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Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin in Wild Wild West) face closeup side

Artemus Gordon

(Ross Martin version)


Power Level:
Game system: DC Heroes Role-Playing Game

Context

The Wild Wild West was a 1965-1969 TV show, starring Robert Conrad and Ross Martin. It was a particular childhood favorite of mine.

Western shows were losing steam back then, so WWW was hybridised with more fashionable spy fantasy shows.

Wild Wild West thus is a wonderful blend of western, sci-fi and “James Bond Super Spy” mixed nicely together. It also was one of the earliest shows to feature a skilled martial arts student as the main character.


Background

  • Real Name: Artemus Gordon
  • Other Aliases: Arte, Aaron Addison, Angus MacGordon, Ascot Sam, Beldon Scoville, Jr., Captain Hull, Caruso del Artumo, Claude Renard, Colonel Cross, Colonel Doyle, Colonel Hernandez, Colonel Mosley, Count Draja, Count Felix Von Schleiswieg, Count Vladislov de Raja, Dirk de John, Dr. Crane, Dr. Gentry, Dr. Raker, Dr. Romonede Pettriere, Dr. Sloane, Dr. Zorbe, Ellsworth R. Caldwell, President Grant, Mojave Mike and on and on and on and on and on and on and on.
  • Marital Status: Single
  • Known Relatives: Aunt Maude (but she is never seen and may be deceased or fictional)
  • Group Affiliation: U.S. Secret Service
  • Base Of Operations: Primarily the American West
  • Height: 5’11” Weight: 175 lbs
  • Eyes: Brown Hair: Brown


Powers & Abilities

Artemus Gordon’s mastery of disguise would almost constitute a super-power were it not that the disguises can be pulled off of him.

Likewise, while most of his gadgets are not beyond the technology of today, they are certainly beyond 1870s technology.

Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin) and the President

His ability to speak and understand every language is supposed to be a skill as he learned them by normal means. Yet the sheer speed with which he learns them and that he almost never seems to not know a language (when he does not, it is specifically a plot point) constitutes a power.

Likewise, he has a phenomenal memory.


Video

Whether one appreciates Sonny & Cher, this is a good selection of Wild Wild West sequences in good quality (though it’s mostly about James West).


History

Although there is scant information to go by, it can be surmised that Artemus Gordon was born in 1827 or the year before or after. Most likely, he was raised in the Eastern United States and his parents were wealthy and educated.

He was clearly educated in just about every science and technology that existed as well as in numerous arts. Considering how quickly he learned skills, it is easy to see him as taking multiple majors in college.

Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin) disguised as a Turk

These probably included Drama and he clearly spent time on the stage as an actor. Even years later, he could still quote Shakespeare soliloquies verbatim. One theory is that it was not his scientific and technical skills that caused him to be recruited by the government but his ability to play an endless variety of characters convincingly and to look the part through his mastery of disguise.

Or it may have been that and his knowledge of science and his skills with technology.

On the President’s Secret Service, part 1

Whatever the reasons, he was recruited probably between 1865 and 1870. By the end of 1870, he was one of two U.S. Secret Service agents (the other being Jim West) who were answering directly to the President of the United States, Ulysses Simpson Grant.

Even when we first encounter Arte and Jim, estimated to be 1871, they have already been working together long enough to have become best friends and to implicitly trust each other. They are presented as troubleshooters sent by the President to investigate threats to American security.

They traveled in a train replete with numerous fancy and futuristic gadgets. There was never any explanation for how these gadgets existed in that time period. It seemed normal in that reality. It is quite possible that Arte built them all but that is never explicitly stated. He definitely built some of them as some are explicitly stated to be his inventions.

On the President’s Secret Service, part 2

During the first year that we saw them working together, Artemus tended to be the gadget man. He often provided Jim West with a handy gadget or two and some information and then Jim seemed to do most of the job, often getting captured and Artemus spending most of the mission trying to find him.

Even then, he came up with devices like a diving mask that could allow a man to stay underwater for five minutes or an adhesive that could support a man’s weight for several seconds. [Humorously, he seemed to have forgotten that he invented those two things and reinvented them later]. His devices were almost always a critical factor in Jim’s ability to survive.

There was also a good-natured rivalry. Artemus wanted to be a ladies’ man every bit as much as Jim West was but just could not compete in that department. He did quite well but not to the level of success that Jim had. When Artemus was on the scene, he was always helpful as the inside man.

Sometimes, even Jim did not realize it was Artemus until he revealed himself. “Jim, it’s me” was a common yell as he jumped back and threw his arms up just before he would have gotten punched.

The Big Blast

The first mission that was oriented more around Artemus than Jim was one that, in their files, was called “The Night of the Big Blast”. Artemus was enjoying a night out with an old girlfriend from his youth when he received word that Jim West had been killed.

