Fans of tan, hairy, in-shape chests, this is your day. This is the day when The Underworld is going to celebrate one of the all-time great examples of a “chest-o-death” (and the face was nothing to be disappointed about either!) Konrad Falkowski entered this world in 1929 and would become one of the most furtively objectified hunks of young gay male TV viewers of the 1960s and beyond (what, you say? You don’t know Mr. Then, in that case, I give you Mr. Robert Conrad!) Even at age 17, he was a rugged, rough ‘n tumble sort of young man with much drive.
He ran off with the daughter of an attorney who had been living in a religious boarding school. Using the name Robert Conrad, to avoid being found out, he lied about his age to obtain a job as a Chicago dockworker and proceeded to impregnate the young lady. Now feeling there was no way his marriage could be dissolved by disapproving, interfering parents, he alerted his family to his whereabouts and proceeded to have four more children with his wife as the years went on. In 1954, he was fired from his job over a union dispute and worked as a milkman and even as a band singer. Eventually he found himself in sunny California. Discovered and put under contract to Warner Brothers, he became one of their stable of young, good-looking contractees, indentured to work on the countless movies and TV programs being produced in the late 50s and early 60s. Initially reed-thin, but always with a tight washboard of flawless abs, he appeared in tiny film roles and in guest stars on such shows as Bat Masterson, Maverick and Sea Hunt.
You don’t know Mr. Then, in that case, I give you Mr. Robert Conrad!) Even at age 17, he was a rugged, rough ‘n. When WWII flyer Pappy Boyington’s story became the basis for a TV series, Conrad portrayed him on. He headlined the major, very-lengthy miniseries Centennial, playing a French-Canadian trapper whose offspring.
Publicity photos sometimes paired him with other up and comers such as the beauteous Van Williams seen to the left. In 1959, he was placed on his own series (costarring with Anthony Eisley and featuring Connie Stevens and Poncie Ponce) called Hawaiian Eye. The extremely popular detective show ran for four years and he made occasional guest appearances on the similar (critics would say cookie-cutter) series 77 Sunset Strip.
During these earliest years of his acting career, he also boxed professionally as Bob Conrad (oh no! The face!) and went undefeated during this stint. He was a lean, mean fightin’ machine who (at an alleged 5’8”) wasn’t going to let his comparatively diminutive height stand in the way of proving himself to be a macho, very athletic and unquestionably strong man. Also, as Warners had a record division and he could make money for them this way as well, he released a single or two. One of them has become a source of amusement over the years due to the title “Ballin’ the Jack,” though the song was written around 1914 and was a standard.
In order to emphasize the strength of his singing voice, the sleeve of the record featured a close-up of his gorgeous face and a shot of his shirtless body! I’m betting a lot of those sleeves ended up pressed in scrapbooks or were otherwise treasured long after the single had either been worn out or tossed out! The series ended in 1963 and that same year he graduated briefly to the big screen in the colorful (and silly) Palm Springs Weekend.
Here he was paired once again with Connie Stevens, whose hair is an example of why convertibles were so popular during that era! No normal car could house all that unless the seat was reclined. During this period at Warner’s, Conrad met, befriended and worked with a fellow actor named Nick Adams who was one inch shorter than he. In Young Dillinger, Adams played the title character, Mary Ann Mobley was his moll, John Ashley was Baby Face Nelson and Conrad rounded out the compact cast as Pretty Boy Floyd. Conrad’s billing was below Adams though he would soon emerge the bigger star. The desperately driven Adams would later be the subject of one of Hollywood's unsolved mysteries. In 1965, Conrad was placed in the series that would forever assure him a spot in the pop culture arena.
The Wild Wild West was a spy series set during the post-Civil War era. The fanciful show cast Conrad as Jim West and the one decade older Ross Martin as his partner Artemus Gordon. Together, they would work on special missions on behalf of President Ulysses S.
Grant, often finding themselves in hot water, affording Conrad the opportunity to show off his by now jaw-dropping physique. When Conrad wasn’t stripped to the waist being hoisted, flogged, beaten or some such, he wore a series of impossibly snug, anachronistically tailored and manufactured suits (mostly) in the colors tan, grey, blue and brown. The jackets of the suits stopped at his waist, ensuring a clear view of what is considered by many people to be the ultimate ass in television history! The ridiculously clingy and revealing trousers could not possibly have been more inappropriate for the character’s occupation, but it was the mid-60s and no one seemed to mind or even notice. (Or if they noticed, they sure as hell weren’t going to complain about it!) Martin spent a lot of his time in disguise on the show, developing about 100 different sub-characters of every type. Conrad was the action star of the show and always performed his own stunts. Once, he fell many feet to a concrete floor, landing on his head and receiving a concussion, and shooting was halted for several weeks!