Friday, September 27, 2013

“Tired of the everyday grind…?”


Over at the Radio Spirits blog this morning, we reverently doff our caps as we eat cake and ice cream because “The Man of a Thousand Voice” was born on this date today in 1920.  I’ve mentioned so many times on the blog how much of a fan I am of the man who—well, let’s not mince words here: he was the definitive Matt Dillon.  (Apologies to all the James Arness fans out there, but it’s true.  And I say this as an unrepentant TV Gunsmoke junkie.)  Anyhoo, Bill Conrad had one of the most distinctive voices on radio…and yet, he was capable of playing many roles and voicing more dialects than you could imagine.  And if I spot him in an old movie I know that no matter how bad the flick might turn out to be, even money says he’s the best thing in it.  (Try watching Dial 1119 sometime if you don’t believe me.)

Bill’s signature TV series, Cannon, is back on Me-TV (it airs on Sundays at 5pm EST as part of a crime drama block), and the channel also continues to carry The Fugitive on Sundays at midnight, so if you need a Conrad fix and don’t have any DVD’s of the other two shows you’ll have to wait until the weekend.  Someone mentioned to me that Boomerang has brought back Rocky and His Friends/The Bullwinkle Show on Saturdays at 7am; we no longer receive that channel due to Rancho Yesteryear financial cutbacks…but as I patiently explained to Mater when she was sizing up my DVD collection for sale, “the moose and squirrel are non-negotiable.”

In the meantime—nothing much to report here, but I did put together an article on The Bowery Boys over at ClassicFlix…and while you’re there, be sure to check out the rest of the fine articles written by the crème de la crème of classic film writers.  More stuff to come soon.

13 comments:

Amanda said...

I simply adore Bill Conrad. What a pro! And I definitely agree - he is Matt Dillon.

Loving Rocky and Bullwinkle on Boomerang. It's on at a terrible hour, but thank goodness for DVR!

Andrew Leal said...

My favorite sentence: "If you turned on a radio back then and didn’t hear William Conrad…chances are it needed to be taken in for repairs."

One of the few shows which showcased him with comparative rarity was "Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar" (at least in the Johnstone/Bob Bailey era). So it was a thrill to tune in part of a serial installment and hear "Johnny! Johnny Dollar!" at the top, from William Conrad as an irate, aging, mob boss now running a casino: thick-voiced and somewhat slurred (implying dentures or drink and age, either of which fit my mental picture of the character). He was only in that one installment of the week's epic, but man, what a jolt of life.

Matt Dillon was undoubtedly his greatest role (although Leiningen has to be mentioned given how often he did that) and I adored his (often weekly) work on one of my all-time favorite shows, "CBS Radio Workshop" (especially "Legend of Jimmy Blue-Eyes," "A Matter of Logic," and the Conrad-directed episodes "1489 Words" and "Epitaphs," and as Richard Burbage in "Interview with Shakespeare").

But I think "Crime Classics" may have given Conrad the most room to just play around and cut loose, beyond typecasting, even more varied than his work on "Escape." Elliott Lewis let him play a grunting Pat Garrett, a wonderfully hammy Blackbeard, a giggling and rather fey Nero ("Mother! Mother, Mother, MOTHER! Kill her!"), and pretty deadpan as King Arthur (I admit my memories of that one are considerably less vivid.

Also, any bloopers or rehearsal audio, whether from "Gunsmoke" or "Bullwinkle" is priceless: the fact that the Man of a Thousand Voice went into high-pitched fits of the giggles whenever he started laughing, and usually had trouble stopping (which Paul Frees in particular took advantage of). And I'm averse to profanity as a whole, but there's still something magical about Conrad interrupting George Walsh's usual "Gunsmoke" closing to clarify that tonight's episode was written by "that son of a b**** John Meston."

grouchomarxist said...

We've been re-watching the entire Rocky and Bullwinkle series on HuluPlus, here at Casa Marxist. One thing's for sure: Conrad must have had an absolute blast working on that show. He was the perfect choice for narrator.

Since they've been recommended so highly by you guys and others, I'll definitely have to check out some of his radio shows.

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

Andrew pointed out:

there's still something magical about Conrad interrupting George Walsh's usual "Gunsmoke" closing to clarify that tonight's episode was written by "that son of a b**** John Meston."

Those outtakes where Conrad keeps breaking up doing the promo for the episode "Lynching Man" -- that's probably when I fell in love with the guy, because his attempts to maintain his composure are positively priceless.

Andrew Leal said...

A theater friend surprised me last year by quoting "They say the man who was hung was well hanged."

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

grouchomarxist promised:

Since they've been recommended so highly by you guys and others, I'll definitely have to check out some of his radio shows.

If you jot down the ones mentioned by Mr. Leal, you can't go wrong -- the only ones I would add to the list are Escape's "Three Skeleton Key" (11/15/49) and "Poison" (07/28/50) plus a May 1, 1956 Suspense broadcast, "The Waxwork" (Conrad plays all the characters!).

Stacia said...

Ivan, I think you and I share the same love of Conrad's line from The Killers, "They all come here and eat the big dinner."

I hadn't thought of Conrad's radio work for years, but all this talk has reminded me how much dad really liked Johnny Dollar, and that I need to go find myself some episodes, along with the bloopers.

I am aware that it is Just Not Done to say such things, but Conrad had the most beautiful eyes I've ever seen. You could just get lost in those eyes of his.

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

My BBFF remarked:

Ivan, I think you and I share the same love of Conrad's line from The Killers, "They all come here and eat the big dinner."

My mother has specifically asked me not to use that line at Thanksgiving, which is mostly when I do it. HA! Like that's going to happen.

ClassicBecky said...

Is that picture with Charlton Heston from "The Naked Jungle" by any chance? It's been a while since I've seen it, but I loved that movie about the army ants eating grass, trees, people, whatever.......... Just wondered...

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

Is that picture with Charlton Heston from "The Naked Jungle" by any chance?

Correctamundo, o Classic one! Sadly, Bill is relegated to the supporting role of The Commissioner...but in the radio version, he had Heston's part.

ClassicBecky said...

I'm always amazed at how smart I am ... I didn't know Bill had the Heston part on radio. So I guess I'm not as smart as I thought -- NAH, yes I am!

Stacia said...

Looks like I've got a new Thanksgiving tradition!

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