Robert Conrad tested for
the role of Major Anthony Nelson on I Dream of Jeannie (1965). He was
offered the role of Hannibal Smith on The A-Team (1983), but turned
it down because he preferred to produce his own projects. He also
turned also down George Gaynes role in Police Academy (1984), which
he later regretted.
Robert Conrad (born March 1st, 1935) is an
American film and television actor, best known for his role in the
19651969 CBS television series The Wild Wild West, playing the
sophisticated Secret Service agent James T. West. He also portrayed
World War II ace Pappy Boyington in the television series Black Sheep
Squadron. He was a recording artist of pop/rock songs in the early
1960s as Bob Conrad before he began his acting career. He has hosted
a weekly two hour national radio show (The PM Show with Robert
Conrad) on CRN Digital Talk Radio since 2008.
was born Conrad Robert Norton Falk in Chicago, Illinois. His father,
born Leonard Henry Falkowski (born November 3rd, 1918), was then 16
years old; Leonard was of Polish ancestry. His mother, Alice
Jacqueline Hartman (born May 15th, 1919, daughter of Conrad and Hazel
Hartman), was 15 years old when she gave birth, and named her son
after her own father. She would go on to become first publicity
director of Mercury Records, known as Jackie Smith. She would marry
several times, including once to Chicago radio personality Eddie
Hubbard in 1948. Eddie Hubbard and Jackie Smith reportedly had a
child together (born circa 1949) before splitting up in 1958.
Conrad lied to get a job when he was
seventeen. He had eloped with a lawyer's daughter,who was attending a
religious boarding school. The only place he could think of where a
kid his age could get decent wage was the loading docks in Chicago.
He told them he was 21 and made $1.87 an hour, $74.40 a week.
When he eloped, he and his wife lived
under the assumed name "Robert Conrad" so their parents
wouldn't find them. They only told their parents where they were in
May of 1952 when his wife found out she was having a baby. They were
thrilled because they figured it would be too late for their parents
to annul the marriage.
Years later when asked in interview in
Photoplay magazine if his daughter were to marry as a teenager like
he did, "If some sixteen-year-old punk were to come to me and
say, 'Sir, I want to marry your daughter' I'd say, 'Fine', and escort
him to an analyst. The average boy that age isn't remotely capable
from any point of view, including the emotional of supporting a family."
Conrad got fired from his job at the docks
in December of 1954 for handing out a petition to get his union
steward fired. His wife was six months pregnant with their second
child at the time.
Robert Conrad was a graduate of
Northwestern University, spending his first few years out of school
supporting himself and his family by driving a milk truck and singing
in a Chicago cabaret. Conrad befriended up-and-coming actor Nick
Adams during this period, and it was Adams who helped Conrad get his
first Hollywood work in 1957. A few movie bit parts later, Conrad was
signed for a comparative pittance by Warner Bros. studios, and in
1959 was cast as detective Tom Lopaka on the weekly adventure series
Hawaiian Eye on ABC-TV, co-starring opposite Anthony Eisley and
Connie Stevens (above).
While at Warner Bros., Conrad took
advantage of Warner's recording division. He eventually released
several recordings issued on a variety of LPs, EPs, and SPs 33 and a
third and 45 rpm records during the late 1950s and early 1960s. He
had a minor Billboard hit song in "Bye Bye Baby" which
reached #113. In 1959, he played Billy the Kid in the episode
"Amnesty" of Colt .45.
Hawaiian Eye was a hit and lasted from
1959 to 1963. The show was also a big hit overseas. In Mexico he
signed a recording contract with the Orfeon label where he released
two albums, a few singles sung in Spanish, and was introduced as his
Hawaiian Eye character Tom Lopaka. After Hawaiian Eye Conrad played
"Eric Dean" in the 1963 spring break film Palm Springs
Weekend and in 1965, garnered fame with the starring role in The Wild
Wild West (airing on CBS for 4 seasons), which was a ratings success,
consistently winning its time slot until its cancellation in 1969.
Playing agent James West in The Wild Wild West, Conrad brought home
$5000 a week during the series' first season and enjoyed increasing
remunerations as The Wild Wild West remained on the air until 1969.
There are those who insist that The Wild Wild West would have been
colorless without the co-starring presence of Ross Martin, an opinion
with which Conrad has always agreed.
The Wild Wild West Conrad did most of his own stunt work, resulting
in several injuries during the course of the show. During one
episode's shooting, he slipped while performing a stunt and fell head
first onto a concrete floor 12 feet below. Seriously injured, his
recuperation delayed the series' production for nearly three months.
He was later inducted into the Stuntman's Hall of Fame for his work
on The Wild Wild West.
After the cancellation of the series,
Conrad starred in such roles as prosecuting attorney Paul Ryan in the
short-lived 1971 NBC series, The D.A., and American spy Jake Webster
in the series Assignment Vienna. He starred in a third season episode
of Mannix called "The Playground" and in an episode of
Columbo ("An Exercise in Fatality").
