Robert Conrad couldn't escape his tough guy image — but he could dodge police!

By: H&I Staff     Posted: June 22, 2021, 12:06PM   

Classic TV actor Robert Conrad became known as a tough guy over the course of series like The Wild Wild West and Black Sheep Squadron, where he'd famously perform his own stunts with even more enthusiasm than the wildest stuntmen.

This led the actor to develop a reputation as an intense dude not to be messed with, which followed him off-camera.

In 1971, he was preparing to return to TV as the star of a new Jack Webb show called The D.A. To promote his new show, he appeared on Adam-12 in two crossover episodes, the first being "The Radical."

In "The Radical," Adam-12 fans were struck by Conrad's new character, pictured above, all suited up as the district attorney Paul Ryan. They were more used to seeing him throw punches literally, and not proverbially in court. But Conrad insisted this role fit him just as well as any of his prior roles.

"I feel like a lawyer when I suit up and I feel very capable," Conrad told The Daily Courier in 1971.

As an actor, Conrad couldn't stand watching any actor play a part he knew he could do better, and it kept him returning to acting. "My ego prevents me from not coming back," Conrad admitted.

Because he put so much of himself into every role, he considered four years the optimal run for a TV show. He hoped The D.A. would make it that far.

"We'll have a big hit," he predicted, pointing out that like Webb's other series, The D.A. is based on actual criminal cases that provide more shock and interest for audiences than invented plots. (Harry Morgan also co-starred!)

Unfortunately, Conrad's prediction was off. The D.A. lasted just a single season. And it could be in part because Conrad said everywhere he went, people expected him to play the tough guy, even in the real world.

In 1974, he told The Miami News that "wise guys" constantly assaulted him in public, pushing the TV star to prove that he's just as big a tough guy as the TV characters he plays.

That year, a fight broke out, where some men in Fort Lauderdale claimed that Conrad slammed one of them in the head with his shoe. Conrad denied it happened, but he left the scene before police arrived.

"I don't knock anyone in the head with a shoe," Conrad said. "I'm a martial artist. I know much better ways if that was what I wanted to."

Conrad couldn't talk much about the fight because there was ongoing litigation, but he said that the commotion started when the men blocked Conrad's path with their car and started shouting obscenities at the celebrity.

For Conrad, this was a typical encounter at first. "The verbal abuse is just something I've had to learn to live with," he said.

But when it escalated, he knew he had to get out of there.

"I have a friend who is a famous bandit," Conrad defended himself against the battery claim. "He told me when this came down, he was shocked. He knew I wasn't violent."

Conrad had learned long ago how to deflect such aggression. Growing up, Conrad played football, but he also sang in the choir, and he said this led to plenty of bullying from his football teammates.

"Every time one of the ends or backs kidded me because I sang in the choir, I hit them a little harder in practice," Conrad said. "I was the toughest singing linebacker they ever ran into."

At this time as a young man, Conrad said this reputation for toughness led him to hang with a crowd in Chicago who saw police like Adam-12 officers as adversaries. He was "born on the wrong side of the tracks on Chicago's tough South Side," a journalist wrote. He loaded and drove trucks as a teenager. 

That's why he found it a little ironic when he got cast as The D.A. He'd come a long way from being that singing linebacker street-tough those Fort Lauderdale men still saw him as.

It makes sense then that for Conrad, the best getaway was somewhere no one could reach him — neither his fans nor his agitators. Between films, he liked to escape to a 100-acre ranch he owned in Northwest California. There, he didn't have a TV, radio or phone. Only there he found peace, far away from fistfights, fictitious or real.

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