When he rode on screen in the 1965 delirious madhouse CBS series Wild Wild West, he, in the person of the dashing Robert Conrad, gave Americans a welcome refuge from days filled with Cold War anxiety of nuclear annihilation.
Creator Michael Garrison latched onto the spy craze that began when President John F. Kennedy revealed his love of Ian Fleming’s Bond novels. Garrison created one of the first science fiction Westerns on TV, and his series, set during U.S. Grant’s presidency, likely inspired the formation in the 1980s of the genre Steampunk—denoting works set in which steam power is still widely used but with elements of science fiction at play.
Among those caught up in the spy fiction craze was Hollywood screenwriter Danny Biederman. He even named his children for fictional spies: Illya, Moriah Flint and Bond. Most important, though, is his preservation of more than 4,000 spy show memorabilia, spanning 50 years from the 1959 Alfred Hitchcock thriller North by Northwest to this generation’s Austin Powers. About 400 of these crazy gadgets will be “declassified” aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California, through September.
Wild Wild West gadgets you can get close to at the show include: Vicious Valentine’s heart-shaped glasses (evil matchmaker Emma Valentine was played by Agnes Moorehead, popularly known as Endora on ABC’s Bewitched); the gold sofa from Jim and Artemus Gordon’s living quarters on their train, The Wanderer; Count Manzeppi’s toy chicken (sought after for its fabled Philosopher’s Stone); and, of course, Jim’s famous sleeve gun rig.