless—had an escape plan at the end. (Buono eventually returned in More Wild Wild West as "Dr. Henry Messenger", a parody of Henry Kissinger, who ends up both handcuffed and turning invisible with the villainous Paradine.)
Agnes Moorehead won an Emmy for her role as Emma Valentine in "The Night of The Vicious Valentine". Some of the other villains were portrayed by Leslie Nielsen, Martin Landau, Burgess Meredith, Boris Karloff, Ida Lupino, Carroll O'Connor, Ricardo Montalban, Robert Duvall, Ed Asner, and Harvey Korman.
While the show's writers created their fair share of villains, they frequently started with the nefarious, stylized inventions of these madmen (or madwomen) and then wrote the episodes to capitalize on these devices. Henry Sharp, the series' story consultant, would sketch the preliminaries of the designs (eccentrically numbering every sketch "fig. 37"), and give the sketch to a writer, who would build a story around it. Episodes were also inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, H. G. Wells, and Jules Verne.
- Dr. Miguelito Quixote Loveless (Michael Dunn): Ten episodes. The agents' nemesis.
- Colonel Richmond (Douglas Henderson) Ten episodes. West and Gordon's control officer in the Secret Service.
- President Ulysses S. Grant: Seven episodes. (James Gregory in the pilot; Roy Engel thereafter.)
- Antoinette (Phoebe Dorin): Six appearances. Loveless' female companion, often seen playing a piano or string instrument and singing duet with Loveless.
- Jeremy Pike (Charles Aidman): Four episodes. One of several agents paired with Jim during Artemus' absence in the fourth season. Appears in the final Loveless episode, "The Night of Miguelito's Revenge."
- Tennyson (Charles Davis): Three episodes. West's butler/valet during the first season.
- Voltaire (Richard Kiel): Three episodes. Loveless' giant bodyguard. (Kiel also played Dimos Buckley in "The Night of the Simian Terror.")
- Count Carlos Mario Vincenzo Robespierre Manzeppi (Victor Buono): Two appearances. A master of dark magic and leader of a handpicked teams of assassins. (Buono also played Juan Manolo in "The Night of the Inferno," the first episode, and Henry Messenger in "More Wild Wild West," the final production.)
- Frank Harper (William Schallert): Another agent who worked with Jim in the fourth season. He appears in the series' only two-part episode, "The Night of the Winged Terror." (Schallert appeared in two other episodes as different characters.)
For the pilot episode, "The Night of the Inferno", the producers used Sierra Railroad No. 3, a 4-6-0 locomotive that was, fittingly, an anachronism: Sierra No. 3 was built in 1891, fifteen to twenty years after the series was set. Footage of this train, with a 5 replacing the 3 on its number plate, was shot in Jamestown, California. Best known for its role as the Hooterville Cannonball in the CBS series Petticoat Junction, Sierra No. 3 probably appeared in more films and TV shows than any other locomotive in history. It was built by the Rogers Locomotive and Machine Works in Paterson, New Jersey.
When The Wild Wild West went into series production, however, an entirely different train was employed. The locomotive, a 4-4-0 named the Inyo, was built in 1875 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia. Originally a wood-burner, the Inyo was converted to oil in 1910. The Inyo, as well as the express car and the passenger car, originally served the Virginia and Truckee Railroad in Nevada. They were among V&T cars sold to Paramount Pictures in 1937–38. The Inyo appears in numerous films including High, Wide, and Handsome (1938), Union Pacific (1939), The Marx Brothers' Go West (1940), Meet Me in St. Louis, (1944), Red River (1948), Disney's The Great Locomotive Chase (1956) and McLintock! (1963). For The Wild Wild West, Inyo's original number plate was temporarily changed from No. 22 to No. 8 so the train footage could be flipped horizontally without the number appearing reversed. Footage of the Inyo was shot around Menifee, California, and reused in virtually every episode. (Stock footage of Sierra No. 3 occasionally resurfaced as well.)
These trains were used only for exterior shots. The luxurious interior of the passenger car was constructed on Stage 6 at CBS Studio Center. (Neither Stage 6 or the western streets still exist.) Designed by art director Albert Heschong, the set reportedly cost $35,000 in 1965 (approximately $250,000 in 2011 dollars). The interior was redesigned when the show switched to color for the 1966-67 season.
