Monday, February 10, 2020

Fond Farewell: "We love you Conrad, oh yes we do!"

The entertainment world has recently suffered a triple-play when it comes to celebrity deaths. There was the remarkably long-lived cinema icon Kirk Douglas, who passed away February 5th at age one-hundred-three! Then there was hilarious Orson Bean, a remarkable man who was still acting until recently and living an active life at ninety-one before he was struck down on February 7th in a freak two-part traffic accident. Now, February 8th, we had to say goodbye to one of our favorite hunks from television, the golden beauty Robert Conrad. He died of heart failure at age eighty-four. Today, we pay tribute to Mr. C. in photos, for he was not only photogenic, but in his heyday was frequently photographed, leaving scads of evidence to peruse. A figure of awe to me as a child, he became a figure of desire to me as an adult (with apologies if that sounds creepy or stalker-ish! It's not. I'm just sayin' how it was.) He was the recipient of a tribute here in the early days of Poseidon's Underworld, but we want to mark his passing with some more. I also tried not to reuse (m)any of the same pictures this time.
In his earliest days as an actor, Conrad was lean and seemingly chiseled out of marble, with dreamy eyes and sharp angles to his face (and always, always tan.) The Chicago native had an interest in his physique from the beginning. (The physique came courtesy of a job on the loading docks of Chicago when he was seventeen - and already eloped with his first wife - but pretending to be twenty-one!)
One of his earliest gigs, and it was a strange one, was standing out front at a theater showing Giant (1956) because of his resemblance to deceased costar James Dean. Later, while visiting Dean's grave in Fairmont, Indiana, he met Dean's friend Nick Adams, who encouraged him to come to Hollywood.
After a few minor film appearances (including one with Corey Allen of Rebel Without a Cause, 1955, with the aid of Nick Adams), he was signed to a Warner Brothers contract and put to work as a guest on Bat Masterson, Maverick, Lawman and Colt .45.
By 1959, with scarcely a year in Hollywood, he was costarring on his own hit series Hawaiian Eye!
Hawaiian Eye was one of several cookie-cutter private eye series that Warner Brothers produced for TV (77 Sunset Strip, Bourbon Street Beat and Surfside 6 rounding out the rest.) Initially co-starring Anthony Eisley and Connie Stevens, Grant Williams later joined the show and, in its final season, so did Troy Donahue as seen here. The series, ending in 1963, was all in black & white, despite this color promotional shot.
The show was mostly studio-bound and didn't really feature as much beefcake as one might think, but Conrad more than made up for that in publicity photos.
He had blue-green-gray eyes which became luminous in the right light.
Apart from the eyes, he had a golden-kissed head of smooth hair and an ever-bronzed body, which he worked hard on to keep in shape.
By now filled out a bit from his initial rail thin physique, he appeared in the films Palm Springs Weekend (1963) and Young Dillinger (1965) before embarking on another television show that would become an even more enduring hit.
For the 1965 TV season, Conrad was paired with character actor Ross Martin for the western spy series The Wild Wild West. Employing lots of gadgetry and gimmickry, the show left much of the acting to Martin, who often employed disguises, and most of the action to Conrad. He performed virtually all his own stunts and later was inducted into the Stuntman Hall of Fame.
The show also made a point to exploit the jaw-dropping body of its star. The first season of West was in black & white. While he certainly registered to all but the vision-impaired, things would take an uptick the following season when the show went to color.
Here, Conrad's appeal could be appreciated in all its multi-hued glory. In these shots, moments apart in the episode in question, we get the neatly-groomed dandy and then the disheveled hunk just after a little scuffle. Looks good either way to me!
Conrad's clothing was eye-popping on the show, be it due to the use of vibrant hues or do to the extraordinary tightness of his pants.
He looked good whether coming or going. (I'd be lying, though, if I didn't acknowledge the presence in many scenes of a distinct panty line under his skin-tight trousers.)
Best of all, though, was when he was stripped to the waist, often in combination with some semi-sadomasochistic bit of bondage or torment! The west was wild indeed when he was working in it. The series folded in 1969.
After some television movies and guest roles, his next series attempt The D.A. didn't take off. It began with two TV-movies before limping along for 15 episodes.
This next sequence of photos is sort of a mini "Guest Who," the feature I sometimes do here which highlights television guest roles that I find interesting for some reason. I always meant to highlight this one and never did, but now I will.
