William Conrad


Actor, Announcer
William Conrad

About

Birth Place
Louisville, Kentucky
Born
September 27, 1920
Died
February 11, 1994
Cause of Death
Heart Attack

Biography

With his imposing physical presence and sonorous baritone voice, actor-director-producer William Conrad enjoyed a vibrant career on and off screens across several mediums, spanning more than five decades. Although he made early onscreen appearances in noirs like "The Killers" (1946), Conrad achieved early fame as the voice of Marshal Matt Dillon on the long-running radio show "Gunsmoke" ...

Family & Companions

Tippy Conrad
Wife

Notes

We have found three different starting dates for the CBS Radio "Gunsmoke" series: 1954 (from "Radio's Golden Years" by Vincent Terrace); 1952 (from "The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows" by Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh); and 1949 (from Marquis' "Who's Who in Entertainment"). We have chosen the latter as it seems to jibe best with his other credits.

Biography

With his imposing physical presence and sonorous baritone voice, actor-director-producer William Conrad enjoyed a vibrant career on and off screens across several mediums, spanning more than five decades. Although he made early onscreen appearances in noirs like "The Killers" (1946), Conrad achieved early fame as the voice of Marshal Matt Dillon on the long-running radio show "Gunsmoke" (CBS Radio, 1949-1960), helping to define the role later portrayed by James Arness for 20 years on television. His resonant voice made Conrad a favorite for narration work in efforts as diverse as the indelible cartoon classic "Rocky and Bullwinkle" (ABC/NBC, 1959-1964) and the wartime docudrama "The Battle of the Bulge" (1965). A deal with Warner Bros. also allowed Conrad to produce and direct B-movie potboilers like "Brainstorm" (1965), as well as executive produce director Robert Altman’s feature debut, "Countdown" (1968). It was, however, a pair of late-career roles for which the portly performer would be most fondly remembered. First as the hard-nosed private eye "Cannon" (CBS, 1971-75) and then as the larger half of the investigative team of "Jake and the Fatman" (CBS, 1987-88; 1989-1992), Conrad at last achieved the fame denied him after losing out to Arness all those years before. One of the hardest working professionals in the entertainment business for decades, Conrad more than made his mark in Hollywood by the time of his 1994 passing.

Born John William Cann, Jr. on Sept. 27, 1920 in Louisville, KY, he was the son of a local theater owner. William was still quite young when the family moved to California, where he quickly grew enamored with literature and drama while attending school. After graduation, Conrad enrolled at nearby Fullerton College and began his early career with work on Los Angeles radio station KMPC as a writer-director-announcer in the late 1930s. In 1943, at the height of World War II, he enlisted with the United States Army Air Corps, but not before marrying his sweetheart, June Nelson. Serving as a fighter pilot, Conrad eventually rose to the rank of captain and also performed duties as a producer-director with the Armed Forces Radio Service. Upon his return to civilian life, he returned to radio and, thanks to his deep, resonant baritone voice, quickly became one of the medium’s busiest actors. Conrad appeared on the hugely popular mystery-thriller series "Suspense" (CBS Radio, 1942-1962) and was one of the more regularly featured players on the similarly themed adventure program "Escape" (CBS Radio, 1947-1952). So ubiquitous a presence was the actor, that a fear of overexposure on the part of the producers almost prevented Conrad from landing his first iconic role – that of Marshal Matt Dillon on the long-running Western "Gunsmoke" (CBS Radio, 1949-1960). Regardless of their concerns, the actor’s audition for the role was strong enough to win him the role and his authoritative, stoic characterization set the tone for a show considered one of the best of its kind in any format.

Unfortunately, Conrad’s considerable girth and balding pate did not lend themselves to what the producers visualized for the character of Marshall Dillon when "Gunsmoke" made the transition to television in 1955. Although that coveted role may have gone to James Arness, Conrad had nonetheless already made substantial gains as an onscreen actor in both film and television by that time. As an actor he made his first notable appearance as one of the titular gunmen sent to take out Burt Lancaster in the classic film noir "The Killers" (1946). Conrad’s subsequent credits spanned various genres, although he tended to gravitate toward shady character roles in crime dramas like "Body and Soul" (1947), "Sorry, Wrong Number" (1948) and "Cry Danger" (1951). He appeared opposite Charlton Heston – who played the lead role originated by Conrad in a radio serial version of the tale – in the man-vs.-nature adventure "Naked Jungle" (1954). A few years later, he graduated to co-starring status alongside Anthony Quinn in the Western "The Ride Back" (1957), a feature which also marked Conrad’s debut as a film producer.

