William Conrad was the secret voice behind these pop culture classics from your childhood

The man who played Cannon played a unseen part in the legacy of Star Wars, Buck Rogers and The Fugitive.

As the star of Cannon, William Conrad made for one unlikely — and awesome — action hero. Heavy set and middle-aged, Cannon was quick to apply rough justice on criminals. The detective would climb out of his ice blue Lincoln Continental and slap around a hooligan without second thought. He even had a trademark fighting move — the Cannon belly bump.

While Conrad was a wonderful physical actor, his long career was perhaps reliant on his deep, authoritative voice. He began, naturally, in radio, most notably as the star in Gunsmoke. His Marshal Matt Dillon was deemed better heard than seen, however, and the role was recast with James Arness when the show made the leap to television.

But Conrad would get a chance to quietly — well, not "quietly," more surreptitiously — work on the Gunsmoke TV series years later. He narrated an episode in the 19th season. That was just one of his many notable and overlooked voice-over gigs. 

Here are some more projects you will probably fondly recall from your childhood. Yes, Conrad was the narrator in all of them.

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1. Rocky and Bullwinkle



Rocky and His Friends, better known as the The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, lovingly spoofed the old film serials of cinemas earliest days. There was a dastardly villain tying damsels to railroad tracks. Each episode ended with a cliffhanger — over which William Conrad would announce two potential titles, something along the lines of, "Be with us next time for 'Avalanche Is Better Than None,' or 'Snow's Your Old Man!'" Half a decade later, Batman would do a similar thing. But it seemed funnier in Conrad's stentorian voice.

2. The Fugitive



A train speeds through the night. "Name: Richard Kimble. Profession: Doctor of Medicine. Destination: death row," Conrad declares, as Kimble gazes at his reflection in the window. "Richard Kimble ponders his fate, as he looks at the world for the last time… and sees only darkness." The locomotive derails! The chase is on! Each episode of this perfect thriller opened in the same manner, and it grabbed you by the guts each time. Conrad helped set the tone as much as the noir poetry of the opening.

3. That unforgettable "Keep America Beautiful" Public Service Announcement



His name was Iron Eyes Cody, but he was best known for shedding a single tear. The actor became a pop culture icon in the 1970s due to this lasting anti-pollution PSA. As Cody paddled his canoe through the filthy waters alongside a factory, Conrad intoned, "Some people have a deep, abiding respect for the natural beauty that was once this country… and some people don't." Cut to some jerk in a speeding car, throwing his trash out the window at Cody's feet. Cue the crying. Without Conrad's affecting narration, it would have seemed sillier.

4. Gunsmoke - "Women for Sale"



In season 19, two decades after he was passed up for the role of Matt Dillon, Conrad lent his voice to the two-part tale "Women for Sale." For those familiar with the radio series, it must have been weird to hear Matt Dillon 1.0 narrating a story for Matt Dillon 2.0.

5. The Making of Star Wars



After the unpredictable, unprecedented blockbuster of Star Wars, there were loads of specials to continue mining its success. On September 16, 1977, mere months after the original theatrical release, ABC aired this behind-the-scenes look at the movie. It was billed as "The Making of Star Wars …as Told by C-3PO and R2-D2," but William Conrad was the true narrator. In his warm leather voice, Conrad detailed the creation of the sci-fi spectacle. It was one of the earliest demystifying documentaries of this kind, one that inspired thousands of children to become filmmakers themselves. Oddly, Conrad's original narration was replaced on the VHS version.

Image: Lucasfilm / IMDb

6. Buck Rogers in the 25th Century



Already linked to the Star Wars universe, Conrad was the obvious choice to narrate this small-screen space adventure that followed in its wake. If you needed to explain a concept or backstory in 30 seconds, Conrad was your man. We miss when TV shows would clearly explain themselves like this. "For 500 years, Buck Rogers drifted through a world in which reality and fantasy merged into a timeless dream," Conrad proclaimed each week in the opening credits.

7. The Lone Ranger



Conrad returned to his cowboy roots in this cartoon reboot, part of The Tarzan/Lone Ranger Adventure Hour. Few have ever been better at blurting, "Hi-Yo, Silver! Away!" Not only did he narrate, he played the Lone Ranger, as well.

Image: Filmation

8. Manimal



The crime-solving adventures of a shape-shifting man, Manimal was pure, delicious 1980s cheese. It opened with the roar of a panther, but Conrad was the real beast behind the microphone, providing uncredited narration for the action hour.

