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William Conrad (1920)

William Cann

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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 after his World War II service and played a series of character roles in films beginning with the quintessential film noir, The Killers . He created the role of Marshall Matt Dillon for the 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 transitioned 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 the TV series Cannon (1971–1976) and Nero Wolfe , and in the crime drama Jake and the Fatman (1987–1992).


 early life
Conrad was the son of a theatre 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 US Army Air Force 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 the Western program Gunsmoke. Conrad voiced Dillon for the show's 9 year run. In addition, Conrad wrote the June 1953 episode "Sundown". When Gunsmoke was adapted for television in 1955, executives at CBS were not interested in casting Conrad or his radio costars despite a campaign to get them to change their minds. Ironically, he was under contract 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 the Edgar Lee Masters poetry volume Spoon River Anthology. Because of his CBS contract, he sometimes appeared on other network radio shows as "Julius Krelboyne".


Among Conrad's various film roles, where he was usually cast as threatening figures, perhaps his most notable role was his first credited one, as one of the gunmen sent to eliminate Burt Lancaster in The Killers. He also appeared in: Body and Soul; Sorry, Wrong Number; Joan of Arc; and The Naked Jungle.

Conrad moved to the production end of the film business in the 1960s, producing and directing for Warner Bros. His most notable film was Brainstorm , 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 , a science-fiction thriller starring James Caan and Robert Duvall that was the major-studio feature debut of Robert Altman.

Conrad received one of the two original lead falcon statues used in the classic 1941 film, The Maltese Falcon, as a token of appreciation from Warner Bros. The falcon sat on a bookshelf in Conrad's den since the 1960s, after it was given to him by Jack Warner, head of the studio. Standing 11.5 inches high and weighing 45 pounds, the figurine had been slashed in the film by Sydney Greenstreet's character Kasper Gutman, leaving deep cuts in its bronze patina. After Conrad's death the falcon 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 the falcon was sold for $398,500.

Conrad moved to television in the 1960s.
He narrated the animated Rocky and Bullwinkle series from 1959–1964 (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, then became the familiar voice narrating The Fugitive, starring David Janssen, on ABC television from 1963–1967.

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 the 1970 John Wayne Western Chisum. From 1973 to 1978, Conrad narrated a nature program titled The Wild, Wild World of Animals. In 1974, Conrad narrated a public service announcement about littering. The PSA became known as "The Crying Indian." He later narrated The Making of Star Wars , the 1978 World Series highlight film, and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century .

Other voicework included narration for Knight Rider and The Highwayman.

Late in his life, with a voice no longer as strong as the one familiar to his fans, Conrad narrated the opening and closing scenes of the 1991 Bruce Willis feature film, Hudson Hawk.

He guest starred in NBC's science fiction series The Man and the Challenge. In 1962, 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 ran on CBS from 1971–1976. While starring in the show, he weighed a beefy , and two seasons later, Conrad ballooned to a portly or more; he joked, "People who were on Weight Watchers were banned from watching the show." He starred in both Nero Wolfe and Jake and the Fatman (1987–1992), with Joe Penny.

He was also the on-camera spokesman for First Alert fire prevention products for many years, as well as Hai Karate men's cologne.

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 the theatrical film Brainstorm, starring Jeffrey Hunter and Anne Francis. He had previously directed Hunter in the pilot episode of a Warner Bros. television series, Temple Houston.

Conrad died from congestive heart failure, and is buried in the Lincoln Terrace section, at Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery.

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Whole or part of the information contained in this card come from the Wikipedia article "William Conrad", licensed under CC-BY-SA full list of contributors here.