Page 3 - Tom Weaver's interview with Phoebe Dorin
How were you and Dunn cast on Wild Wild West as Dr. Loveless and Antoinette?
Michael Garrison, who conceived of Wild Wild West, came to see the nightclub act at the Duplex --someone took him when he was in New York. He was told, "You gotta see these kids, they'll blow you away." When Michael Garrison was watching the show, he said to himself, "Michael Dunn would make the most extraordinary villain. People have never seen anything like him before, and he's a fabulous little actor and he's funny as hell." And, Garrison felt, if Michael Dunn sang on every show, with the girl, it would be an extraordinary running villain. And so he came backstage and he told us who he was and he said he was going to do a television show called The Wild Wild West and we would be called. We thought, "Yeah, yeah, we've heard all that before" --but he did call us and the show was a fantastic success. And that's how it started, because he saw the nightclub act.
Did you like Garrison when you met him?
I adored Michael Garrison. He had such a wonderful vision that no one else could touch. He was creative; he wasn't bound by anything. He knew exactly what he was doing. I thought The Wild Wild West was way ahead of its time: It was a little sci-fi, it was a little bit of a James Bond Western, it just had everything. And special effects and stunts. The stunts for me were the most miraculous part of it --I used to sit on the set and watch the stunts.
The fight sequences, you mean.
The fight sequences, and the way the furniture would break apart! You know, Bob Conrad was originally a stuntman, and so that's where he felt most comfortable. So a lot of Jim West's stuff was stunts --all these fights and leaps and how-is-he-gonna-get-out-of-this-predicament? He would do his own stunts, he prided himself on that! They had the best stuntmen in the business working on our show, and I was spellbound. I came from Broadway and off-Broadway and I had never seen stunts. I mean, when I went to see movies it was to see, you know, Ingrid Bergman [laughs], who the hell went to see stunts? So I just would sit there and marvel at the fight sequences on Wild Wild West. They would do it over and over again, and I just found it fascinating. I also loved the stuntmen, they were just great guys. So that was a wonderful part of The Wild Wild West. For me as an actress, it wasn't just "you go, you learn your lines, you weep, you laugh, everybody goes home," it was very physical. And I loved that, because I had never thought of that in terms of acting. It was very cinematic. We did a lot of location shooting, there were a lot of stunts. Michael and I did a lot of our own stunts, which almost killed us a couple of times! But to learn to be physical and handle all that is terribly important [in acting], and I didn't know that then. So The Wild Wild West was magical, just magical!
Do you know anything about Mike Garrison? Do you know how he died?
I know he fell down a flight of stairs in his own home.
It was tragic. Michael was going to have a big party for everyone in the business who said that he was a bust-out failure and would never make it. It was sort of a "payback" party [laughs] --it was, like, to rub their noses in his success. (And the people who loved him and thought he was wonderful, the party was also for them too.) He had a big new house that he had bought with the money from the show, and that night, before the party, before the guests arrived, I guess he was coming down the stairs --but someone who had delivered flowers had gotten water on the steps. He slipped on the water and cracked his skull open. And that's how he died. I felt that the show, from that point on, was never the same, because they never understood what Michael was doing with it. They didn't really get it.
Robert Conrad and Ross Martin --how did you get along with them?
Oh, I adored them. They were both very different. Ross' daughter went to Cooper Union, so we had a lot to talk about. Ross was a real New York guy and certainly knew where I was coming from. And he was a raconteur --one of the funniest people I had ever met in my life. He did accents and jokes, and you would just sit there when we weren't working on the set and laugh 'til you fell off the seat. Bob Conrad was just the opposite, he was very insecure about his acting ability. He knew he was a good-looking guy who felt that he was more physical.
I'm sure you've heard all the stories that they were constantly
feuding. Any truth to that?
People said that they hated each other. I never saw that. Actually, what I saw was that they liked each other a lot. They both did totally opposite things on the show. It was very much like the nightclub act I had with Michael: Without me, you wouldn't have had the whimsy, and without Michael, you wouldn't have had the musicality. In terms of The Wild Wild West, without Ross, you wouldn't have had that part of it, and without Conrad, you wouldn't have had the physical, magical part of it with the stunts and all of those wonderful set pieces. So they both did different things and I think they both liked each other. They couldn't have been more different as actors, as people, but I liked them both.