With his muscular build and
cigarette-induced gravelly voice, Conrad found ratings success from
1976-78 playing legendary tough-guy World War II fighter ace Pappy
Boyington in Baa Baa Black Sheep, retitled for its second season and
in later syndication as Black Sheep Squadron. Dirk Blocker's was one
of the young co-stars on the show and his father, Dan Blocker
(Bonanza), was a friend of Conrads.
1978 he starred in the short lived TV series "The Duke" as
boxer turned private eye Duke Ramsey. In 1980, he played a paraplegic
coach in Coach of the Year, which featured a then sixteen-year-old
Richard Marx (credited as "Richard Marks"), as a high
school football player. In the late 1970s, he served as the captain
of the NBC team for six editions of Battle of the Network Stars. He
played a modern-day variation of James West in the short-lived series
A Man Called Sloane in 1979, which was around the same time that he
reprised the role of West in a pair of made-for-TV films. He also
starred in the 1978 TV miniseries Centennial. At the time of his
former co-star Ross Martin's death in 1981, he and Conrad were in the
planning stages of another "Wild, Wild West" TV series, a
project Conrad didn't want to pursue without Martin.
Though few of his series after Wild Wild
West survived past the first season, Conrad has enjoyed success as a
commercial spokesman and in the role of G. Gordon Liddy (whom the
actor admired) in the 1982 TV movie Will: The Autobiography of G.
Gordon Liddy (1982). As can be gathered from the Liddy assignment,
Conrad's politics veered towards conservatism; in 1981, he and
Charlton Heston were instrumental in toppling Ed Asner and his
liberal contingent from power in the Screen Actors Guild.
Conrad was widely identified in the late
1970s for his television commercials for Eveready batteries,
particularly his placing of the battery on his shoulder and prompting
the viewer to challenge its long-lasting power: "Come on, I dare
ya". The commercial was frequently parodied on Johnny Carson's
The Tonight Show and The Carol Burnett Show. In 1986, he was a
special guest referee for the main event at Wrestlemania II featuring
Hulk Hogan vs King Kong Bundy inside a steel cage.
1988, Conrad starred in a short-lived television series, High
Mountain Rangers, with two of his sons. High Mountain Rangers, known
for its spectacular scenery and stunts, had a one-season spinoff,
Jesse Hawkes. In 1990, Conrad starred in the made-for-television
adventure film Anything to Survive alongside Matt LeBlanc and Emily
Perkins. In 1992, Conrad played the role of the sheriff in Richard
Marx's "Hazard" music video. In 1996, he played the part of
a police officer in the film Jingle all the Way. He took over hosting
The History Channel's Weapons At War (later Tech Force) in 2000,
succeeding George C. Scott.
As the star of the original TV series The
Wild Wild West (1965), Conrad attended The 20th Annual Razzie Awards,
snidely accepting several of the tacky statuettes on behalf of the
Barry Sonnenfeld movie version of the Wild Wild West (1999). The film
swept that year's dis-honors with 5 awards, including Worst Picture
He appeared in the documentary film, Pappy
Boyington Field, where he recounted his personal insights about the
legendary Marine Corps Aviator that he portrayed in the television
series. Conrad hosts a weekly radio talk show on CRN Digital Talk Radio.
Conrad was married to Joan Kenlay from
February 23rd, 1952 until their divorce in 1977; the couple had five
children. His second marriage, to LaVelda Ione Fann, produced three
children. After living in Bear Valley in the High Sierra, Conrad and
Fann relocated to Thousand Oaks, California in 2006. Conrad and Fann
divorced in 2010.
Conrad would be joined on some television
shows by his sons, Shane and Christian, and his daughter, Nancy.
Another daughter, Joan, became a television producer. In a 2008
interview, Conrad described the late Chicago Outfit "made
man" and burglar, Michael Spilotro, as his "best
friend." Spilotro's slaying was featured in the movie Casino.
was involved with a volunteer organization in Bear Valley known as
Bear Valley Search and Rescue, which later formed the basis for High
On March 31st, 2003, while on Highway 4 in
the California Sierra foothills near his Alpine County home, Conrad
drove his Jaguar over the center median and slammed head-on into a
Subaru being driven by 26-year-old Kevin Burnett. Both men suffered
serious injuries. Tried on felony charges, Conrad pleaded no contest,
and he was convicted of drunk driving. (His blood-alcohol level had
been 0.22 percent, nearly three times the legal limit.) He was
sentenced to six months of house confinement, alcohol counseling, and
five years probation.
A civil suit filed by Kevin Burnett
against Conrad was settled the following year for an undisclosed
amount. In 2005, Burnett died at age 28 from perforated ulcers, which
his family attributed to his difficult recovery from the crash.
Conrad himself suffered severe nerve injuries from the crash, which
left his right side partially paralyzed.
77 Sunset Strip
- Shadow on Your Shoulder (1962)
- Who Killed Cock Robin (1960)
- Only Zeroes Count (1959)
A Man Called Sloane (TV Series)
- as Thomas Remington Sloane III (1979, 12 episodes)