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EDITORIAL ROUTTNG 8-9-94

TO:

ENTERTAINMENT
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Robert Conrad has arrived at last


By Frank l,ovece
Go ahead. Knock him off. He dares

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nature series, the show isn't the actor's favorite. That, he says, is
"Centennial" (1978-79), the epic
24-

amateur boxer, sang with a local

nightclub band, and, with the encouragement of actor Nick Adams,


tried Hollywood.

you.

episode adaptation of James A. Mich

Or, well, the old Robert Conrad


would. In fact, that was the image he maintained in three years' worth of famous battery commercials, or in a

ener's best-selling novel, in which Conrad played the seminal role of French trapper Pasquinel.

plethora of tough-guy roles in TV movies and series from "Hawaiian Eye" (1959-63) to "High Mountain
as special agent-James T. West on
the cult-classic series "The Wild Wild

"It was more of a dramatic piece," he explains. "Performing in 'Wild Wild West' was very studied, very

- of television, starting with an episode "Maverick" in 1959. That same year he


began his stint as detective Tom Lopaka in "Hawaiian Eye," the first of
nine series in which he's starred. Conrad was married for 25 years to Joan Kenlay, with whom he had chil-

He became a stunt man, opening the door to movies a non-speaking debut in "Juvenile Jungle" (1957), a speaking role in "Thundering Jets" (1958) and

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Rangers" (1988)

and most notably

'l'm being
rediscovered by a whole new audience in their 2Os. l'm not that person on the screen anymore. But I'm really happy with the change. I'm much happier today than I ever was then.'
there weren't a lot of places stoic to go with the character. Anytime you

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West" (1965-69), which was recently immortalized as a Columbia House


home-video collection.

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dren Joan (a producer in his pro-

duction company), Nancy

The new Robert Conrad? He's pussycat. A bobcat, maybe, but

a a

(a sometime producer-actress), Christy, and actors Shane and Christian. In


1978, during his troubled marriage, Conrad met then l?-year-old Miss National Teenager LaVelda Fann, whom he later married. They have three young children: Kaja, Camille and Chelsea. He has another daughter from a long-ago liaison, who has "been in and out of my life - she's not in it right now. lt happens."

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pussycat nonetheless. With a steady stream of TV movies that he stars in

and produces, and with "Wild Wild West" keeping his youthful tough-guy self alive on video and in syndicated
reruns, the S9-year-old Conrad is pos-

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itively purring.
"An actor knoros when he's being rediscovered," Conrad says cheerfully.

"I'm being rediscovered by a whole new audience in their 20s who would never have seen 'Wild Wild West' on the network. They come up to you and say, 'Oh, weren't you in...?' or'I loved you in last week's episode.' The only problem," he notes, "is I'm not that person on the screen an)'rnore. But I'm really happy

with the change. I'm much happier


today than I ever was then."

wanted to do something emotionally with him, it was, 'Don't do that,'because they wanted this comic-strip character." Adding dimension to James West "would have been like having Superman show fear." Conrad remembers. "I don't think I could even play it today, frankly. Even when Ross and I did the returns-of' the TV movies "The Wild Wild West Revisited" (1979) and "More "they were Wild Wild West" (1980)

What is in his life righti'now is nearly a half-dozen TV movies in various stages of development, and an action feature, "Samurai Cowboy," that's already opened overseas. But

"It

was a tough role to play,"

Conrad has a spinal problem that makes walking painful (though not tennis or skiing, he says), and more and more, he likes staying close to home in tiny Bear Valley, Calif., in

James West would have been shocked to hear it. West, of course, was Conrad's karate-kicking, secretagent heartthrob in the American Old West, a l9th-century James Bond. Traveling the frontier in a specially
designed train, he used pseudo-scientific gadgets galore against wouldbe world tyrants always with a - the invaluable cool-eyed quip and help of Artemus Gordon (the late Ross Martin), a master of disguise. The show was an almost surreally imaginative adventure-fantasy, with

the rugged Sierra Nevada Mountains. "When you're young," Conrad reflects, "it's a question of where is it you're going to go. Well," he adds

never of good quality. Ross and I both agreed that weld lost the edge." If so, that's about the only edge the feisty Conrad has lost. The toughness he displays 0n screen came to him honestly, out of a hardscrabble Chicago childhood where, as Conrad
Robert Falk, he was born to a l5-yearold mother and a perpetually missing father who, he eventually' discovered,

happily, "I'm therel I've gone to


OI994 NEWSPAPER ENTERPRISE ASSN.

where I want to be."

STAR VIEW

an audacity and originality that's given it both a cult-following and a book, "The Wild Wild West: The Series," by Susan E. Kesler (Arnett
Press, l9BB). Yet even though it's Conrad's sig-

"had three sons by two women." Conrad dropped out of high school at 1? to work, eventually returning for

FRANK LOVECE

his degree and going on briefly to


Northwestern University. He was an