In a 1974 installment of Columbo, Conrad starred as the owner of a health club. (That's Bradfor Dillman with him in the first photo.) As you can see, the tight pants were back and loaded for action! They were so snug and form-fitting that the rear view left practically nothing to the imagination (and makes us long for more polyester in our lives! LOL)
The principle guest stars on Columbo were always murderers. No spoilers in that regard. The mystery stemmed from just how the title detective Peter Falk was going to be able to trip the suspect up.  This is unquestionably one of the beefcakiest episodes of the venerable series.
Falk catches up with Conrad on the beach where he is mid-workout, constantly swimming, doing pushups, running, boxing. If you know anything about filming, you know that these activities were done over and over and over during the shoot and Mr. Conrad was doing it all, time and again.
Conrad's Type A character uses his incredible fitness regimen as a means of distracting and perhaps intimidating the intrepid Falk, but we the viewer are the ones who benefit from this!
Hilariously, he offers to serve Falk "breakfast," which consists of a handful of vitamins/supplements and a small glass of carrot juice.
At nearly forty, Conrad was still in remarkable condition and his eyes still seared the screen with the right lighting.
In 1975, he costarred with Don Stroud in the elusive Murph the Surf movie about a pair of (hirsute) jewel robbers.
Before long he was back at it with a stab at another series, this time based on the WWII exploits of "Pappy" Boyington. The show Baa Baa Black Sheep, was a moderate success, though not at the level of his prior outings.
Conrad's by now rock-hard persona was put to good use in various combat situations while also affording the occasional bit of beefcake. If you only ever watch one episode of this show, make sure it is season one - episode seven, "Up For Grabs," in which he and his men are caught unawares and barely dressed!
Amusingly, while most of the men's flight suits tended towards the baggy, Conrad was poured into his and wore no t-shirt under it such as many of the others did.
The series limped along for two seasons before departing the airwaves. In syndication, the show was re-titled Black Sheep Squadron. During the run of Sheep, he split with his wife of twenty-five years and the mother of his five children and married his second wife, with whom he'd father three more. They met when he was hosting the National Teenager Pageant, which she won! She was seventeen at the time.
Along about this time, the still-fit actor could be found in a successful series of commercials for Eveready alkaline batteries.
He'd be shown playing baseball, racquetball, boxing or motocross biking as he explained the strength of their "Powercell" line of batteries. (This was before advanced batteries like Duracell and Energizer made their mark.)
Often, he'd place the battery on his shoulder and dare the viewer to call it "regular" or to try to knock it off!
Also at this point he could be seen on the bi-annual specials Battle of the Network Stars, on which he was often a team captain. The highly competitive (to the point of amazement) star could be belligerent if things didn't end up the way he felt they should. I lived and died for these shows as a kid and saw him as such a macho man.
During the glory days of the television miniseries, Conrad had a key role on one of the biggest and best ones, Centennial (seen here with costar Richard Chamberlain.)
For another series try, he made it a family affair. The father of eight (between his two marriages), sons Christian and Shane joined him on High Mountain Rangers, playing sons of his on the short-lived show. It was cancelled after 12 episodes.
Quite a few TV films followed, including Glory Days, in which he played a man who goes back to college to finish his degree and winds up playing college football.
Here the old familiar Conrad physique was still on frequent display...
1992 brought Mario and the Mob, about an organized crime kingpin (thankfully without the dyed-brown hair) who winds up having to take in a passel of nieces and nephews. 
A final series attempt came in 1995 with the short-lived High Sierra Search and Rescue, which lasted only 6 episodes. A 2003 car accident, in which he was cited for drunk driving and which severely injured the other driver (who eventually died from extended complications!) basically ended his screen career. He suffered a degree of paralysis himself as a result and was put on probation as well as settling out of court with the man's family. He continued to work on the radio until about six months prior to his heart failure.
The highly unfortunate car accident was a considerable mistake and marred what had otherwise been a life filled with hard work and remarkable popularity as a television personality. His was one of TV's handsomest faces.
And Mr. Conrad had one of TV's most attractive and well-developed bodies, which - blessedly - he was only too happy to show off.
The End


Shawny said...

