Archive for the ‘The Wild Wild West’ Category

‘Wild Wild West’ weathered tough final season

March 17, 2008

As Heath Ledger’s recent death and Patrick Swayze’s current illness remind us, larger than life celebs are no different than anyone: They’re human, and they’re subject to illnesses, accidents and worse, just like all of us. And that brings us to Tuesday’s release by CBS DVD of The Wild Wild West: The Fourth Season, a season which was hit hard midway by its own human frailty when star Ross Martin suffered a heart attack.

He was just 48 years old at the time (1968). Martin recovered, but he lived only until 1981, when another heart attack proved fatal at age 61.

His famed series about 1870s U.S. secret agents ended too, after that fourth year, though its production values never faltered. If anything, The Wild Wild West looks better than ever for its swan-song season, when guest stars include the likes of Harvey Korman, Kevin McCarthy, Ted Knight and even singer Jackie DeShannon (What the World Needs Now).

With Martin’s Artemus Gordon ostensibly sent to Washington, D.C. on assignment, co-star Robert Conrad’s James West soldiered on with a substitute sidekick, Charles Aidman. The show must go on, as they say.

Conrad also continued to do his own stunts (no absurdly dissimilar stuntmen for him, unlike William Shatner on Star Trek)  and this proved both a plus and a minus. It was a plus because the action looked more realistic. It was a minus because networks were smarting after the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. earlier that year, and violent TV programming came under fire. Thus, after four fine seasons, WWW was axed — though, to be fair, it was far more fanciful than realistically violent.

But that end was only a beginning, in some ways, and you can still see all 104 episodes in four boxed sets. That’s more than you can say for many shows which emerge on DVD for one or two seasons, then subside. And while human frailty may halt some things, digital entertainment is forever.

Western James Bond owed much to James Dean-molded actor

January 2, 2008

Now that TV series are such big sellers on DVD, wouldn’t it be nice if more extra features were provided? I mean, they’re making enough money to merit extras, right?

Take The Wild Wild West, whose third season recently emerged from Paramount and CBS DVD. It’s a wonderful package with fine sound and picture quality, but unlike season one, it has no extras. Zip. Nada.

Then again, even when shows do get extras, they don’t always do the job. Take warm ’60s dramedy Family Affair, for which MPI has added interviews and featurettes for all four seasons reaching DVD so far. But none has ever acknowledged the 800-pound gorilla in the room, that being the fact that little Anissa Jones, who played sweetums twin Buffy, died just five years after the show ended, at age 18, from a drug overdose. Heck, even the season four DVD roundtable talk among the show’s child actors, with a cautionary look at pitfalls and dark sides, never mentioned poor Anissa’s fate, though it hardly could have been more germane.

Wild Wild West has a similarly sad lineage, at least when it comes to a two-time guest star on the show, Nick Adams.

Adams was essentially his era’s poor man’s James Dean, having appeared with Dean in Rebel Without a Cause and, devastated by Dean’s early death, then becoming a mercurial actor often cast as a “troubled young man.” That included his role in The Outer Limits episode Fun and Games, several years after Adams starred in his own TV western, The Rebel.

Adams was a friend to young Conrad Robert Falk, and encouraged the family man to  move from his home of Chicago to Hollywood in the 1950s and become an actor, too. The two appeared together in the 1965 film Young Dillinger just before Falk, renamed Robert Conrad, got cast in the soon to be hit show The Wild  Wild West.

It melded the James Bond spy craze to Old West settings (and some modern anachronisms), with Conrad starring as kick-butt Secret Service agent James West and Ross Martin playing his disguise-expert partner, Artemus Gordon.

Conrad later got his pal Adams cast twice on the show. First was a first-season episode called The Night of the Two-Legged Buffalo, in which Adams played a dangerously mischievious foreign prince with a smirk and a smile. Next was an episode for the new season four box set called The Night of the Vipers. In it, Adams plays a surly, suspicious sheriff, and though the show was in color (only year one of WWW was in B&W), it’s a pallid performance and little more than a one-note cameo.

What goes unsaid, along with everything else on the set (look, ma — no extras!), is that Adams, too, succumbed from drug use, at age 36, reportedly after an accidental overdose of medication he was using for nerves. That was in February of 1968, less than a month after his second and final Wild Wild West appearance aired.

Hollywood is littered with such stories, which seem even worse (yet somehow wryly humorous) in such contexts as Kenneth Anger’s two Hollywood Babylon tomes of the tawdry. Yet such sordid sagas aren’t necessarily an indictment of the show-biz company town. People die from drug overdoses in the “real” world, too — they just aren’t as high profile to draw as much notice. And plenty of actors, like Conrad, survive to a ripe old age.

Even so, with today’s DVDs of vintage shows casting so little light on their actors’ lives, you’d think every Nick Adams and Anissa Jones lived like Ward and June Cleaver, with hardly a care in the world. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find a rich tapestry of relationships and lives, including the special bond between Conrad and Adams, those close friends who came together again for The Wild Wild West, just before fate wrenched them apart forever.