Robert Conrad, star of The Wild Wild West and Black Sheep Squadron, didn't hesitate when it came to tackling and taking on whatever his role called for. He often took on his own stunts, and in a show like The Wild Wild West, that was no easy task.
Conrad devoted countless practice hours and training to improve and perfect his stunt skills. For the character of Jim West, no stunt was too small, and there was no amount of set time to get it right. These tricks, tumbles and tackles were complex according to Conrad.
"The stunts were monumental," he said in an interview with Pioneers of Television. "It took a long time to prep the stunts and for people in show business, to prepare a stunt and to choreograph the action took quite a while."
Stunts of the magnitude seen in The Wild Wild West weren't cheap, either. To help cut production costs and save time surrounding the outlandish stunts and thrills, Conrad stepped right into the danger.
"I said, 'you know what? What he's doing, I can do. And if I do it, it's going to cut the time period in half.' The director shrugged his shoulders and said 'have at it.'"
Even with training, practice and communication, things can still go wrong in the world of television stunts. A few stories have made headlines as we look back at classic television, and one of the biggest involved Conrad. It happened during the filming of "The Night of the Fugitives," during season three.
"We had choreographed it," Conrad said. "I was to jump off the second floor onto the chandelier and this guy was supposed to stop my forward motion, I was supposed to kick him through a window. He was late coming to me and I said 'let's do this again.'"
Rather than correct the mistake on the second attempt (keep in mind, any further attempts only made the stunt more dangerous), things got worse.
"The second time he was really late and he didn't stop my forward momentum," Conrad continued. "My hands slid and I fell 15 feet to the floor and had a high temporal concussion and a six-inch linear fracture of the skull."
As a result, Conrad was rushed to the hospital and the season was put on hold. Season three finished with only 24 episodes compared to the 28 episodes in each of the first two seasons. "The Night of the Fugitives" was completed and aired in season four. With a fall like the one Conrad took, the show, and Conrad, were lucky to continue on at all.
According to an obituary from The New York Times, The Boston Globe wrote, "It was almost curtains for the actor. Doctors said he was lucky to be alive."
Conrad recounted the incident and acknowledged how lucky he was by saying, "I almost ate the cookie, but I didn't."
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