William Conrad's tense showdown with Warner brass

Conrad's voice work was a sore subject.

And you thought you had a hostile workplace. 

William Conrad was under fire his whole career. As Marshall Matt Dillon on the radio broadcast version of Gunsmoke, Conrad was ducking and diving all over Dodge City. Then, he transitioned over to directing, one of the most stressful occupations on a Hollywood set. He helmed episodes of shows like This Man Dawson and Klondike. While doing so, he was tasked with liaising between each show's creative team and their financial backers. Talk about nerve-wracking.

Conrad was happy to make the switch back to acting when he starred in Cannon. He wouldn't have to take his work home with him anymore, planning the next day's shot sequences and budgeting for time. While acting has its own set of difficulties, they're mostly contained within the workday. Actors show up, hit their marks, say their lines, and go home. Maybe they'll rehearse somewhere in between. But, for the most part, at least according to Conrad, the work was easier than directing.

However, not too many in Hollywood knew of Conrad's secret side gig work, where he'd nearly doubly his salary using his voice in commercials and cartoons. This work drew the ire of Jack Warner, president of Warner Bros. Studios. As journalist Bill Mahan recalled in a 1971 article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Warner wasn't ready to let Conrad off the hook for his sneaky side hustles.

"Young man," said the executive, "I understand my wife was watching Bullwinkle on television the other morning and she thought the person doing the narration sounded a lot like you."

There was a hush as the other executives thought over this new information. Conrad, for his part, wasn't ready to reveal his hand.

"Also, I was listening to the car radio on the way to the studio this morning, and a voice that sounded very much like yours was doing the Richfield Oil Commercial."

Warner continued, "Thinking back, it seems to me I've been hearing a voice like yours doing the Chrysler commercial, Qantas Airlines commercial, Zenith television commercials, and a good many others."

The silence was deafening as the room eagerly anticipated Conrad's response. The man that would be Cannon shifted in his seat and lit up a cigar. 

"No sir," said Conrad. "You don't understand. What I do for you is moonlighting."

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13 Comments

GOOSEYGOOSE9 23 days ago
Wiliam Conrad had narrated the fugitive.
MichaelPowers 24 days ago
William Conrad was a fighter pilot in World War II, who left with the rank of captain. Flew his plane under the Golden Gate bridge twice. He was a producer & director who well knew the inner-workings of studios and networks.
He wasn't intimidated by anyone in films or television.
Did he have a giant car radio in the trunk of his WWII P-51 Mustang?
Lantern 24 days ago
William Conrad as Matt Dillon in the radio Gunsmoke was outstanding.
CannonsMustache Lantern 23 days ago
I used to stream episodes of radio Gunsmoke from Apple and Amazon as I traveled for work until I retired in 2021. The radio version is still one of my favorites.
GOOSEYGOOSE9 25 days ago
William Conrad was narrator of the tv series the fugitive and what movies he did for Warner bros.he narrated bullwinkle.wild wild world of animals,he was cannon and Nero Wolfe he played a threatening figure in noir movies he narrated Geronimo
He narrated a child is waiting,he narrated Mattel zero m commercials,he narrated movies a
And tv series.he replaced jack Webb at Warner bros.television division he produced and directed big screen movies he was executive producer of Warner bros movies. William t Orr left Warner bros in 1960 as well as joined paul monash and Walter grauman forming MOG productions on march 11,1960.
TheKodakKid 26 days ago
Conrad was a prolific radio actor. He turned up all over the place. This includes doing the opening narration for “Escape” for a few years. To keep from stemming overexposed, or to cover when he did moonlighting for another network, Conrad would sometimes work under an alias. The one he used most frequently was “Julius Crowbait.”

Even when he would change his voice, there would be something familiar about it. After listening closely, you could then generally figure out it was him.
MikefromJersey 26 days ago
Great story, and kudos to whichever staff member wrote it, I never saw the punchline coming.
My father was a publisher and editor and would have given you 5 stars.
GOOSEYGOOSE9 26 days ago
What movies did William
Conrad do for the Warner bros studio.please name all of them.how many.
Or you could just go to IMDB.com yourself and do the legwork
DocForbin 26 days ago
Let's not forget that he was also the narrator on The Fugitive.
Runeshaper 26 days ago
Hahaha 😆 such a GREAT response!
GOOSEYGOOSE9 26 days ago
William Conrad permanantly replaced jack Webb at Warner bros. William t Orr left Warner bros jack Webb taken over Warner bros in 1960.William t Orr joined Paul Monash and Walter grauman forming MOG productions march 4,1960.
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