45th anniversary of TV spy mania part II: spies and cowboys

In the fall of the 1965, CBS wasn’t about to let rival network NBC gain a monpoly on spy-oriented entertainment. But the Tiffany Network’s choice was a little unusual: it opted to air a spy show set in 1870s America.

The result, of course, was The Wild Wild West. That wasn’t always the planned title. The version of the show’s pilot shown to network executives was just called The Wild West. At one point, CBS was keen on 6-foot-3 Rory Calhoun to play Secret Service agent James West but ended up casting the much-shorter Robert Conrad. The memorable animated main titles depicted a tall, lanky James West, who seemed to more closely resemble Calhoun.

Versatile character actor Ross Martin got the odd nod as fellow agent Artemus Gordon, a master of disguise who also dabbled in advanced science.

The show had a rocky first season, with no less than six men (Michael Garrison, Fred Freiberger, Collier Young, Philip Leacock, John Mantley and Gene L. Coon) getting either a producer or executive producer credit. Garrison produced the pilot (also taking the creator credit even though the pilot was written by Gilbert Ralston) and would retake command late in the first season. Garrison died during the second season, and Bruce Lansbury would see the show through the rest of its four-year run.

HMSS has written before how the original series captured lightning in a bottle, something was extremely difficult to do with 1980 and 1981 TV movie revivals and a 1999 theatrical move.

Anyway, here’s a 1965 CBS promo for the series. That includes music from Richard Markowitz, who composed the show’s catchy theme but would be denied a credit for it (Markowitz would only get credits for individual episodes he scored). It’s followed by the “boxes” of the original verison of the pilot leading into commercial breaks:

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7 Responses

  1. Not even a glimpse of Ross Martin as Artemus Gordon. Hmph.

  2. Click the link to the earlier HMSS article on The Wild Wild West and you’ll see quite a handsome portrait of Mr. Martin, a screen capture from the series pilot.

  3. […] Artemus Gordon Posted on September 10, 2010 by The HMSS Editors In our recent post on the 45th anniversary of The Wild, Wild West, a reader expressed disappointment we didn’t feature Ross Martin as ace Secret Service Agent […]

  4. “The show had a rocky first season, with no less than six men (Michael Garrison, Fred Freiberger, Collier Young, Philip Leacock, John Mantley and Gene L. Coon) getting either a producer or executive producer credit.”

    There could have been even more, but Jack Arnold and Ben Brady came and went without producing even ONE episode. (See Susan Kesler’s fine book on the series for more details.)

    “Garrison produced the pilot (also taking the creator credit even though the pilot was written by Gilbert Ralston)”

    I haven’t really got a problem with that – it’s possible that Garrison was better at thinking up a premise than executing it on paper (in which case Ralston would almost certainly have deserved a “Developed for Television by” credit had he pursued the matter, and there’s no evidence that he did do so) and it’s hardly the only time pilots have been written by people other than the men/women who thought up the show (Roy Huggins, for instance, did not write the pilot for [or any episodes of]”The Fugitive”).

  5. There was at least one story about Ralston at the time of the Wild Wild West 1999 film stating he felt he should have gotten credit fore creating the original show and that he had been seeking such credit. We didn’t want to wade into that issue, so we merely noted that Garrison took the creator credit. In the ’50s and ’60s, studios and networks didn’t always award creator credits, with 77 Sunset Strip and The FBI as examples.

  6. Also, CBS didn’t always give a credit for the theme music of its in-house productions. Besides Markowitz with TWWW, the network didn’t give Morton Stevens a credit for the Hawaii Five-O theme until partway through the second season and it never had a theme credit for Rex Koury for Gunsmoke.

  7. […] The move by CBS comes not long after the 45th anniversary of the original version of The Wild, Wild West. […]

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