The interior of West and Gordon's train was used in at least one episode of Gunsmoke ("Death Train," aired January 27, 1967), and in at least two episodes of The Big Valley ("Last Train to the Fair," aired April 27, 1966, and "Days of Wrath," aired January 8, 1968). All three series were filmed at CBS Studio Center and shared other exterior and interior sets. Additionally, the interior was used for an episode of Get Smart ("The King Lives?", aired January 6, 1968) and the short-lived Barbary Coast ("Funny Money," aired September 8, 1975).
After her run on The Wild Wild West, the Inyo participated in the Golden Spike Centennial at Promontory, Utah, in 1969. The following year it appeared as a replica of the Central Pacific's "Jupiter" locomotive at the Golden Spike National Historical Site. The State of Nevada purchased the Inyo in 1974; it was restored to 1895 vintage, including a wider smoke stack and a new pilot (cow catcher) without a drop coupler. The Inyo is still operational and displayed at the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Carson City. The express car (No. 21) and passenger car (No. 4) are also at the museum.
The 1999 Wild Wild West motion picture used the Baltimore & Ohio 4-4-0 No. 25, one of the oldest operating steam locomotives in the U.S. Built in 1856 at the Mason Machine Works in Taunton, Massachusetts, it was later renamed The William Mason in honor of its manufacturer. For its role as "The Wanderer" in the motion picture, the engine was sent to the steam shops at the Strasburg Railroad for restoration and repainting. The locomotive is brought out for the B&O Train Museum in Baltimore's "Steam Days".
The Inyo and The William Mason both appeared in the Disney film The Great Locomotive Chase (1956).
The main title theme was written by Richard Markowitz, who previously composed the theme for the TV series The Rebel. He was brought in after the producers rejected two attempts by film composer Dimitri Tiomkin.
In an interview by Susan Kesler (for her book, The Wild Wild West: The Series) included in the first season DVD boxed set, Markowitz recalled that the original Tiomkin theme "was very, kind of, traditional, it just seemed wrong." Markowitz explained his own approach: "By combining jazz with Americana, I think that's what nailed it. That took it away from the serioso kind of thing that Tiomkin was trying to do... What I did essentially was write two themes: the rhythmic, contemporary theme, Fender bass and brushes, that vamp, for the cartoon effects and for West's getting himself out of trouble, and the heraldic western outdoor theme over that, so that the two worked together."
Markowitz, however, was never credited for his theme in any episode; it is believed[by whom?] that this was due to legal difficulties between CBS and Tiomkin over the rejection of the latter's work. Markowitz did receive "music composed and conducted by" credits for episodes he'd scored (such as "The Night of the Bars of Hell" and "The Night of the Raven") or where he supplied the majority of tracked-in cues (for example in "The Night of the Grand Emir" and "The Night of the Gypsy Peril"). He finally received "theme by" credit on both of the TV movies, which were scored by Jeff Alexander rather than Markowitz (few personnel from the series were involved with the TV movies).
The animated title sequence was another unique element of the series. It was created by Ken Mundie, who designed the titles for the film The Great Race and the TV series Secret Agent, Rawhide, and Death Valley Days.
The screen was divided into four corner panels surrounding a narrow central panel that contained a cartoon "hero". The Hero, who looked more like a traditional cowboy than either West or Gordon, encounters cliché western characters and situations in each of the panels. In the three seasons shot in color, the overall backdrop was an abstracted wash of the flag of the United States, with the upper left panel colored blue and the others containing horizontal red stripes.
The original animation sequence is:
- 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 then shoots the gunman with his sleeve derringer; the gunman's hand falls limp.
- 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 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 of the show.
- The Hero walks off 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.
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 over the course of 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 freeze-frame graphics were shot at a facility on Ventura Boulevard called Format Animation which no longer exists. The pilot is the only episode in which the center panel of the Hero is replaced by a sketch of the final scene of an act; in the third act he is replaced by the villainous General Cassinello (Nehemiah Persoff).