Too bad he’s in black shorts there...

Dan said...

I loved WWW and all those espionage shows - Man From Uncle, Mission: Impossible, Johnny Quest. My fantasy then was to be one of the evil geniuses living in a secret volcano lair. Later, my fantasies changed a bit...

Must say I especially like that pic with Don Stroud. In fact, I'm more drawn to the older, somewhat beefier Conrad altogether.

Another childhood icon gone - sic transit gloria mundi.

joel65913 said...

He certainly was a great beauty in a very manly way and had that chiseled tough guy persona down to a science. He was perfect for Wild, Wild West which was surely tooled especially to his strengths and he was fortunate to have such a deft interplay with Ross Martin.

I remember those commercials! Even at the time they were a hoot but obviously they were successful for the product, he did them for years. And I was also a dutiful watcher of the Battle of the Network Stars and it's endearing way of having the male stars in tiny speedos! Those were the days.

My only problem with him was that often he exuded such a blatant case of toxic masculinity that it was almost repelling. But without some of that brash aggression he probably wouldn't have gotten as far as he did, the world is full of great looking men but few have careers as durable as his.

I was saddened by Kirk's passing but I mean come on he was 103 and beloved with an incredible legacy, so it was hardly shocking.

But I was deeply shocked by Orson Bean's tragic end. So, so very sad. It sounds like up to that point he had a good and enjoyable life so that's something but to go that way is just hideously awful. said...

Poseidon, as soon as I saw the news of Robert Conrad's passing, I immediately thought of you!

Great write up and pix, natch.

I remember my Mom loving Wild, Wild, West, but rarely saw it myself. Seeing all the pix from the show and watching a few episodes over the weekend, all I can think of is how did Bob's outfits get past the censors?! Wowsa!

Also, I vaguely remembered the Columbo episode which Bob played a macho gym owner. Watched that again, too. Bob looked awesome, if a bit beefier. While the polyester was skin tight, seeing short Bob in elephant bell bottoms and leisure suits made him seem even tinier, like a kid playing dress up in Mr. Brady's wardrobe!

I have to say by the time I was a teen and he was doing those battery commercials and "Black Sheep," I found him a bit obnoxious. Didn't Martin Sheen once spoof his battery ads on early SNL?

Here's a bit of trivia: In the late '70s, Robert Conrad was hoping to film a TV movie or mini-series on the life of famed movie producer Mike Todd. Obviously, he was far better looking than the real Todd, but he had the right personality. Get this... he wanted Elizabeth Taylor as her co-star as herself. I remember finding that uproarious, as if she'd re-enact one of the most traumatic events of her life for a TV show. Also problematic was that ET was a very overweight Republican wife. Conrad's response was that she could lose weight, and he'd even help her... yeah, I'd love to have seen that! She woulda knocked that battery off his shoulder! Pow!!!

Anyway, I'll have to look at your previous tribute to this handsome devil with so much chutzpah!

Cheers, Rick

Poseidon3 said...

Yes, Shawny. LOL I guess I could have photoshopped them out, but then who had a butt like that!?

Dan, I also like the slightly older, brawnier Conrad (and I adore Don Stroud.) I cannot locate that movie, which probably has them dressed completely except for that one moment in the lobby card. LOL

Joel, I almost used the term "toxic masculinity" at one point here, but ended up not. He was very driven and aggressive about things. He and Gabe Kaplan got into it one time on BOTNS and he was going to beat Kaplan down in a race (and Conrad could RUN), but Kaplan won!!! He may have had a Napoleon complex. Seemed to want to overcompensate in certain areas. I am very disturbed by the way Orson Bean was killed. I still don't know all the details, but I hate that he was felled in an accident at 91!! (Though ANYTHING beats languishing in a bed for years like so many people do.)

