38 years ago I attended a New York press junket roundtable for Richard Brooks‘ Wrong Is Right. The location was either the old Mayflower Hotel or Tavern on the Green. Brooks and Sean Connery were the junket headliners, but Robert Conrad (who played “General Wombat” in the film) got a lot of attention also.
The good-natured Conrad, 46, sat down at my table, and after a few minutes of the usual junket chit-chat I asked one of my non-softball questions. Conrad seemed to perk up slightly and then, wearing a slight grin, said, “You must be Jeff Wells!”
I confirmed this fact with aplomb but inwardly I was going “what the fuck?” One of the publicists must have pulled Conrad aside and whispered “there’s a guy over there who always asks nervy questions…he’s okay but watch out for him.” Never before in my professional life had I been “made” like that, especially from a name-brand actor.
Conrad was a huge TV actor in the ’60s and ’70s, and then he more or less became Rick Dalton for the rest of his acting career, which wound down around 20 years ago.
Conrad’s two biggest ’60s scores were Hawaiian Eye (’59 to ’63, playing “Tom Lopaka”)) and especially The Wild Wild West (’65 to ’69). He played the tough-guy lead (“Pappy Boyington”) in another hit series, Baa Baa Black Sheep, which ran from ’76 to ’78.
What did I see in my mind when I heard he’d passed last Sunday (2.9), at age 84? Those legendary Ever-ready battery commercials, which happened in the late ’70s.