During the first season, the series title "The Wild Wild West" was set in the font Barnum, which resembles the newer font P.T. Barnum. In subsequent seasons, the title appeared in a hand-drawn version of the font Dolphin (which resembles newer fonts called Zebrawood, Circus, and Rodeo Clown). Robert Conrad's name was also set in this font. Ross Martin's name was set in the font Bracelet (which resembles newer fonts named Tuscan Ornate and Romantiques). All episode titles, writer and director credits, guest cast and crew credits were set in Barnum. During commercial breaks, the title "The Wild Wild West" also appeared in Barnum.
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The Wild Wild West featured numerous gadgets. Some were recurring devices, such as James' sleeve gun or breakaway derringer hidden in his left and right boot heels. Others appeared in only a single episode.
Most of these gadgets are concealed in West's garments:
- Sleeve gun (a Remington derringer), featured in many episodes as an unexpected concealed carry alternative to his holstered and openly carried full sized revolver. In a few episodes, the ejecting support-arm of the device had other useful gadgets attached to it instead of the derringer, such as a tiny squirt-can containing acid, iron climbing-claws, and various blades.
- Lock-pick under the lapel of the bolero-style jacket.
- Throwing knife carried between the shoulder blades in a vertical sleeve in the back of the jacket.
- Various explosive devices (i.e. smoke bombs, impact-flares, gas grenades, etc.) carried in pockets or hidden inside his belt buckle, his hat, a secret compartment in his holster, and the hollowed-out heels of one or both of his boots. Various lengths and types of removable fuses were often sewn into the hem of his jacket or the waistband of his pants.
- A flat metal barbed climbing-spike and a thin, but strong, attachable rope or cord that could be shot into a wooden beam or wall from either his derringer or revolver. These were usually carried in one of his jacket's many inside pockets.
- A small, hand-held rod with a built-in spring-loaded, motor-driven winch. When used in conjunction with his climbing-spike and rope, the rod-winch could either hoist him upwards, to a building's roof for instance, or lower him down into a deep pit. The distance depends on the length of rope or cord deployed.
- A thin, metallic, telescopic probing rod (similar to a long modern-day car antenna). When extended fully, West could probe approximately ten feet or so all around him. He used this to probe and trigger traps in the Living Room of the episode entitled "The Night of the Janus".
- A spring-loaded, swing-out knife-blade in his boot, just between the outer sole and toe-box of the boot.
- A glass cutter consisting of a central hand-held knob. Protruding from this knob was a small metallic arm, approximately six inches long, that swiveled. At its end was a rolling V-shaped cutting wheel of hardened steel. On one end of the knob was a small suction cup that could be attached to glass, allowing the cutting arm to be swung so that the cutting wheel could score the glass in a complete circle then lifted away using the knob with the cut piece attached to the suction cup. ("The Night of the Camera").
- A thin but extremely strong wire, flexible enough to be coiled and fitted in the inner lining of the crown of his hat; the wire had multiple uses, and was even capable of sawing through a steel bar, using friction.
- A breakaway Remington derringer (featured in numerous episodes). Usually the frame (handle and trigger mechanism) was located in the hollowed-out heel of one boot, while the double-barrel assembly was located in the other boot's hollowed-out heel; the two pieces snapped together and locked. Often bullets for this breakaway derringer were dispensed from a secret compartment in his belt-buckle, but most of the time the chambers were preloaded.
- A breakaway blow-torch, each piece hidden in each hollowed-out boot heel.
- A battery-powered (or high-tension spring-driven) electric drill, that in one episode was roughly the size of a large avocado and used to assist West's escape from a metal cage.
Aboard the train:
- Two pistols on a wooden swivel-stand on desk, activated and controlled by a knob on the fireplace.
- The fireplace conceals a secret escape door and an emergency flare signal.
- Several pistols, rifles, shotguns, and other assorted weaponry were mounted on a sliding pull-down panel in a small chamber at one end of the train car. A sliding closet containing his clothes and other useful paraphernalia was located in the same area also.
- A shotgun hidden under a revolving table-top.
- Cages for two carrier pigeons hidden in the walls. In the pilot episode, these pigeons (named Henry and Henrietta) were located in a compartment above the door in the same back room where West usually dressed and equipped himself. In subsequent episodes the carrier pigeons were located elsewhere.
- Decorative molding carved in the shape of lion heads that spew knockout gas when triggered.
- An exploding pocket watch.
- Exploding billiard ball (shown in the series' pilot episode as the cue ball, but sometimes other billiard balls served that purpose).
