William Conrad yearned to do nothing
The Cannon star just wanted to sit still.
"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."