William Conrad

Active - 1946 - 1991  |   Born - Sep 27, 1920 in Louisville, Kentucky, United States  |   Died - Feb 11, 1994   |   Genres - Drama, Crime, Thriller, Mystery

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Actor/director/producer William Conrad started his professional career as a musician. After World War II service, he began building his reputation in films and on Hollywood-based radio programs. Due to his bulk and shifty-eyed appearance, he was cast in films as nasty heavies, notably in The Killers (1946) (his first film), Sorry Wrong Number (1948) and The Long Wait (1954). On radio, the versatile Conrad was a fixture on such moody anthologies as Escape and Suspense; he also worked frequently with Jack "Dragnet" Webb during this period, and as late as 1959 was ingesting the scenery in the Webb-directed film 30. Conrads most celebrated radio role was as Marshal Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke, which he played from 1952 through 1961 (the TV Gunsmoke, of course, went to James Arness, who physically matched the character that the portly Conrad had shaped aurally). In the late 1950s, Conrad went into the production end of the business at Warner Bros., keeping his hand in as a performer by providing the hilariously strident narration of the cartoon series Rocky and His Friends and its sequel The Bullwinkle Show. During the early 1960s, Conrad also directed such films as Two on a Guillotine (1964) and Brainstorm (1965). Easing back into acting in the early 1970s, Conrad enjoyed a lengthy run as the title character in the detective series Cannon (1971-76), then all too briefly starred as a more famous corpulent crime solver on the weekly Nero Wolfe. Conrad's final TV series was as one-half of Jake and the Fatman (Joe Penny was Jake), a crime show which ran from 1987 through 1991.

Movie Highlights

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  • Received his Air Force commission on the day he married his first wife, June Nelson, in 1943.
  • Served as a producer-director of the Armed Forces Radio Service during World War II.
  • Played Marshal Matt Dillon in the original CBS radio version of Gunsmoke.
  • Second wife, Tippy Stringer, was the widow of newscaster Chet Huntley.
  • Was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1977.
  • Though he's not in the movie, was given one of the original Maltese Falcon statue props by studio head Jack Warner.