- Cue stick that has a hidden sword inside. ("The Night of the Inferno" (pilot episode))
- Cue stick that can shoot a bullet. ("The Night of the Inferno" (pilot episode))
- Stage coach with ejector-seat. ("The Night the Wizard Shook the Earth")
- A telegraph mechanism in a cane.
- A blow torch disguised as a cigar.
The villains often used equally creative gadgets, including:
- An earthquake making device. ("The Night of the Human Trigger")
- A brainwashing device using intense sight and sound.
- A cyborg, i.e., a man who replaced much of his flesh and bone with metal, making him strong and nearly invulnerable. ("The Night of the Steel Assassin")
- An early flamethrower. ("The Night of the Circus of Death")
- Man-sized steam-driven puppets. ("The Night of the Puppeteer")
- Jars that could preserve disembodied human brains and draw upon their knowledge and psychic force.
- The Juggernaut, a steam-powered triangular tank with a battering ram. ("The Night of the Juggernaut")
- A potion, made from liquefied diamond, which enabled a man to move so fast as to be invisible. ("The Night of the Burning Diamond")
- An LSD-like hallucinogen, capable of driving men into fits of killing madness. ("The Night of the Murderous Spring")
- A cathode-ray-tube (television).
- A torpedo disguised as a dragon and capable of homing on a radio signal.
- An invisible electronic force-field that disintegrates anything that comes in contact with it.
- A drug capable of shrinking a man down to a height of 6".
- A suit of armor that acted as an exoskeleton. ("The Night of the Green Terror")
- A tidal-wave-making device that generated giant bubbles. ("The Night of the Deadly Bubble")
- A sonic device that allowed the use of paintings as a portal to other dimensions. ("The Night of the Surreal McCoy")
- Crystals that, when surgically implanted inside the brain and then shattered by a high-pitched noise, caused the subject to turn into a criminal.
- A giant falcon-shaped cannon, capable of devastating a small town with a single shot.
- A giant tuning fork device mounted on wheels. ("The Night of the Avaricious Actuary")
- A locomotive modified with a large battering ram to collide with oncoming trains and derail them.
The first season's episodes were filmed in black and white, and they were darker in tone. Cinematographer Ted Voightlander was nominated for an Emmy Award for his work on these episodes. Subsequent seasons were filmed in color, and the show became noticeably campier.
Still, some episodes were violent for their time, and that, rather than low ratings, ultimately was the series' downfall. In addition to gunplay, there were usually two fight sequences per episode. These were choreographed by Whitey Hughes and performed by Conrad and a stock company of stuntmen, including Red West, Dick Cangey, and Bob Herron (who doubled for Ross Martin). Hughes recalled, "We had a lot of crashes. We used to say, 'Roll the cameras and call the ambulances.'" Conrad originally performed many of his own stunts, but after his concussion from the fall from a chandelier ("The Night of the Fugitives"), the network insisted that he defer to a double. (His chair on the set was newly inscribed: "Robert Conrad, ex-stuntman, retired by CBS, Jan. 24, 1968.") "[W]hen I came back for the fourth season I was limited to what I could do for insurance reasons," Conrad explained. "So I agreed and gradually I did all the fights but couldn't do anything five feet off the ground and of course that went out the window." He was doubled by Jimmy George. Often, George would start a stunt, such as a high fall or a dive through a window, then land behind boxes or off camera, where Conrad was concealed and waiting to seamlessly complete the action. This same ploy was sometimes used by Ross Martin and Bob Herron.
Following the 1968 assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, President Lyndon Johnson created the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence. One of the questions it tackled was whether violence on television was a contributing factor to violence in American society. (This also included graphic news coverage of the Vietnam War.) The television networks, anticipating these allegations, moved to curtail violence on their entertainment programs before the start of the 1968-69 season. Television reporter Cynthia Lowrey, in an article published in August 1968, wrote that The Wild Wild West "is one of the action series being watched by network censors for scenes of excessive violence, even if the violence is all in fun." However, despite a CBS mandate to tone down the mayhem, "The Night of the Egyptian Queen" (aired November 15, 1968) contains perhaps the series' most ferocious barroom brawl. A later memo attached to the shooting script of "The Night of Miguelito's Revenge" (aired December 13, 1968) reads: "Note to Directors: The producer respectfully asks that no violent acts be shot which are not depicted in the script or discussed beforehand. . . . Most particularly stay away from gratuitous ad-libs, such as slaps, pointing of firearms or other weapons at characters (especially in close quarters), kicks and the use of furniture and other objects in fight scenes."
