The future TV star adopted the name Robert Conrad as a young man because, he said, his mother married a number of times. “Every time my mother would have a marriage she would change my name to the name of her husband,” he said, “and I got tired of it.”
Mr. Conrad grew up in Chicago and began his show-business career as a singer, performing with a trio in the city’s hotels when he was in his early 20s. He was also athletic. “I considered boxing as a career,” he said, “but they weren’t making a lot of money in those days.”
Driving a milk truck by day and singing in hotels and clubs at night, he talked his way into the theater arts program at Northwestern University. He bore a resemblance to the actor James Dean, and when Dean was killed in a car wreck in 1955, Mr. Conrad was drawn into the publicity campaign for the posthumous release of Dean’s film “Giant” in 1956.
In that capacity he was visiting Dean’s grave in Fairmount, Ind., when he met another young actor, Nick Adams, who was also there. Mr. Adams urged Mr. Conrad to come to Hollywood and got him a bit part in a movie he was cast in, “Juvenile Jungle.” Mr. Adams eventually dropped out of that film, but Mr. Conrad remained, making his film debut.
He tried New York for a bit but soon returned to the West Coast and began getting small roles in shows like “Bat Masterson,” “Maverick” and “Sea Hunt.” Then came “Hawaiian Eye,” with the character he played there, Tom Lopaka, also turning up in several episodes of another ABC crime series, “77 Sunset Strip.” Mr. Conrad was also one of the young stars of “Palm Springs Weekend,” a fun-in-the-sun movie that came out in 1963.
“Hawaiian Eye” ended in 1963. Mr. Conrad was filming a movie, “Young Dillinger,” in which he played the outlaw Pretty Boy Floyd (Mr. Adams was Dillinger), when his agent called with the offer to audition for “The Wild Wild West.”
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