Part of the reason I liked Bob Conrad was because Bob Conrad adored Michael. He adored him. So that anybody who was with Michael or working with Michael was treated in kind. He catered to us --he treated us like royalty. Ross you just simply made friends with, and I loved Ross. And singing the occasional song on West was Michael Garrison's idea. He saw the act and he said, "On every one of the shows, you're gonna sing, that's gonna be your 'thing.'" We worked with Marvin Hamlisch and a lot of the other people who worked for CBS in the music department at that time. They would research these old madrigals or old folk songs that would fit the period --I'm sure they fudged a little [laughs]! And then we would go in on a soundstage and pre-record them. On the set, I would play the harpsichord or I would play the lyre or I would play something --an instrument of the time --and Michael and I would sing, but basically they would loop us into what we did.
How about Richard Kiel, who played Loveless' servant Voltaire?
Oh, Richard is a doll --I adored Richard. When they got Richard and Michael together, it was really a trip. Richard was a math teacher, a very brilliant guy --just the opposite of what he looks like. Gentle, quiet, sweet and very, very astute. Michael and Richard and I would sit for hours having intellectual discussions about books we'd read and all of that stuff. Richard's wife, a darling lady, would also come to the set, and we all became very good friends. I just recently spoke to Richard, and he has the opposite of what Michael had --Richard has acromegaly, a condition where the bones grow too fast and too far. So he suffers terribly in terms of his physical walking and stuff like that. He's had that all his life, but as you get older, it's a disease that progresses.
Talk about some of your death-defying Wild Wild West
At the end of every show we were in, we were supposedly finished, dead. But if you watch very carefully, you'd see the way we would have escaped death and lived on to come back on yet another episode. In "The Night of the Murderous Spring," I was in full Western regalia with all these little buttons, maybe 40 buttons up to my neck, with a bustle in the back and everything. Michael and I were escaping James West after some
I'm afraid Miguelito... (wav 39kb)
Then there was another one ["The Night of the Green Terror"] where at the end of the show, we were in Michael's burning lab. The whole set was going to be set on fire and we had to run into a huge hollow log. At this point they knew that they could tell us anything [laughs] --we were not gonna say, "Could I get hurt?", "Would you mind using a double?" They knew that if they told us to do something, we'd do it and we'd make sure they didn't have any problems! This time they said to us, "You'll run into the log and then you'll hear knock-knock-knock. When you hear knock-knock-knock, you scurry out the other end of the log and Michael will follow you. And pleeeease do not panic and do not come out of that log until you hear the knock-knock-knock, because we are burning down the entire set and we are not gonna be rebuilding it. Do you understand?" "Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, we understand."
So I look at Michael and I say, "Oh, God, again?" and he says, "Don't worry, we'll be fine. They're not gonna kill us." They start burning down the set, and it was fabulous --just to watch it was so wonderful. We get into the log, and pretty soon the log starts getting awfully smoky. I say to Michael, "Where's the knock-knock-knock?" and he says, "I--I--I dunno. Did you hear it?" I say, "Michael, I don't hear it! But I'm telling you, I'm startin' to choke here." He says, "Well, I don't know what to do!" I say, "Well, I think I do. I think we're gettin' outta here." So I push the door on the other end of the log --but the heat from the fire has swollen it, and we can't get out of the log. And I don't know whatever happened to the knock-knock-knock [laughs] --we never heard the knock-knock-knock! They must have given us the knock-knock-knock, but we were so hysterical, we didn't hear it! I guess they figured out what was happening and they had to absolutely drench the set with water to get us out. But they did get the shot!
What about working with horses and all the other critters they had in the various
We worked with tarantulas, and there was one episode, "The Night of the Raven," where we had the raven --that little shitty raven. I hated that goddamn bird! In rehearsal, I was feeding the raven little bits of paper. The raven kept biting me because it wasn't real food --ravens eat raw meat.
So why didn't you give it real food?
If I fed it real food in the rehearsal, then it wouldn't eat on camera which is when we needed it to eat. This stinking bird kept biting me, so by the time I got to the camera I was shaking 'cause I knew what he was gonna do! I knew every time I held my fingers out, that damn bird was gonna bite! My hands were a mess --I just couldn't wait to get away from that awful bird! One day Michael was sleeping in a little chair, he was catching a catnap before we had to be on camera again. I think I was talking to Ross, over to the side, and the raven was on its perch with a hood over it, very close to Michael. Either the hood fell off the raven or the raven shook the hood off, and then someone flashed a light and the raven got frightened and tumbled off its perch. Ravens have talons that are unbelievable. It toppled right across Michael's face, and the talons strafed his face and missed his eye by millimeters! It was grabbing out to land on something, and just literally it was grabbing out at his face. It was quite something!
And you had fun on the show despite all this!
It was a marvelous show --I had so much damn fun on that show. It was great. (continued)
Antoinette sings a solo to Jim and Artie (wav 370kb)
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Interview © 2000 Tom Weaver