In December 1968, executives from ABC, CBS and NBC appeared before the President's Commission. The most caustic of the commissioners, Rep. Hale Boggs (D-La.), decried what he called "the Saturday morning theme of children's cartoon shows" that permit "the good guy to do anything in the name of justice." He also indicted CBS for featuring sadism in its primetime programing (The Wild, Wild West was subsequently identified as one example). The Congressman did, however, commend CBS for a 25% decline in violence programming in prime time compared to the other two networks.
Three months later, in March 1969, Sen. John O. Pastore (D-R.I.) called the same network presidents before his Senate communications subcommittee for a public scolding on the same subject. At Pastore's insistence, the networks promised tighter industry self-censorship, and the Surgeon General began a $1 million study on the effects of television. Congress’s concern was shared by the public: in a nationwide poll, 67.5% of 1,554 Americans agreed with the theory that TV and movie violence prompted violence in real life.
Additionally, the National Association for Better Broadcasting, in a report eventually issued in November 1969, rated The Wild Wild West "as one of the most violent series on television."
After being excoriated by two committees, the networks scrambled to expunge violence from their programming. The Wild Wild West received its cancellation notice in mid-February, even before Pastore’s committee convened. Producer Bruce Lansbury always claimed that "It was a sacrificial lamb ... It went off with a 32 or 33 share which in those days was virtually break-even, but it always won its time period." This is confirmed by an article by Associated Press reporter Joseph Mohbat: "Shows like ABC's 'Outcasts' and NBC's 'Outsider', which depended heavily on violence, were scrapped. CBS killed 'The Wild, Wild West' despite high ratings, because of criticism. It was seen by the network as a gesture of good intentions." The networks played it safe thereafter: of the 22 new television shows that debuted in the fall of 1969, not one was a western or detective drama; 14 were comedy or variety series.
Conrad denounced Pastore for many years, but in other interviews he admitted that it probably was a good idea to cancel the series because he felt that he and the stunt men were pushing their luck. He also felt the role had hurt his craft. "In so many roles I was a tough guy and I never advanced much," Conrad explained. "Wild Wild West was action adventure. I jumped off roofs and spent all my time with the stuntmen instead of other actors. I thought that's what the role demanded. That role had no dimension other than what it was–a caricature of a performance. It was a comic strip character."
In the summer of 1970, CBS reran several episodes of The Wild Wild West on Mondays at 10 p.m. These were "The Night of the Bleak Island" (aired July 6); "The Night of the Big Blackmail" (July 13); "The Night of the Kraken" (July 20); "The Night of the Diva" (July 27); "The Night of the Simian Terror" (August 3); "The Night of the Bubbling Death" (August 11); "The Night of the Returning Dead" (August 17); "The Night of the Falcon" (August 24); "The Night of the Underground Terror" (August 31); and "The Night of the Sedgewick Curse" (September 7).
TV critic Lawrence Laurent wrote, "The return of Wild Wild West even for a summer re-run isn't surprising. CBS-TV was never really very eager to cancel this series, since over a four-year run that began in 1965 the Wild Wild West had been a solid winner in the ratings. Cancellation came mainly because CBS officials were concerned about the criticism over televised violence and to a lesser degree because Robert Conrad had grown slightly weary of the role of James West. Ever since last fall's ratings started rolling in, CBS has wished that it had kept Wild Wild West. None of the replacements have done nearly as well and, as a result, all of the Friday programs suffered."
