About John William Cann, Jr.
William Conrad (born John William Cann Jr.; September 27, 1920 – February 11, 1994) was an American actor, producer and director whose career spanned five decades in radio, film. and television.
A radio writer and actor, he moved to Hollywood, California, after his World War II service and played a series of character roles in films. beginning with quintessential film noir The Killers (1946). He created the role of Marshall Matt Dillon for popular radio series Gunsmoke (1952–1961) and narrated the television adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle (1959–1964) and The Fugitive (1963–1967).
Finding fewer on-screen roles in the 1950s, he changed from actor to producer-director with television work and a series of Warner Bros. films in the 1960s. Conrad found stardom as a detective in TV series like the long-running Cannon (1971–1976), the short-lived Nero Wolfe (1981) and the crime drama Jake and the Fatman (1987–1992).
Conrad was the son of a theater owner who moved his family to California when William was a boy. Excelling at drama and literature at school, he began his career as an announcer, writer, and director for Los Angeles radio station KMPC in the late 1930s. Conrad served as a fighter pilot in World War II. On the day he was commissioned in 1943 at Luke Field, he married June Nelson. He left the United States Army Air Corps with the rank of captain and as a producer-director of the Armed Forces Radio Service.
Conrad's deep, resonant voice led to a number of roles in radio, most prominently Marshal Matt Dillon on Western-genre program Gunsmoke. The producers originally rejected him for the part due to his ubiquitous presence on so many radio dramas and the familiarity of his voice. But his impressive audition could not be dismissed, and he became the obvious choice for the role. Conrad voiced Dillon for the show's nine-year run. In addition, he wrote the June 1953 episode "Sundown." When Gunsmoke was adapted for television in 1955, executives at CBS did not cast Conrad or his radio costars, despite a campaign to get them to change their minds. (He was under contract at the time to CBS radio.) He could be heard inviting listeners to “get away from it all” on Escape His other credits included Suspense, The Damon Runyon Theater, Lux Radio Theater, Nightbeat, and Fibber McGee and Molly. In “The Wax Works”, a 1956 episode of Suspense, Conrad performed every part. He directed and narrated the 1957 CBS Radio Workshop episode "Epitaphs", an adaptation of Edgar Lee Masters's poetry volume Spoon River Anthology. Because of his CBS contract, he sometimes appeared on shows on other networks under the pseudonym "Julius Krelboyne".
Among Conrad's various film roles, where he was usually cast as threatening figures, perhaps his most notable was his first credited one, as one of the gunmen sent to eliminate Burt Lancaster in The Killers (Lancaster's screen debut). He also appeared in Body and Soul; Sorry, Wrong Number; Joan of Arc; and The Naked Jungle.
Conrad moved to the production segment of the film business in the 1960s, producing and directing for Warner Bros. film studio. His most notable film was Brainstorm (1965), a latter-day film noir that has come to be regarded as "a minor masterpiece of the 1960s" and "the final, essential entry in that long line of films noirs that begins at the end of the Second World War." Conrad was the executive producer of Countdown (1968), a science-fiction thriller starring James Caan and Robert Duvall that was the major studio feature début of director Robert Altman.
Conrad received one of the two original lead-metal falcon statues used in the classic The Maltese Falcon film (1941), as a token of appreciation from Jack Warner, the head of Warner Bros. The falcon sat on a bookshelf in Conrad's house from the 1960s. Standing 11.5 in.(29.2 cm) high and weighing 45 lbs. (20.4 kg), the figurine had been slashed during the making of the film by Sydney Greenstreet's character Kasper Gutman, leaving deep cuts in its bronze patina. After Conrad's death the statue was consigned by his widow Tippy Conrad to Christie's, which estimated it would bring $30,000 to $50,000 at auction. In December 1994, Christie's sold the falcon for $398,500.
Conrad moved to television in the 1960s.
He narrated the animated Rocky and Bullwinkle TV series from 1959 to 1964 (as "Bill Conrad"). He returned to voice work as the narrator of This Man Dawson, a 33-episode syndicated crime drama starring Keith Andes in the 1959-1960 television season and then became the familiar voice narrating The Fugitive, starring David Janssen, on ABC television from 1963–67.
He performed the role of Denethor in the 1980 animated TV version of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Return of the King. Conrad intoned a rhyming narration heard over the credits of 1970 John Wayne film Western Chisum. From 1973 to 1978, Conrad narrated TV nature program The Wild, Wild World of Animals and, in 1974, a public-service announcement about littering, for Keep America Beautiful. The announcement became known as "The Crying Indian." He later narrated The Making of Star Wars (1977), the 1978 World Series U.S.-baseball highlight film, and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979).
Other voice work included narration for Knight Rider and The Highwayman, both TV series. Late in life with a voice no longer as strong as the one familiar to his fans, he narrated the opening and closing scenes of 1991 Bruce Willis feature film Hudson Hawk.
He guest starred in NBC's science-fiction series The Man and the Challenge In 1962 in TV series, Conrad starred in an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and guest starred in episodes of ABC's crime drama Target: The Corruptors!. The 1970s also saw him starring in the first of three television detective series which would bring him an added measure of renown, Cannon, which was broadcast on CBS from 1971–76.
While starring in the show, he weighed a hefty 230 pounds (104 kg), and two seasons later, Conrad grew to a portly 260 pounds (118 kg) or more. He joked: "People who were on Weight Watchers were banned from watching the show." And he starred in two other TV series, Nero Wolfe (1981) and, with Joe Penny, Jake and the Fatman (1987–92).
He and Sam Peckinpah directed episodes of NBC's Klondike in the 1960–1961 season. Conrad's credits as a director include episodes of The Rifleman, Bat Masterson, Route 66, Have Gun – Will Travel, and 77 Sunset Strip, as well as ABC's crime drama Target: The Corruptors!.
In 1965, Conrad directed and produced two theatrical films: Brainstorm, starring Jeffrey Hunter and Anne Francis, and Two on a Guillotine. Conrad had previously directed Jeffrey Hunter in the pilot episode of what was to be a Warner Bros. TV series, Temple Houston.
Conrad had one son, Christopher, by his first wife, June Nelson, who died in 1977 after over 30 years of marriage. In 1980, Conrad married Tipton "Tippy" Stringer (1930–2010), a TV pioneer and the widow of NBC newscaster Chet Huntley.
Conrad died from congestive heart failure and was buried in the Lincoln Terrace section of Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery, California.
Conrad was posthumously elected to the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1997.