The ambitious Conrad soon embarked upon a robust directing career on such popular television programs as the Western "The Rifleman" (ABC, 1958-1963) and the crime drama "Naked City" (ABC, 1958-1963). Over the decade or more that followed, he would helm dozens of episodes for various networks. Not surprisingly, Conrad’s commanding vocal abilities also led to a profitable sideline as a narrator and announcer. For five years Conrad lent colorful commentary to the cartoon adventures of "Rocky and Bullwinkle" (ABC/NBC, 1959-1964) and introduced many of producer Quinn Martin's television productions, most notably "The Fugitive" (CBS, 1963-67). As a producer-director under contract with Warner Bros. for 15 years, Conrad competently churned out a number of low-to-medium budget genre programmers like the Western "The Man from Galveston" (1964). Over the course of a single year, the indefatigable filmmaker produced and directed a trio of thrillers – "Brainstorm" (1965), "My Blood Runs Cold" (1965) and "Two on a Guillotine" (1965). Other behind the scenes duties included narrating the big-budget, star-studded World War II docudrama "The Battle of the Bulge" (1965) and executive producing the realistic sci-fi drama "Countdown" (1968), the feature film debut of director Robert Altman.

Of all of Conrad’s many onscreen roles, however, he was best remembered as the star of two popular crime-dramas, beginning with "Cannon" (CBS, 1971-75). As former police detective-turned-private investigator, Conrad’s Cannon solved crimes in sunny L.A. while indulging his taste for good food and fine automobiles. When the occasion called for it, tough guy Cannon could take a beating or dish one out, sometimes delivering a blow to the bad guy with his substantial belly. Far less taxing were the multiple voice roles Conrad continued to pick up throughout the decade. During this time he narrated the nature program "Wild Wild World of Animals" (syndicated, 1973-78), introduced the first season of the sci-fi adventure "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" (NBC, 1979-1981), and voiced Denethor, the ruler of Gondor, in the Rankin-Bass animated adaption of Tolkien’s "Return of the King" (ABC, 1980). As steady as his professional life remained, Conrad’s personal life underwent a series of changes near the end of the decade when, after 30 years of marriage, he lost his wife June in 1977. Although he quickly remarried to former fashion model Susan Randall, that marriage ended within a few short years when she also passed away. Conrad returned to the altar one last time to wed Tipton "Tippy" Stringer – the widow of famed NBC newscaster Chet Huntley – in 1980.

Looking to return to regular series work, Conrad starred as the wealthy, eccentric crime solver "Nero Wolfe" (NBC, 1981) for a short-lived detective show based on the characters created by prolific crime novelist Rex Stout. And while that endeavor failed to take hold with audiences, the actor remained busy with supporting work and guest turns until his next successful show presented itself. That project came to Conrad in the form of "Jake and the Fatman" (CBS, 1987-88; 1989-1992), as the eponymous portly district attorney who loved his pet bulldog almost as much as he seemed to enjoy bickering with his freewheeling, younger associate (Joe Penny). By the time "Jake and the Fatman" ended its five-year run, Conrad had effectively retired, the exception being his narration of the opening and closing sequences of the much-maligned Bruce Willis comedic adventure, "Hudson Hawk" (1991). A few years later, Conrad died of heart failure in Los Angles in February 1994 at the age of 73. On a historical side note, at some point in the 1960s, Jack Warner gifted Conrad with one of the two original Maltese Falcons used in the iconic 1941 film as a token of appreciation for his years of work at Warner Bros. The leaden statuette sat on Conrad’s office shelf until after his death, when his widow auctioned it off at Christie’s, where it reportedly sold for nearly $400,000 in 1994. A long overdue honor was finally bestowed upon the late actor when he was posthumously elected to the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1997.