That fall, CBS put the program into syndication, giving it new life on local stations across the country, including WGN and WOR-TV. This further antagonized the anti-violence lobby, since the program was now broadcast weekdays and often after school. One group, The Foundation to Improve Television (FIT), filed a suit on November 12, 1970, to prevent WTOP in Washington, D.C., from airing The Wild Wild West weekday afternoons at 4 pm. The suit was brought in Washington, D.C., specifically to gain government and media attention. The suit said the series "contains fictionalized violence and horror harmful to the mental health and well-being of minor children", and should not air before 9 pm. WTOP's vice president and general manager, John R. Corporan, was quoted as saying, "Since programs directed specifically at children are broadcast in the late afternoon by three other TV stations, it is our purpose to counter-program with programming not directed specifically at children." US District Court Judge John J. Sirica, who later presided over the trial of the Watergate burglars and ordered US President Richard Nixon to turn over White House recordings, dismissed the lawsuit in January 1971, referring FIT to take their complaint to the FCC. FIT appealed, but a year and a half later the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the district court decision dismissing the suit on the grounds that FIT had not exhausted the administrative remedies available to them. By then, WTOP had stopped broadcasting the series altogether.
At that time, the show was in reruns on about 57 other local stations across the country. By the spring of 1973 it had expanded to 84 stations. Its ongoing popularity throughout that decade prompted two television movies, The Wild Wild West Revisited (1979) and More Wild Wild West (1980) (see below). By the spring of 1985 the original series was still carried on 74 local stations.
In 1994, The Wild Wild West was broadcast on Turner Network Television (TNT), which preferred the color episodes to the black and white shows. Hallmark Channel aired the series in 2005 as part of its slate of Saturday afternoon Westerns but dropped it after several weeks. More recently, the series was broadcast on MeTV. The series is currently being shown on the Heroes and Icons digital channel at 4 pm and 5 pm on Sundays. It airs in the United Kingdom (as of 2015) on the Horror Channel on Sky channel 319, Virgin channel 149, Freeview channel 70 and Freesat channel 138.
Conrad and Martin reunited for two television movies, The Wild Wild West Revisited (aired May 9, 1979) and More Wild Wild West (aired October 7–8, 1980). Revisited introduced Paul Williams as Miguelito Loveless Jr., the son of the agents' nemesis. (Michael Dunn, who played Dr. Loveless in the original show, had died in 1973.) Loveless planned to substitute clones for the crowned heads of Europe and the President of the United States. (This plot is similar to the second season episode "The Night of the Brain".)
Most of the exterior filming took place at Old Tucson Studios where there were still many "Old West" buildings and a functioning steam train and tracks. Interiors were shot at CBS Studio Center. Ross Martin said, "We worked on a lot of the same sets at the studio, including the interiors of the old train. We used the same guns and gimmicks and wardrobes – with the waistlines let out a little bit. The script, unlike the old shows, is played strictly for comedy. It calls for us to be ten years older than when we were last seen. There are a lot more laughs than adventure."
More was initially conceived as a rematch between the agents and Miguelito Jr., but Williams was unavailable for the film; his character was changed to Albert Paradine II and played by Jonathan Winters – this explains why the story begins with various clones of Paradine being murdered (the first film ends with Loveless having cloned himself and placed the doubles around the world). Paradine planned world conquest using a formula for invisibility (recalling the first season episode "The Night of the Burning Diamond").
Both TV films were campier than the TV series, although Conrad and Martin played their roles straight. Both films were directed by veteran comedy Western director Burt Kennedy and written by William Bowers (in the latter case with Tony Kayden, from a story by Bowers); neither Kennedy nor Bowers worked on the original series. Conrad was later quoted in Cinefantastique about these films: "We all got along fine with each other when we did these, but I wasn't happy with them only because CBS imposed a lot of restrictions on us. They never came up to the level of what we had done before."
In other media
The series spawned several merchandising spin-offs, including a seven-issue comic book series by Gold Key Comics, and a paperback novel, Richard Wormser's The Wild Wild West, published in 1966 by Signet (ISBN 0-451-02836-8), which adapted the episode "The Night Of the Double-Edged Knife".
In 1988, Arnett Press published The Wild Wild West: The Series by Susan E. Kesler (ISBN 0-929360-00-1), a thorough production history and episode guide.
In 1990, Millennium Publications produced a four-part comic book series ("The Night of the Iron Tyrants") scripted by Mark Ellis with art by Darryl Banks. A sequel to the TV series, it involved Dr. Loveless in a conspiracy to assassinate President Grant and the President of Brazil and put the Knights of the Golden Circle into power. The characters of Voltaire and Antoinette were prominent here, despite their respective early departures from Dr. Loveless' side in the original program. A review from the Mile High Comics site states: "This mini-series perfectly captures the fun mixture of western and spy action that marked the ground-breaking 1960s TV series." The storyline of the comics mini-series was optioned for motion picture development.