Rick, Conrad was 5'8" which is short for a leading man, but when I was watching "Columbo" for this, he and Peter Falk were about the same height! So he seemed less diminutive. Turns out Falk was only 5'6" which I didn't know...! And it's true that he did get to be a tad obnoxious. I did read, though, that he laughed at the parody of his battery commercials. That is QUITE a tale - and a hilarious one - about his desire to play Mike Todd and use ET as herself....!!! At that point she'd have been more believable as The Lucky Liz than her younger self, who was at her physical peak while with Todd! Thanks!

Gingerguy said...

Bye Bye Bobby indeed, what a dreamboat he was. Thanks for explaining the first marriage, I was reading his obit yesterday and the numbers didn't add up.
he must have been really ambitious besides good looking, or had a great Agent to get his own series his first year.
He was always good looking but for me hit his prime in Baa Baa Black Sheep and the jumpsuit is hilarious, I bet he kept the young guys on their toes.
The teenage wife is a weird story, like something from "A Face In The Crowd" The car accident was super sad. He was also on my radar in those "Battle" shows. The photos you chose are so gorgeous I looked up the old tribute, and hilarious title by the way.

Poseidon3 said...

Gingerguy, thanks for acknowledging my "Bye Bye Birdie" title reference! Conrad's early life was something... His father was 16 and his mother 15 when he was born! Times were quite different then, no question. He left home (and school) at 15 to find his way (emphasis on HIS way!) Marriage soon followed and he was happy to become a father because he felt that it guarded him against his parents trying to annul his own young marriage. Apparently, even though he divorced his wife of a quarter-century to marry Miss Teenage America, it was an amicable split. (Presumably, they were already apart in terms of romantic partnership.) Even with all the women and kids, there is something a little questionable about him taking up with Nick Adams and - as you say - winning a show of his own in a hot minute, but then he was undeniably appealing no matter the case. Heigh ho!

loulou de la falaise said...

I caught some of the WWW's on one of the retro channels, it still held up IMO. My little boy crush definitely crashed when I grew up and saw him on talk shows tho.

loulou de la falaise said...

...and in the words of Warren Zevon I'd like to meet his tailor, those tight suits were the best.

rigs-in-gear said...

Murph the Surf is the closest Conrad ever came to a nude love scene. It's very demur, but he is naked, though shot from the side. He also sports one of those short-short kimonos that were fashionable back then. Then there's the famous fight scene in WWW where Connie's pants are split and he finishes the fight with his tighty-whities on view.

Huston said...

Poseidon, You might check out a French blog called "L'homme est un concept" (NSFW) which posted a lengthy analysis of TWWW. Apparently the show was a big hit in France. My French isn't all that great, but the thrust (so to speak) of the article was that TWWW was actually the first gay tv show, in part because the producer was gay himself and inserted quite a lot of double intendres and other hints in order to make the shows more, um, interesting. Maybe that's how Conrad got started on wearing all those revealing outfits!
Anyway, thanks for the great pics and I will read your previous tribute as well. And, yes I did get your "Bye Bye Bobby" reference!

Poseidon3 said...

loulou, I get it. I sort of avoid his later day personage and just revel in his prime-of-life glory.

rigs-in-gear, I managed to locate a (shoddy) version of "Murph the Surf" and watched most of it. He and Don barely bothered to get dressed for most of it! And I did see that side shot you mention. I don't know why they couldn't be just a little more revealing with it all. Why bother with side flank? LOL He was clearly in amazing shape. I have pics of that revealing WWW ep on this site somewhere. Thanks!

Huston, I will try to look at that site. Thanks! I didn't know about the gay producer. Will have to check that out. Most of the villains on the show loved to toy with Conrad and almost drool over him as they did so. (And the villains were very gay/campy much of the time, too!)

Wicked Bitch said...

In college in the 70's we would get high & watch reruns & guess early on when in the show he would lose his shirt.