|Martin Landau, Nichelle Nichols, Mike Connors, Robert Conrad and Linda Evans|
No, these aren’t the stars of CBS’s fall rookie dramas. These are five “Pioneers of Television”–Martin Landau (best known for Mission: Impossible), Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura on Star Trek), Mike Connors (Mannix), Robert Conrad (The Wild, Wild West) and Linda Evans (Dynasty).
PBS has hosted icons from the past at the last three summer press tours to promote this series, an uneven tribute to the Golden Age of television. These sessions, in fact, are generally much more entertaining than the series, especially one hilarious encounter a few years back dominated by Red Buttons and Mickey Rooney.
Evans, 67, was the kid of this crop. She was on stage mainly to take a bow from her TV debut on The Big Valley. That western starred film legend Barbara Stanwyck and Evans was lavish in praise of the actress.
Landau was the one “pioneer” who is still working, appearing recently on Entourage. He talked about his many movie roles, including a memorable turn as Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood. He saw Lugosi as a classic Chekhov character, a tragic figure.
He says he owes his career to James Dean. Dean’s sudden death before the release of East of Eden left producers without a major star to promote the film. Conrad’s mom was in P.R., and talked the lad into getting his hair cut like Dean in order to pose for publicity stills and work background on newsreels.
He was also a last-minute replacement in Assignment: Vienna, an early ’70s action hour shot on location in Austria. When the original star quit, Conrad was only too happy to live it up in Europe for a year.
Conrad was also asked about his many Battle of the Network Stars appearances. The highly competitive actor was a team captain for the mid-’70s series, which featured Howard Cossell and many many series stars. Conrad challenged Welcome Back Kotter star Gabe Kaplan to a famous race, which the action star lost.
What he won from that, however, was a million bucks. An on-camera, “you-want-a-piece-of-me” gesture landed the Hollywood hothead a lucrative sponsorship deal with Eveready batteries. “Go ahead,” Conrad used to seethe, “knock this battery off my shoulder.” The full story, from Conrad: