William Conrad yearned to do nothing

The Cannon star just wanted to sit still.

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"I have no desire to produce or direct again. And, frankly, I'm not sure I have a desire to do anything else."

Those are William Conrad's words in a 1973 interview with the Ventura County Star. The actor was then in the middle of production with his detective series Cannon, a CBS show produced by Quinn Martin. 

While the demands of leading a series are certainly taxing, the article overlooks just how much time and effort William Conrad put into his career to get that far in the first place. After all, Cannon came as the culmination of more than three decades of hard work. Conrad didn't just show up on set, he put a life into building the résumé that would land him that job. 

"I'm nearly 53 years old. I've been working since I was 16. And after all those years driving myself, I've just reached the point where my motor is stuck in low gear," said Conrad.

He was, at that point, a veteran of radio, film, and television. It was his deep, heavy-sounding voice that first characterized Gunsmoke's Marshall Matt Dillon, as Conrad was the mouthpiece for the hero in the original CBS radio program.  

It wasn't just Gunsmoke that benefited from Conrad's warm yet authoritative voice; in his 50+ credits prior to Cannon, William Conrad was the "Narrator" fifteen times. So, by the time Cannon reached audiences' television sets, Conrad had been in demand for a long time.

"After Cannon goes off the air, I'd like to discover what it means just to go off and do nothing with my life," said Conrad.

He was told around that same time that Cannon's sizable audience could carry the series for many, many years. CBS informed Conrad that the series could very well continue for as long as he chose to remain the star. That was a tricky situation, though, for an actor who wanted to just stay still. Gunsmoke was, at the time, the gold standard for a long-lasting television series. But, Conrad had very little interest in staying aboard Cannon for quite that long.

"Hell, in 17 years I'd be crawling after the bad guys instead of chasing them," he said. "The rule of thumb in this business is supposed to be that after five years with a series, a lead is financially independent for life. I hope so. Because we're going into our third season -- which means I'll only have to work for two or three more years before the windfall should be mine."

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Mark 12 months ago
He lived up to that promise...Conrad and Quinn Martin agreed to end the show at the end of its 5th season.

As for his need to slow down...well, after his brief stint as Nero Wolfe, Conrad DID slow his career down. His voice could be heard on various Glen Larson TV shows ("Fall Guy will continue in a moment!", "Fall Guy is a Glen Larson production!", et al.), he was an on-camera pitchman for First Alert smoke detectors and No-Sal salt substitute, etc.

I guess the urge to act was too strong, as, after a couple of years without substantial on-camera work, he turned up on Murder, She Wrote and later in a two-part episode of Hotel. Of the latter, he said, "Every so often, I like to work, and the Hotel offer came in at the right time". Not long afterward, he accepted a role in a two-part Matlock, which led to Jake & the Fatman.
DocForbin 13 months ago
Among the narration gigs Conrad had were those for "Bullwinkle" and "The Fugitive".
Zip 13 months ago
Cannon was an interesting show, and despite William Conrad being a big, roly-poly type of guy, he could really be quite athletic when walloping the bad guys.

I also find Cannon and other shows like Mannix refreshing, in that they were no-nonsense types of guys who didn't need to "get in touch with their feelings."
They were in control of their feelings, not the other way around.
Andybandit 13 months ago
William Conrad went on to be in Cannon, Jake and the Fat Man, and other shows. After 1973.
teire 13 months ago
“Doing very little, very slowly.” The ideal retirement.
I enjoyed him in Nero Wolfe in the early 80s, that role seemed a good fit for him at that time.
LoveMETV22 13 months ago
It sounds like William Conrad had the right idea and just wanted to enjoy his well deserved reward for his years of dedicated work.
harlow1313 13 months ago
I didn't care for his show much, but I have new found respect for him, because he and I share similar attitudes.

I often say I would have made an excellent fat-buttocksed house cat, even though I am slender. I have the demeanor.
Zip harlow1313 13 months ago
But do you like lasagna?
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