Already in shock, he was also told that West had walked into an embassy and triggered some sort of explosive he was carrying, killing himself while performing an assassination. Artemus refused to believe that Jim was a traitor and began tracking down what happened.

Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin) disguised with auburn hair and glasses

When he started getting close, he was captured by Dr. Faustina. For reasons he did not immediately understand, she took a mold of his face. He was then locked in a cell and found that Jim was also there.

With his phenomenal memory, Arte recalled that Dr. Faustina has been dismissed in scientific circles due to her Frankenstein-like claims that she could return the dead to a semblance of life. But they deduced she had succeeded. She had taken a dead body and molded a replica of Jim’s face to it.

Dr. Faustina’s plot

Before bringing it to “life”, she performed surgery and implanted a bomb. The walking corpse had little if any will and obeyed her orders to be at the embassy by a certain time when the explosives would go off. She was killing off those who rejected her theories and those in the government who would not finance them.

They escaped the cell but found themselves confronting Dr. Faustina’s new walking corpse. This one wore a mold that made it look like Artemus. These corpses possessed superhuman strength and this one defeated both Jim and Arte before mindlessly walking to its destination, another explosive assassination.

But they managed to catch up to it and lasso it, dragging it away from its target but well behind them when it exploded. Dr. Faustina got away and they never encountered her again.

Master of Disguises

But the problem is that what really distinguishes Artemus is not winning or even being in the big fight scene at the end (which was usually left for Jim West). It’s his gadgets (often used by Jim more than by Arte himself) and his seemingly endless array of disguises and his ability to play the different personas that went with each disguise.

He was capable of portraying any ethnicity or gender, and almost any profession with a realistic knowledge of what such a person would know. It is almost pointless to summarize the plots or mention that Jim got to defeat the villain and usually got the girl. It was Arte who set him up to be able to win the day.

Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin) with a top hat and glasses

This is a “History” where I genuinely think the photos that accompany it speak for themselves. I’ve tried to include a vast array of Artemus in disguise. As was stated by Sébastien Andrivet in the writeup of the movie Artemus Gordon, “Even less is known about Artemus Gordon than is known about Jim West.”

So most of what can be said is conjecture outside of the stories themselves.


Description

In his own mind, Artemus Gordon is every bit as handsome as Jim West and he does not always understand why Jim gets more female interest than he does. He is decent looking but nothing extraordinary. He usually wears a suit appropriate to the setting, often grey or even purple, with vest and cowboy hat.


Personality

When not in disguise, Arte can run the gamut from deadly serious to joking around. This makes sense because, while in disguise, he exhibits just about any personality imaginable.


Quotes

Artemus Gordon: “Did it ever occur to you that red might mean danger ? For instance, red for fire, fire of explosion ?”
Jim West: “ What would they want to explode ?”
Artemus Gordon: “People who fool around with their levers.”

Artemus Gordon (regarding his new diving mask invention): “Think of that. Five minutes, underwater, submerged, and you’d still survive. That is, if somebody was trying to drown you.”
Jim West: “What if doesn’t work ?”
Artemus Gordon: “Bring it back. I’ll make you a new one.”

Dr. Loveless: “You, Mr. Gordon. You didn’t play fair ! You cheated.”
Artemus Gordon: “ A weakness. So sue me !”

Artemus: “James, my boy. I do believe we are onto something here.”


Alternate Wild Wild West History

In 1966, towards the end of the first season of the show, Richard Wormser wrote a novelization of one of the first season episodes, “The Night of the Double-Edged Knife”. Working from the teleplay and having written it possibly before the show had been cast, he perceived the characters somewhat differently.

He saw West as more a derby-wearing Easterner, possibly as close as you could get to a British James Bond type. He wrote Artemus as being younger than Jim West, probably in his 20s. In this version, Arty had been using his skills as a conman. But he was conning the same sort of people that Jim West was after. When Jim caught him, he offered him the chance to work with him rather than go to prison for his swindles.

In this version, Arte was not a Secret Service agent, at least not yet. West thought of him as basically a good guy but you had to keep him on a short leash. Clearly, this is not the Arte or Jim of the show but it is an interesting alternative.

Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin) under examination

In the 1990s, there was a movie version with Will Smith as Jim West and Kevin Kline as Artemus Gordon. Jim was obviously a very different character, a former slave, a black man in the American West of the 1870s. Except for being played by a different actor, Artemus was much like the original version.

In fact, in an episode of the original, “The Night of the Returning Dead”, Jim and Artemus worked with Jeremiah, a former slave (played by Sammy Davis, Jr. ) and asked him to join them as a Secret Service agent. I can easily picture the Artemus of the show making the same choices as the movie Artemus were he in the same situation.


