Growing up, Bill Conrad was the portly detective on my TV screen known as Cannon; it wouldn’t be until much later on in life when I discovered his first-rate work as Marshal Matt Dillon on radio’s Gunsmoke ... and all the other radio shows on which he performed (including the memorable announcer on Escape: “... want to get away from it all?”) I’m sure I don’t need to re-tell the story of how CBS screwed Conrad out of the TV version of Gunsmoke along the rest of the fine radio cast (Parley Baer, Howard McNear, Georgia Ellis, John Dehner, Lawrence Dobkin, Harry Bartell, Sam Edwards, Vic Perrin ... I could go on and on); they had pretty much settled on James Arness for the boob tube edition of Dodge City’s famous lawman, even though OTR actress-historian Lois Culver once remarked during an online chat that “most real lawmen looked more like Bill than Arness anyway.” Conrad held a grudge against both the series and the network for many years, but finally made peace once Cannon became a hit (he’d even direct a couple of shows for the TV western) and would later go on to star in another series in the late ’80s/early ’90s--the appropriately titled Jake and the Fatman.And let’s not forget that Conrad also starred (with Lee Horsley) in NBC’s 1981 midseason replacement series, Nero Wolfe, based on Rex Stout’s famous novels. Or that he narrated the cartoon series Rocky and Bullwinkle from 1959 to 1964.
Conrad died in February 1994, at age 73, of congestive heart failure. He’s buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills) in Los Angeles. The world was left a less interesting place with the silencing of his baritone voice.
READ MORE: “William Conrad Birthday Fun,” by Christine A. Miller (Escape and Suspense!); “Cannon Novel Covers,” by Randy Johnson (Not the Baseball Pitcher).