Stern Father of 8 Robert Conrad ‘Raised’ His Son On The Set Of ‘Wild Wild West’
Aug 02, 2022 by apost team
For those growing up in the 1960s and 70s, Robert Conrad was a familiar face. Known best for his starring roles in hit TV shows like “The Wild Wild West” and “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” the prolific actor was also a singer and producer. He was also the father of eight children, and the family man kept them close to him – on and off set.
Born Conrad Robert Falk in Chicago on Mar. 1, 1935, he was the son of Leonard Henry Falk, who was 17 when he was born, and Alice Jacqueline Hartman, who was 15 at the time. After attending four different schools in Chicago, Conrad eventually dropped out of school to work full-time loading trucks and driving a milk truck.
Conrad became interested in pursuing an acting career after he began studying at Northwestern University. He also took singing lessons with the father of Richard Marx, Dick Marx. A chance meeting with “The Rebel” actor Nick Adams changed Conrad’s life forever. It was Adams who convinced Conrad to move to California to find more acting roles. Once there, Conrad began getting small acting roles. He also nabbed an acting contract with Warner Bros. and released a few records with its music arm, Warner Bros. Records, including the song “Bye Bye Baby” in 1961.
Conrad first tasted fame with the TV series “Hawaiian Eye,” playing detective Tom Lopaka. The show ran from 1959 to 1963. He also starred in the films “Palm Springs Weekend,” the Spanish movie “La Nueva Cenicienta,” “Young Dillinger” alongside his friend Adams, and Mexico’s “Ven A Cantar Conmigo.” But it was in 1965’s “The Wild Wild West” playing secret service agent Jim West that Conrad became a household name.
“The Wild Wild West” ran for five years. It centered on the trials and tribulations of two Secret Service agents in a show that married genres, including Westerns, science fiction, espionage, comedy and adventure. Conrad did many of his stunts in the show, although not all would go as planned.
“Doing my own stunts as an actor, didn't really endear me to the industry. Because I became kind of a macho image. And when I did sensitive work, that was sometimes challenging or demanding. I was always the guy in the tight pants who was gonna throw someone down a flight of stairs,” Conrad told the PBS series “The Pioneers of Television.”
Despite the show winning a multitude of fans and high acclaim, even for its high-concept animated opening, it was forced to end – not because of low ratings – but because it was deemed too violent at the time.
Conrad would appear in other TV shows such as “Baa Baa Black Sheep” and “The Duke” before moving on to producing in the 1980s.
As for his personal life, Conrad was married for 25 years to his first wife, Joan Kenley, with whom he had five children – actors Christian, Shane and Nancy, and Joan and Christy. After divorcing Kenley in 1977, he married LaVelda Fann, whom he met while serving as emcee at the Miss National Teenager Pageant, which she won. They had three children together – Kaja, Camille and Chelsea.
Conrad took his role as a father seriously, telling People magazine in 1988, “My wife and I tried to see that our children were honest, hardworking, basically moral people.” He kept them close to him even while working, instilling in them the basics of the entertainment industry, which many of them would join.
Conrad liked having his family around so much he would enlist them in shows he produced, including “High Mountain Rangers” with sons Shane and Christian acting and Joan as producer/director, and “High Sierra Search And Rescue” with wife Fann and Shane and Joan producing.
Even with his tough guy attitude, Conrad was a family man through and through. “I wanted a family-oriented show with shmaltz,” he said about “High Mountain Rangers.” “I’d used my children in other films. It’s fun to work with family.”
His children also remember him being strict and involved in their upbringing, sometimes employing tough love.
“The boys were taught how to iron and sew, and I remember dad taking me to work out at Gold’s Gym,” Joan said, adding the girls would get spanked if they crossed the line. “We’d run to the bathroom and look at the handprints on our bottoms,” Nancy recalled. “Maybe Joan and I wore him down.”
The girls were sent to Catholic school and not allowed to date until they were 16. Conrad kept the boys close, bringing them on set to keep a close eye on them.
“I was raised on the set of ‘Wild, Wild West,’” Chris said. “I got to play all these fantasies on the backlots of studios.”
And what about with his second set of children with Fann?
“I’m Mr. Mom,” he told The Washington Post. “It’s not a kinder, gentler Robert Conrad. It’s a more mature Robert Conrad.”
Conrad and Fann divorced in 2010. From his eight children, Conrad would also become a grandfather to 18 grandchildren.
Conrad passed away of heart failure on Feb. 8, 2020, at 84, leaving behind a big, beautiful family that can be proud to tell generations to come about Jim West of “The Wild Wild West.”Robert Conrad (2013), (Toni Anne Barson/FilmMagic/getty images)
Are you a fan of Robert Conrad and his TV shows? Are you surprised that he was a family man who was strict with his children? Let us know and pass this on to all your friends and family.