Tag Archives: William Conrad

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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16 April: Conrad’s credo

“There were a lot of actors,” William Conrad once said retrospectively of his colleagues in network radio, “who were glib and superficial no matter what they did. But the good actors were just as good as any actors in any medium.”

And tonight he performs a guest shot that proves he could have included himself in that company. The company of the good actors, that is . . .

TUNE IN TONIGHT:

Night Beat: A World All His Own (NBC, 1950)

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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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Twelve children and an iron will: Old-time radio listening, 19 October

The CBS Radio Workshop: The Legend of Annie Christmas (CBS, 1956)

Amanda Randolph brings the mythological Annie Christmas to staggering life . . . (Photo: CBS)

A New Orleans legend of a tall tale that once inspired generations of black children, and possibly no few white children, is given an unforgettable radio treatment tonight.

Picking up where the legendary Columbia Workshop left off several years earlier, The CBS Radio Workshop may be destined for a single season. If it may have arrived too late to rescue network radio from its irrevocable fadeaway, its transcendent bicoastal efforts—the series alternates weeks between East Coast and West Coast productions—produce numerous highlights including and especially “The Legend of Annie Christmas.”

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