By Bryce Coleman

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

Side Show (1981)
Director
Two on a Guillotine (1965)
Director
Brainstorm (1965)
Director
My Blood Runs Cold (1965)
Director
The Man From Galveston (1963)
Director

Cast (Feature Film)

Killing Cars (1991)
Mahoney
Hudson Hawk (1991)
Narrator
Vengeance: The Story of Tony Cimo (1986)
Jim Dunn
In Like Flynn (1985)
Sergeant Dominic
Side Show (1981)
Voice Of Ring Announcer
The Murder That Wouldn't Die (1980)
William Battles
Turnover Smith (1980)
Thaddeus Smith
The Return of Frank Cannon (1980)
Frank Cannon
Keefer (1978)
Night Cries (1978)
Dr Whelan
Moonshine County Express (1977)
Starkey
The City (1977)
Narration
The Macahans (1976)
Narrator
The FBI Story: The FBI Versus Alvin Karpis, Public Enemy Number One (1974)
Narration
The D.A.: Conspiracy to Kill (1971)
Chief Vincent Kovac
Cannon (1971)
O'Hara, United States Treasury: Operation Cobra (1971)
Keegan
Battle of the Bulge (1965)
Narrator
-30- (1959)
Jim Bathgate
-30- (1959)
Zero Hour! (1957)
Narrator
The Ride Back (1957)
Chris Hamish
Johnny Concho (1956)
Tallman
The Conqueror (1956)
Kasar
Naked Sea (1955)
Voice
5 Against the House (1955)
Eric Berg
The Naked Jungle (1954)
Commissioner
Cry of the Hunted (1953)
Goodwin
The Desert Song (1953)
Lachmed
Lone Star (1952)
Mizette
The Sword of Monte Cristo (1951)
Maj. Nicolet
The Racket (1951)
Sgt. Turk
Cry Danger (1951)
[Louie] Castro
Dial 1119 (1950)
Chuckles
East Side, West Side (1950)
Lt. Jacobi
The Milkman (1950)
Mike Morrell
One Way Street (1950)
Ollie
Tension (1949)
Lt. Edgar Gonsales
Any Number Can Play (1949)
Frank Sistina
Joan of Arc (1948)
Guillaume Erard, a prosecutor
To the Victor (1948)
Farnsworth
Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)
Morano
Four Faces West (1948)
Sheriff Egan
Arch of Triumph (1948)
Official
Body and Soul (1947)
Quinn
The Killers (1946)
Max
The Last of the Mafia (1915)

Producer (Feature Film)

Turnover Smith (1980)
Executive Producer
Assignment To Kill (1969)
Executive Producer
Chubasco (1968)
Executive Producer
Countdown (1968)
Executive Producer
A Covenant With Death (1967)
Executive Producer
The Cool Ones (1967)
Executive Producer
First To Fight (1967)
Executive Producer
An American Dream (1966)
Executive Producer
Brainstorm (1965)
Producer
My Blood Runs Cold (1965)
Producer
Two on a Guillotine (1965)
Producer
The Ride Back (1957)
Producer

Music (Feature Film)

Side Show (1981)
Song
Chubasco (1968)
Composer

Production Companies (Feature Film)

Countdown (1968)
Company
The Cool Ones (1967)
Company

Cast (Special)

Of Moose and Men: The Rocky and Bullwinkle Story (1990)
Narration
Just the Facts (1987)
Narration
The Flip Wilson Special (1975)

Cast (TV Mini-Series)

Shocktrauma (1982)
The Rebels (1979)
Narrator

Life Events

1946

Feature acting debut, "The Killers"

1950

TV debut, narrated the CBS-TV version of the anthology radio series, "Escape"

1957

Feature producing debut, "The Ride Back", a Western

1964

Feature directing debut, "The Man From Galveston", a Western

1965

Final directing credit, "Two on a Guillotine", a Gothic melodrama (also produced)

1966

Feature executive producing debut, "An American Dream", based on a Norman Mailer novel

1968

Final producing credit, executive produced "Countdown", the first studio-backed fiction film directed by Robert Altman

1977

Hosted and narrated "Tales of the Unexpected", a QM-produced suspense anthology

1980

Recreated his most celebrated role for "The Return of Frank Cannon", a CBS TV-movie

1981

Starred as Rex Stout's literary detective "Nero Wolfe" on an NBC detective series

1986

Played the recurring role of Art Patterson on "Hotel"

1986

Played the recurring role of District Attorney Brackett on "Matlock"

1991

Final feature credit, narrator of "Hudson Hawk"

1991

Final TV voice credit, provided the narration for "Of Moose and Men: The Rocky and Bullwinkle Story", a PBS special

Photo Collections

Tension - Lobby Card Set
Here is a set of Lobby Cards from MGM's Tension (1949), starring Audrey Totter, Richard Basehart, and Cyd Charisse. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.

