[ Editor’s note: First published on March 1, 2010. At his death in 2020, obituaries said Conrad was born in 1935. ]
Robert Conrad — tough-guy star of The Wild Wild West, Baa Baa Black Sheep, and many battery commercials — has a landmark birthday today. We’re just not sure which one it is. We think Robert Conrad is turning 75, but it turns out he may be 80.
Here’s the story: We noticed that he looks a little off-kilter in recent years, as in this photo from a Writer’s Guild party in 2006:
That’s his wife, LaVelda Fann Conrad, at center. She turns 50 this year — there seems to be no dispute about that. The IMDB claims she was born in 1960 and says, “She married Robert Conrad in 1977, when she was 17 and Robert was 46.”
Here’s Conrad on how they met:
We did a television show together. She was the reigning Miss National Teenager and was giving up her crown and she was one of the co-hosts of the show. And I saw this beautiful, beautiful young girl and that was how we met. And two years later we were married.
Did he have a stroke or some other medical disaster? Well, not exactly. Turns out he had an accident while driving drunk in 2003, one that eventually left him on probation for 5 years as well as partly paralyzed. Hence the off-kilter look.
Which brings us back to the original question. Buried at the bottom of that 2003 Associated Press story is this line:
LaVelda Conrad said her husband is 68, but court records indicate he is 73.
“Court records,” eh? Normally we would take the court’s word for it, and we’re also inclined to believe the hard-working reporters at the Associated Press. But in this case we haven’t been able (yet) to find any proof to support this. Wikipedia does claim Robert Conrad was born in 1930 but offers no citation. The IMDB claims 1929. [ 2018 update: Both Wikipedia and the IMDB have now switched to 1935. ]
On the other hand, here’s an (also unsourced) claim that Robert Conrad really was born in 1935, but lied about his age to join the Marines at age 15 during the Korean War. The Korean War started in 1950, so the timeline (at least) of that claim checks out.
Conrad also has often said that he eloped with his first wife at age 17 in 1952, which matches a 1935 birth — although any actor worth his salt would be perfectly capable of lying about such a thing. (We’re not sure whether marrying *another* 17-year-old in 1977 makes Conrad’s 1952 story more likely or less likely. But somewhere President Tyler is smiling.)
In any case, Conrad has claimed 1935 as his birth year consistently, as in this martial arts interview where he says he was 29 when he tried out for The Wild Wild West, which went on the air in 1965.
The Library of Congress also has Robert Conrad born in 1935, and they’re often a reliable source. People magazine has reported that Conrad was 43 and LaVelda 17 when they met in 1978, and that would again match up correctly with 1935. (Would she have dated a 43-year-old but not a 48-year-old? Who can say?)
So, bottom line: We’re intrigued by the AP’s “court records” claim, but we’re sticking with 1935 until we find sturdy proof one way or the other. We’ll keep looking.
And happy birthday, Mr. Conrad, however old you are!
(Photos: George Brandon / WENN)
Comments ( 9 )
Just to say that we’re still unable to confirm anything other than 1935 as the birthdate. His backstory and original name (some say ‘Falkowski’ rather than Falk) are murky enough that it’s hard to track him through a census or other standard reports. Still looking!
Found anything after 4 years?
Yeah! We’re definitely going with Konrad Robert Falkowski, based on his obituaries from the Associated Press and Variety. They seem to have nailed it down in the recent past.
Robert Conrad lied about his age to get into the Marines? Oh come on. Even I can figure that one out and I haven’t thought about him in years. (I’ve just come upon him recently and am catching up on films I never managed to see him in.) You do something like that, when you’re fifteen, especially when it’s a government based job, you keep up the charade.
I always saw Conrad as cool as a cucumber, in “The Wild, West, West” and felt a little let down, as the years went by, to realize he was a little too tightly wound. I forget what incident, in particular, set me off. But Conrad was a scrapper from his early days–to his benefit as a star, of course and a natural talent–but back in the day (well, in any war, really) you had kids who would DO things like that. They just wanted to be where the action was.
And I sure as shootin’ could see Robert Conrad lying about his age to join the Marines. *grin*
He’d be the same age as Peter Breck, who was another scrapper who was at his best being high energy. And BOTH those guys could easily play characters ten years younger. (As Breck did, playing a 28 year old, at around 38, in “Big Valley”.)
It’s IN the genes.
I think you’re right about his personality. This article from People magazine certainly makes him sound lie a scrapper, even in later years: https://people.com/archive/tough-guy-robert-conrad-with-his-offspring-in-tow-heads-for-the-hills-and-high-mountain-rangers-vol-29-no-12/
The fascinating thing about him sticking with his original lie is that he may be the first actor in Hollywood history to consistently claim to be *older* than he really was!
I remember a few actors, as I got older, acting like this. Tony Curtis was another one. I don’t hold with blustery males. And, as I’ve gotten more into some of the older cowboy actors, I realize Robert Conrad is not from that cowboy breed. But that’s okay. Robert was what he was, and that’s fine.
Robert Conrad was also, in a sense, an OLD man, in the younger era of the sixties. People who didn’t live in the sixties forget that–or never even thought about it. It’s hard to believe, actually, that he and Peter Breck would be the same age. Think about that. Peter was Nick Barkley in “The Big Valley” but he had an older aura about him. Probably, because Peter was fine being his own age.
In addition to that something–I can’t remember what–that Robert Conrad did, years ago, to put me off him (but I’m looking through his old movies now and glad I am), I have recently watched him, in interviews, and maybe THREE TIMES I have seen him emphasize his age, in relation to the younger women he was dealing with, in movies or whatever. In these interviews, he was older, but I seem to recall, in at least ONE, he was referencing himself as the MUCH OLDER MAN to some younger woman.
Despite his machismo, I know he comes from an era where he might have mixed feelings of appearing as a cradle robber. *laugh*
So what better reason–in addition to the first one about the under-aged Marine–to lie about his age?
He doesn’t want to be seen as a dirty ole man.
I loved “The Wild, Wild West.” When I was a kid, mostly watching James Bond (I was too young for the age of the cowboy in television–never even watched Bonanza til this year; and I’m really enjoying these westerns now) it occurs to me that the ONLY cowboy I watched, was James West.
And I didn’t even see him as a cowboy. Isn’t that odd?
Oh yeah, big “Wild Wild West” fan here — or at least, I was as a kid. We watched it mostly in reruns in the early 1970s, on independent station KPTV 12. A few years ago I watched a few episodes on Me TV, though, and it was pretty painful. So talky! But there’s no doubt that Conrad could lead the way and really had a screen presence. Those outfits! That train! It was pretty good TV in the day.
Wild West was talky? Or something else?
I’m sorta doing a survey of television history and looking at the prior eras of television I just didn’t really get into. A lot of good stuff. But so far, in my travels, I’ve tripped over a few “WWest” things. Like the tights on Conrad. I think he kept ripping them. *grin* I never thought of that.
I was, maybe, ten years old, watching James Bond movies at the drive-in. I just watched Robert Conrad on a pop music show, with Dick Clark, mentioning his ‘new’ show, “The Wild, Wild West.” He LITERALLY said it was James Bond with cowboys and science fiction. It made me laugh.
I’m glad Robert Conrad did what he did. He’s left quite a legacy of film.
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