Image: 20th Century Fox Television

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GOOSEYGOOSE9 3 months ago
William Conrad had replaced jack Webb over at Warner bros in 1963. Jack Webb replaced William t Orr in 1960.joining Paul monash and Walter grauman forming MOG productions on march 11,1960. First series was cain’s hundred with mgm
Television then in 1964 with Peyton place at 20th century-fox television followed by blue light then the felony squad then Judd for the defense.then lancer then bracken’s world.
GOOSEYGOOSE9 11 months ago
Please air perry mason 9 am
Cannon 10 am
GOOSEYGOOSE9 11 months ago
William Conrad Did Play Nero Wolfe.
GOOSEYGOOSE9 11 months ago
William Conrad Had Narrated The Fugitive.
GOOSEYGOOSE9 11 months ago
William Conrad Had Replaced Jack Webb Over At Warner Bros Television Division.
GOOSEYGOOSE9 11 months ago
Please Air Cannon At 10 AM After Perry Mason And On Weeknights.
chahojo1957 13 months ago
Also note that at the intermission of Glen Larson-produced shows in the 1980s, William Conrad would say, for example, "Fall Guy will continue in a moment."
And when you mentioned his doing the voice-over for "The Lone Ranger," it reminded me that in the credits at the end of the show, it mentioned "J. Darnoc" as the voice of the Lone Ranger. Well, I figured it out, and it was "Conrad" spelled backwards!
CouchPotato19 34 months ago
Not only a great and sexy voice, but he was a hottie, as well!! Big stud!
Jesse 34 months ago
He also did narrated an animal show. I think it was called Wild Wild World of Animals. Something like that. It used to run on public stations in reruns.
CouchPotato19 Jesse 34 months ago
1977 World Series highlights on VHS. I think he narrated that.
JayStrong Jesse 33 months ago
wild wild world of animals
VBartilucci 34 months ago
Not to mention the Invaders - "How does a nightmare begin?"
Mike VBartilucci 17 months ago
The narrator of The Invaders was William Woodson, who performed the same function on Ellery Queen in 1975 - and in many movies and TV shows going back to the '50s.
Danwanda 35 months ago
This guy was all class ! I am addicted to this show! I get up super early to watch! Thank You MeTV!
JackBagley 46 months ago
He was reportedly bitter about being passed over for the TV version of "Gunsmoke" because of his weight. But he handled it like a true professional, and it wasn't as if he was going to be out of work or anything.
E18talks13 50 months ago
I have seen cannon some, but I love the Fugitive and I just realized he was the narrator a few days ago. Then, last night, Buck Rodgers came on TV on MeTV, of course, and I don't like the show, but I just so happened to hear the opening narrative and was like wow I knew it had to be him then as well. He doesn't seem to pop up in many old black and white shows, but I have seen him I believe but don't quote me, on Hitchcock hour or half hour, maybe 77 Sunset Strip and I swear something else I just saw him in, but can't remember. I know the voice though.
CouchPotato19 EricEdmond 34 months ago
Some noir movies of 40's 50's. "Sorry, Wrong Number" (1948) is a good one with Conrad as "Moreno".
MarkSpeck 50 months ago
Buck Rogers was produced by Glen A. Larson. This led to Conrad having an association with the producer throughout the '80's. He did the "Fall Guy (or Cover-Up, or Automan, or whatever show) will be right back!" and "Next on (insert show name)" announcements, as well as doing the introductory narration on Larson's 1988 series The Highwayman.

He also played himself on a Fall Guy episode entitled "Private Eyes", along with Mike Connors and Barry Newman. They ribbed each other all through the episode as to who was the better driver/fighter/kisser, etc.
CouchPotato19 MarkSpeck 34 months ago
Oh, I wanna see that episode now!!!
a16djf 52 months ago
Loved the way he was not afraid to make fun of his weight on “ Cannon”!
CouchPotato19 a16djf 34 months ago
I always had a crush on him.........and he could "put the crush on me!"
TVJunkie 65 months ago
This guy is just too cool. He looks like he could break your neck, not care and never break a sweat. The voice would convince you too. Where among today's crop of actors is there one such as he ?
TonyJohnson 65 months ago
He also narrated the short lived Sci Fi series:Quinn Martin’s Tales Of The Unexpected (1977).
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