Videos

Movie Clip

Countdown (1968) - Roger, Houston, Apollo 3 Opening scene from director Robert Altman’s first feature, Robert Duvall, James Caan and Michael Murphy the crew of an Apollo spacecraft, when they get an irritating order from Houston, in Countdown, 1968, from a novel by Henry Searls.
Countdown (1968) - An Emergency Backup To Apollo James Caan as scientist-astronaut Lee, joining Barbara Baxley, wife of his Apollo crew chief Chiz (Robert Duvall), who explains to him and colleague Rick (Michael Murphy) about what happened in training that day, and an emergency mission, in director Robert Altman’s first feature, Countdown, 1968.
Countdown (1968) - The Man In The Moon Is A Girl Shot at director Robert Altman’s home, from his first feature, Robert Ridgely the singing guest, Ted Knight a NASA administrator, James Caan as Lee, the astronaut host, Robert Duvall as Chiz, whom he’s been chosen to replace for a solo moon mission, with early-Altman overlapping dialogue, in Countdown, 1968.
My Blood Runs Cold (1965) - Now Do You Believe Me? Mysterious Ben (Troy Donahue) and mystified Julie (Joey Heatherton), whom he calls Barbara, get disrobed on his yacht and swim to a cave where he produces further evidence that they’re reincarnated lovers, a money-scene from producer-director William Conrad (TV’s “Cannon”), in Warner Bros. My Blood Runs Cold, 1965.
My Blood Runs Cold (1965) - I'd Know You Anywhere Immediately following the credits, we meet Joey Heatherton (as “Julie,” though called “Barbara” in the period prologue), with boyfriend Harry (Nicholas Coster), bombing down a coastal highway before encountering motorcyclist Ben (Troy Donahue), in My Blood Runs Cold, 1965.
Any Number Can Play (1949) - Out In The Rain With My Secret Lover Joining the first scene in the household of leading man Clark Gable, who plays high-end underground casino owner Charlie, we meet Audrey Totter as Alice, the live-in sister of his wife Lon (Alexis Smith), and her husband, Wendell Corey as Robbin, who works for Charlie, with two goons (Richard Rober, William Conrad) appearing, in director Mervyn LeRoy’s Any Number Can Play, 1949.
-30- (1959) - The Woman's Angle Neurotic but determined newsroom writer Jan (Nancy Valentine) is baffled when her assault on night-shift editor Sam Gatlin (producer and director Jack Webb) succeeds, city editor Bathgate (Willian Conrad) concurring, in -30-, 1959.
-30- (1959) - Conditions That Prevail Opening scene, city editor Bathgate (William Conrad) toying with copy boy Collins (David Nelson, Ozzie and Harriet's son), veteran colleagues smirking, from director, producer and star Jack Webb's -30-, 1959tbd
Zero Hour! (1957) - On April 10th 1945 That's William "Cannon" Conrad narrating as injured pilot Ted Stryker (Dana Andrews) foreshadows Airplane!, 1980, and converses with an RCAF doctor (Willis Bouchey) in Zero Hour!, 1957.
Battle Of The Bulge (1965) - December, 1944 William Conrad (TV's "Cannon") narrates as Kiley (Henry Fonda) and pilot Joe (Robert Woods) buzz Nazi Hessler (Robert Shaw) and driver (Hans Christian Blech), opening director Ken Annakin's Battle Of the Bulge, 1965.
Cry Danger (1951) - I Want To See The Man Sprung from prison and working to free his also-framed buddy, Rocky (Dick Powell) meets a cigarette girl (Gloria Saunders), and pays a second visit to bookie Castro (William Conrad), who gave him a race tip instead of the loot he denies ever having had, in Cry Danger, 1951.
Naked Jungle, The (1954) - You've Never Seen Your Husband? Not bad opening scene, Eleanor Parker floating up what the map suggests is the Amazon, with Romo Vincent the boat captain and William Conrad the local official, in producer George Pal’s The Naked Jungle, 1954, from the widely-read short story Leiningen Versus The Ants.

Trailer

Family

Christopher Conrad
Son

Companions

Tippy Conrad
Wife

Bibliography

Notes

We have found three different starting dates for the CBS Radio "Gunsmoke" series: 1954 (from "Radio's Golden Years" by Vincent Terrace); 1952 (from "The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows" by Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh); and 1949 (from Marquis' "Who's Who in Entertainment"). We have chosen the latter as it seems to jibe best with his other credits.