Tag Archives: Gunsmoke

13 March: The man who grew up the western

Meston (seated) with Macdonnell---the western wouldn't be kid stuff anymore. (Photo: CBS.)

Meston (seated) with Macdonnell—the western wouldn’t be kid stuff anymore. (Photo: CBS.)

It may yet surprise old-time radio lovers/collectors of the 21st Century that half the brains behind radio’s arguable most groundbreaking western never won any award recognising his skill.

Colorado-born John Meston didn’t come to Norman Macdonnell to co-create Gunsmoke out of nowhere. Meston and Macdonnell had worked together previously on the respected but often ill-scheduled CBS adventure series Escape. Moreover, Meston by then had worked his way up to become CBS’s story editor. He shared with Macdonnell a feeling that there could be more to the radio western than the typical fare isolated in the children’s hours, which sounded too often to have been written and acted that way, too.

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21 February: The hard road out of Dodge

William Conrad, Georgia Ellis (Miss Kitty), Gunsmoke mainstays. (Photo: CBS.)

William Conrad, Georgia Ellis (Miss Kitty), Gunsmoke mainstays. (Photo: CBS.)

With sixty years’ hindsight available, it will be possible to suggest that Gunsmoke came to radio just half a decade late. Written brilliantly for what it is, a horse opera without the cliches and melodramatic flourishes that have turned too many radio Westerns into comic fodder, Gunsmoke proves a hard sell to prospective sponsors in 1952-53.

The reason proves only too simple: network television has now taken stronghold enough that network radio is no longer a primary lure for sponsors no matter how good the show in question. Even if Gunsmoke‘s announcer could sign off truthfully by noting America now listens to 105 million radios, the nation has turned in earnest to television and won’t be turning away.

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The ballad of Bill Conrad: Old-time radio listening, 10 July

Gunsmoke: Reluctant Violence (CBS, 1960)

William Conrad (right, with director Norman Macdonnell), bringing to original life the "lonely, sad, tragic" Matt Dillon. (Photo: CBS.)

William Conrad (right, with director Norman Macdonnell), bringing to original life the “lonely, sad, tragic” Matt Dillon. (Photo: CBS.)

In person, William Conrad resembles anything but the laconic, rugged, but quietly humane federal marshal he’s played with such jarring realism on radio for almost a decade even as network radio is on life support. The portly actor with the quietly stentorian voice simply doesn’t reek of horse sweat and tapered manliness as a 1950s sensibility seems to prefer, reaching instead for James Arness when the show arrived on television in 1955.

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A Depression farce: Old-time radio listening, 30 November-1 December

Lux Radio Theater: A Man’s Castle (CBS, 1 December 1941)

Early and elemental Tracy . . . (Photo: Unknown publicity photo)

Spencer Tracy reprises one of his earliest—and most arresting—film roles in a performance that’s just about as arresting even with the requisite radio adaptation and editing.

As millions are jobless in the Great Depression, a squatter’s camper (Tracy) takes in a homeless young lady (Ingrid Bergman, in the Loretta Young film role). He feeds her as she makes him a castle inside a shack and falls in love with him despite his restless nature. There’s just one little hitch: when he discovers she’s pregnant, he wants nothing more than to hop the first freight train out of town.

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Two shades of Lurene: Old-time radio listening, 20 November

The Whistler: Death Sees Double (CBS, 1944)

Radio Life staged this photograph to salute Lurene Tuttle’s jaw-dropping turn as identical twins on The Whistler . . .

Yes, this is the same as the 6 November 1944 episode known first as “The Twins.” Unfortunately, “The Twins” was pre-empted, allowing CBS’s national network to carry a speech by Republican presidential aspirant Thomas E. Dewey, the former New York governor challenging Franklin D. Roosevelt, in the first of Dewey’s two failed White House bids.

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