1 9 6 5 – 1 9 6 9 (USA)
104 x 60 minute episodes
Entrusted by President Ulysses S. Grant to defend America from all manner of bad people, dashing secret Agents James T. West (Robert Conrad) and Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin) roamed the West battling revolutionaries and other subversive types.
Artemus was a master of disguise and dialects, and an ingenious inventor of gadgets to foil the assorted madmen they constantly pursued.
The duo’s main nemesis – with a remarkable facility for evading capture – was the diminutive mad scientist Dr Miguelito Loveless (3′ 10″ actor Michael Dunn), a brilliant antagonist bent on taking over the world.
Jim and Arte travelled in a special railroad car that supplied all the materials they needed to concoct all sorts of strange weapons and devices to foil their adversaries.
Beautiful women, fantastically contrived situations, and bizarre and creative devices populated this series throughout its four-year run. A dash of sci-fi and fantasy was thrown in for good measure.
Some of the better episodes of the series included ‘Night of the Puppeteer’ from the first season, where West was captured and put on trial by a jury of marionettes and a villain named Zachariah Skull on a blacked out set.
Skull himself turned out to be a puppet – the real Zachariah, having been deformed by an escape attempt from a speeding train, was discovered to be controlling his lifelike steam-powered marionettes from a central location.
Another first season show and the second to feature Dr Loveless was ‘The Night That Terror Stalked the Town’. Jim West was kidnapped by a beautiful blonde named Marie, only to wake up alone in a deserted town with only mannequins and a sound effects record on a gramophone for company. He soon met his arch-nemesis who turned one of his henchmen into an exact copy of West using plastic surgery.
Loveless sent the imposter to the train to retrieve the atomic explosive formula that West had previously confiscated from him. A suspicious Gordon followed the double back to the town, but Marie, falling for Jim, changed sides and helped the agents foil the Doctor’s plans. The two Wests of course got to fight each other.
This episode established Loveless as the quintessential TWWW villain.
The second season’s ‘The Night of the Man-eating House’ found West, Gordon and a local Sheriff transporting an elderly prisoner to a hospital – Liston Day, a traitor to Texas during its fight for independence, who had spent the last thirty years in solitary confinement. Deciding to bed down for the night in an abandoned mansion, our heroes found themselves trapped inside the house, as the mysterious sounds of a wailing woman were heard.
They discovered the house was possessed by Day’s long-dead mother. Day tried to escape by running upstairs, followed by the sheriff. In pursuit, West and Gordon found the lawman drained of blood. Liston looked on in secret, having been mysteriously de-aged by thirty years.
The following morning the agents found the house had been restored to its former glory and Day’s ghostly mother had left out her diary, which revealed Liston was innocent, the true traitor being his own father.
Finding Day they discovered he has gone mad, planning on returning Texas to Spanish rule, by infesting the state with plague-carrying rats. The agents foiled his plan and convinced his mother to let Day go free to die in peace. Once outside the house Day grabbed West’s gun, but before he could use it he aged rapidly and died.
Gordon suddenly awoke from a dream. It was morning and West, Gordon, Day and the sheriff had been camping out in the woods. They continued their journey and soon came across a house which looked a lot like the one from Arte’s dream. The front door opened on its own and the group cautiously entered. This was a great haunted house episode, full of atmosphere, and complete with a spooky twist ending.
The actors performed many of their own stunts on this CBS series and took the bumps and bruises one might expect from such work.
In one of the more extreme mishaps, Conrad fell off a prop and fractured his skull. Charles Aidman (as Jeremy Pike) briefly filled in for Artemus when Ross Martin had a mild heart attack.
A periodic panic about TV violence brought cancellation of the show in 1969, though a subsequent thawing in the moral climate saw TV movie reunions The Wild, Wild West Revisited (1979) and More Wild, Wild West (1980). Alas, both were without dwarf actor Michael Dunn as a result of his suicide in 1973.
A movie version of Wild Wild West was made in 1999 starring Will Smith and Kevin Kline. The steam-punk comedy western romp received mostly unfavourable reviews.
Jim and Artie had two different trains. The first was a dark-panelled model used in the first season (which was filmed in black and white). The second was a more functional model decorated in green and gold. It is this train – which housed the unique gadgets associated with the show – that most people remember.
James T. West
Ulysses S. Grant
Dr Miguelito Loveless
Colonel James Richmond