Monday, October 12, 2009

Macho, Macho Man!

I wonder if anyone ended up knocking that battery off of Bob Conrad's shoulder.

Remember Conrad, the ruggedly handsome, much-too-macho actor who made his name in a wonderful TV series called "The Wild, Wild West"?

"West" was a creative show based on a clever premise: Conrad, as James West, and Ross Martin, as Artemus Gordon, were members of President Ulysses Grant's Secret Service detail in the 19th century. But the cleverness came in the notion of using artistic license to blend together two eras: the 1870s, when the series took place, and modern times, complete with technological gadgets.

The result was Conrad, as West, using space age technology to fight crime in a time before electricity.

Ross Martin's "Artie" Gordon was a master of disguise---kind of like the dudes in "Mission: Impossible."

Together James West and Artemus Gordon matched wits with similarly-outfitted bad guys. One of the recurring ones was a midget named Dr. Loveless, who was played by Detroit's own Michael Dunn.

But back to Conrad.

Bobby Conrad was a guy who took himself far too seriously, and who reveled in macho roles---along with maintaining that persona in real life.

This was evident in two memorable ways: his battery commercials, and an incident that occurred on a trash TV show called "Battle of the Network Stars."

The battery commercials were iconic. Conrad came on at the beginning, daring the viewer to knock an Eveready battery off his shoulder, where it had been placed. Then the meat of the commercial would play, and it all would end with Conrad once again.

"Go ahead," he'd say of knocking the battery off his shoulder. "I dare ya."

It was one of those lines, like Clara Peller's "Where's the beef?," that was on everyone's lips for a time in the 1970s.


"Go ahead---I dare ya!"


In "Stars," Conrad once appeared as a member of one of the network teams of celebrities competing in athletic events like running races, swimming, and other physical feats.

In one hotly contested "battle," Conrad's team lost the competition by a hair.

Well, Bobby didn't like that and pitched a macho bitch---totally serious and not for show. He made a spectacle of himself, embarrassing the other celebs.

Finally, to placate Conrad, a solution was suggested: Conrad would run in a dash against Gabe Kaplan of ABC's "Welcome Back, Kotter." The winner's team would win that week's competition.

It was so agreed, by Conrad and Kaplan.

The two actors got on their marks, got set, and....

Kaplan blew Conrad---he of his supposedly supreme physical condition---totally away.

Conrad later ended up in shows like "Baa Baa Black Sheep," always playing the macho tough guy.

But it was as a much slimmer, more suave James West in "Wild, Wild West" where Bob Conrad made his mark, before he turned into a caricature.

Come to think of it, I'd have loved to knock that battery off Conrad's shoulder. Because if he chased me, apparently I could outrun him.

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Here's a look at Bob Conrad in action, hawking Eveready batteries:

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