The Wild Wild West
The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Inferno
The Wild Wild West Tv Series Full Episodes – Season 1 Episode 1 Summary: President Grant, beset by problems, recalls his top troubleshooter James West to service. West and his partner Artemus Gordon must discover why Juan Manolo has staged a series of raids in the southwest territories. Sending the army might cause a war, but a pair of low key troubleshooters might be able to solve the problem.
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, 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 have 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.
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 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).
Creation, Writing and Production
Michael Garrison and his partner at the time, Gregory Ratoff, purchased the film rights to Ian Fleming‘s first Bond novel, Casino Royale, in 1954 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 $6000, 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 1997, Ralston sued Warner Bros. over the upcoming motion picture based on the series. (Wild Wild West was released in 1999.) In a 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.
Ralston’s experience brought to light a common Hollywood practice of the 1950s and ’60’s, 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.
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 as producer, but he was then shifted to Rawhide. 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, and it was on his watch that the arch-villain Dr. Loveless was created. Loveless became an immediate hit, and actor Michael 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 take a screen-writing assignment at Warner Bros.
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 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. Later, MTM Enterprises (headed by actress Mary Tyler Moore and her then-husband, Grant Tinker) became the Studio Center’s primary tenant, beginning in 1971. Seinfeld was filmed there in the 1990’s.
Ross Martin as Artemus Gordon (with guest star Ann Elder).
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 role.) 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 and Chuck O’Brien. On January 24, 1968, 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”. He suffered a heart attack a few weeks later, on August 17, 1968, after completing “The Night of Fire and Brimstone.” (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 him script rewrites, but these simply amounted to changing the name “Artemus Gordon” to “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.
A memorable recurring arch-villain was Dr. Miguelito Quixote Loveless, a brilliant but megalomaniacal little person 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. Loveless was introduced in the show’s sixth produced, but third televised episode, “The Night the Wizard Shook The Earth”, and appeared in another nine episodes. 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 with no 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 around 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.