DC Universe History

“The Wild Wild West” writers did not know it, of course, but they were writing a show that was meant to fit right into a comic book universe. As all the episodes were, “The Night of…”, “The Night of Jonah Hex” would fit right in.

TV Guide description: “Jim and Arte encounter a man who can bring the dead to life while he’s touching them.” Same for the MU and the events of Cowboys and Aliens. For Jim and Arte, these are just another Tuesday.


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Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG Print Friendly

Tell me more about the game stats

Artemus Gordon

Dex: 03 Str: 02 Bod: 03 Motivation: Seeking Justice
Int: 07 Wil: 09 Min: 07 Occupation: U.S. Secret Service Agent
Inf: 06 Aur: 05 Spi: 05 Resources {or Wealth}: 006
Init: 016 HP: 025

Powers:
Comprehend Languages*: 07, Recall*: 07

Bonuses and Limitations:

  • Comprehend Languages includes the ability to read and write the languages (FC +1)
  • Comprehend Languages is a Skilled Power
  • Comprehend Languages is restricted to languages he could credibly have studied in the past

Skills:
Artist: 08, Charisma (Persuasion): 04, Detective*: 07, Gadgetry*: 07, Martial Artist*: 03, Medicine (First Aid): 03, Military Science: 04, Scientist*: 07, Thief*: 03, Vehicles (Land)*: 03, Weaponry (Firearms)*: 03

Note:
Most of his skills, particularly skills like Gadgetry, are relative to his time and place (the United States in the 1870s) and the base level of science and technology that he has available to work from. He is not going to build starships or lasers or powered armor. But he built a diving tank and developed remote control electronic devices though disguise is where he truly excels).

Advantages
Buddy (Jim West), Connoisseur, Gift of Gab, Headquarters (Confined/ the Train), Luck, Scholar (Shakespeare), Scholar (Mastery of Disguise), Security Clearance (High)

Note:
I opted not to give him the Genius advantage. Although his gadgetry is beyond his time, it is seldom beyond ours though many of the adversaries he encounters do have the Genius advantage and command science and technology well beyond the real world of today).

Connections:
President Ulysses S. Grant (High), U.S. Secret Service (High)

Drawbacks:
None

Equipment:
4 Omni-Gadgets (C, 6 APs), Revolver [BODY 04, Projectile Weapons: 04, Ammo: 06, R#02]

Notes:
This does not include what he has in the Train, his headquarters. Inside the Train, he is the proverbial lion in his den).


Design notes

Wealth listed is relative to the time period and not the same amount of money a person in the 21st century would be making with the same wealth score. It also includes built-in advantages of the job such as room and board.

“Comprehend Languages” is really a series of language skills. Almost every language encountered in the show, Artemus could understand and speak from Russian to French to various other European languages to various Native American languages and he could speak the languages with a Native accent good enough to fool Native speakers of the languages.

I was tempted to give him “Chameleon” because his disguises were that good. He disguised himself as specific people and fooled people who knew them personally more often than not. He disguised himself as the President or a foreign leader and fooled people who saw them every day. His disguises fooled Dr. Loveless which is saying a lot. But I settled for a high Artist skill and a bonus from Scholar.


By Doug Mertaugh

Source of Character: The television series The Wild Wild West which ran on CBS for four seasons from 1965-1969. Officially, it was created by the original Executive Producer of the show, Michael Garrison, although Gilbert Ralston always contended he created everything except the basic concept of “James Bond in the Old West”. It was common in those days for executive producers to come up with the most basic concept and then take credit as the creator of a show.
Some of the recurring writers were John Kneubuhl, Henry Sharp, Ken Kolb, Calvin Clements, Earl Barret, Robert Dennis, Shimon Wincelberg, Leigh Chapman, Edward Lakso, Robert Kent, Ken Pettus, Paul Playdon, and many others. Among the guest-stars were some of the biggest names of the era and those who would later become big names such as Martin Landau, Burgess Meredith, Boris Karloff, Richard Pryor, Sammy Davis, Jr., Carroll O’Connor, William Windom, Ricardo Montalban, Agnes Moorhead, John Astin, Lana Wood, Pernell Roberts, Robert Loggia, Harold Gould, Ray Walston, Edward Asner, Robert Duvall, Harvey Korman and William Schallert among others.

Helper(s): I have the complete collection of The Wild Wild West series on DVD. For quick references, the book, The Wild Wild West: The Series by Susan Kesler was invaluable. Written in the late 1980s, it is still the definitive book about the show and I would highly recommend it for anyone who has a strong interest in the show. A site called Artemus Gordon Disguises provided a menagerie of photos of Artemus in disguise. I could have screen captured all of them but it would have been a major undertaking and the site was very convenient for bringing them all together in one place.

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