In 1998, Berkeley Books published three novels by author Robert Vaughan – The Wild Wild West (ISBN 0-425-16372-5), The Night of the Death Train (ISBN 0-425-16449-7), and The Night of the Assassin (ISBN 0-425-16517-5).
In the 75th volume of the French comic book series Lucky Luke (L'Homme de Washington), published in 2008, both James West and Artemus Gordon have a minor guest appearance, albeit the names have been changed to "James East" and "Artémius Gin".
When Robert Conrad hosted Saturday Night Live on NBC (January 23, 1982), he appeared in a parody of The Wild Wild West. President Lincoln states his famous quip that, if General U.S. Grant is a drunk, he should send whatever he's drinking to his other less successful generals. Lincoln dispatches West and Gordon (Joe Piscopo) to find out what Grant drinks. They discover that Grant is held captive by Velvet Jones (Eddie Murphy).
The first season of The Wild Wild West was released on DVD in North America on June 6, 2006 by CBS Home Entertainment (distributed by Paramount). Although it was touted as a special 40th anniversary edition, it appeared 41 years after the show's 1965 debut. Robert Conrad recorded audio introductions for all 28 first-season episodes, plus a commentary track for the pilot. The set also featured audio interviews by Susan Kesler (for her book, The Wild Wild West: The Series), and 1970s era footage of Conrad and Martin on a daytime talk show. The second season was released on DVD on March 20, 2007; the third season was released on November 20, 2007; and the fourth and final season was released on March 18, 2008. None of the later season sets contained bonus material. A 27-disc complete series set was released on November 4, 2008. It contains all 104 episodes of the series as well as both reunion telefilms.
On May 12, 2015, CBS Home Entertainment will release a repackaged version of the complete series set, at a lower price, but will not include the bonus disc that was part of the original complete series set.
In France, where the series (known locally as Les Mystères de l'Ouest) was a big hit, all four seasons were released in a DVD boxed set before their US release. The French set, released by TF1 Video, includes many of the extras on the US season one set, and many others. "The Night of the Inferno" is presented twice – as a regular episode in English with Conrad's audio commentary, and in a French-dubbed version. All of the episodes are presented in English with French subtitles, and several episode titles differ in translation from the original English titles. For example, "The Night of the Gypsy Peril", "The Night of the Simian Terror" and "The Night of Jack O'Diamonds" respectively translate as "The Night of the White Elephant", "The Night of the Beast" and "The Night of the Thoroughbred". Both TV movies are included as extras, but only in French-dubbed versions. The set also features a 1999 interview with Robert Conrad at the Mirande Country Music Festival in France.
In January 1992, Variety reported that Warner Bros. was planning a theatrical version of The Wild Wild West directed by Richard Donner, written by Shane Black, and starring Mel Gibson as James West. (Donner directed three episodes of the original series.) Donner and Gibson instead made a theatrical version of TV's Maverick in 1994. The Wild Wild West motion picture continued in the development stage, with Tom Cruise rumored for the lead in 1995. Cruise instead revived Mission: Impossible the following year.
Finally, in 1999, a theatrical motion picture loosely based on the series was released. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, the film Wild Wild West (without the definite article used in the series title) made substantial changes to the characters of the series, reimagining James West as a black man (played by Will Smith), and explored – to a small degree – some of the racial issues that certainly would have made it impossible for a black man to be a United States Secret Service agent in the 1800s. (However, at the end of "The Night of the Returning Dead", West and Gordon invite a black character played by guest star Sammy Davis Jr. to join the department, and "The Night of the Fugitives" opens with West meeting briefly with a black agent.)
Sonnenfeld explained his reason for casting Smith as West. "I wanted to do something hip and cool and Will [Smith] would make this movie hip and cool. Look, Jim West is James Bond in the Old West, and Robert Conrad was that guy in 1967. But Will is that guy now. And putting a black man in that role makes the movie different from the TV show, and that was important to me. I had no intention of just doing another episode of the television series."
Kevin Kline plays Gordon, whose character was similar to the version played by Ross Martin, except that he was bitterly competitive with James West, and much more egotistical. Kline also plays President Grant as well as Gordon impersonating President Grant. (Martin's Gordon impersonated Grant in "The Night of the Steel Assassin", "The Night of the Colonel's Ghost" and "The Night of the Big Blackmail", but Grant was otherwise played by James Gregory in the pilot and Roy Engel in the series.) Kline's Gordon invents more ridiculous, humor-related, and implausible contraptions than those created by Martin's Gordon in the television series, which made some effort to be reasonably feasible.
The film depicted West and Gordon as competitive rivals almost to the point of a mutual dislike and distrust of one another. In the television series, West and Gordon had a close friendship and trusted each other with their lives.
Significant changes were made to Dr. Loveless (played by Kenneth Branagh in the film). A dwarf in the TV series, he was made a double amputee in the film and his name was changed to Arliss Loveless. He was written as a bitter, racist Southerner who sought to punish the North after the Civil War.
The film also eschewed quoting Richard Markowitz's theme music in Elmer Bernstein's score, except for one brief cue (Markowitz was not included in the film's music credits; ironically, this was one area where the film was true to the series).
Controversy and legacy
In 1997, Gilbert Ralston, the writer who created the original TV series, sued Warner Bros. while the motion picture was in development. Warner Brothers and CBS filed a counter suit contending that the major elements of 'The Wild, Wild West' were created by network executives. Ralston's experience brought to light a common Hollywood practice of the 1950s and '60s, when television writers who helped create popular series allowed producers or studios to take credit for a show, thus possibly denying the writers "millions" in future royalties (see Huggins contract). Ralston died in 1999 before his suit was settled; Warner Brothers ended up paying his family between $600,000 and $1.5 million.
Robert Conrad reportedly was offered the role of President Grant, but turned it down. He was outspoken in his criticism of the new film, now little more than a comedic Will Smith showcase with virtually no relationship to the action-adventure series. In a New York Post interview (July 3, 1999), Conrad stated that he disliked the movie and that contractually he was owed a share of money on merchandising that he was not paid. He had a long-standing feud with producer Jon Peters, which may have colored his opinion. He was offended at the racial aspects of the film, as well as the casting of Branagh as a double amputee, rather than a little-person actor, in the role of Loveless.
In 2009, Will Smith apologized publicly to Conrad while doing promotion for Seven Pounds:
I made a mistake on Wild Wild West. That could have been better. ... No, it's funny because I could never understand why Robert Conrad was so upset with Wild Wild West. And now I get it. It's like, 'That's my baby! I put my blood, sweat and tears into that!' So I'm going to apologize to Mr. Conrad for that because I didn't realize. I was young and immature. So much pain and joy went into [my series]The Fresh Prince that my greatest desire would be that it's left alone.— Will Smith, Total Film magazine, Feb 2009 Issue 151, pp 120-125, Will Smith: The Total Film Interview, by Lesley O'Toole, Future Publishing Ltd., London England
On October 5, 2010, Entertainment Weekly's website reported that Ron Moore and Naren Shankar were developing a remake of The Wild Wild West for television, but the project apparently stalled. In December 2013, Moore told Wired, "Wild Wild West and Star Trek were two of my great loves. I watched both in syndication in the ’70s. Wild Wild West was really interesting, that combination of genres — a Western and secret agent, and they dabbled in the occult and paranormal. I really wanted to do a new version for CBS. I still think it’s a great property. Someday I hope to go back to it."
A new fan-produced webseries, Back to the Wild Wild West, began production in November 2011, but apparently has stalled.
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Steampunk has been around for at least 30 years, with roots going back further. An early example is K.W. Jeter's 1979 novel Morlock Night, a sequel to H.G. Wells' The Time Machine in which the Morlocks travel back in time to invade 1890s London. Steampunk — Jeter coined the name — was already an established subgenre by 1990, when William Gibson and Bruce Sterling introduced a wider audience to it in The Difference Engine, a novel set in a Victorian England running Babbage's hardware and ruled by Lord Byron, who had escaped death in Greece. ...
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to The Wild Wild West.|
- The Wild Wild West at the Internet Movie Database
- The Wild Wild West at TV.com
- List of Episodes (Televised and Produced Order)
- Historical Chronology (Fictional) for The Wild Wild West