‘Gunsmoke’: The Original Matt Dillon Actor Narrated This John Wayne Classic

by Madison Miller
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William Conrad’s deep and resonant voice first introduced the world to Marshal Matt Dillon on “Gunsmoke.”

Before James Arness played Dillon for 20 years on the longstanding Western series, Conrad played the character on the radio. He played the role from 1952 to 1961.

The start of the show usually began with a lively description such as, “the story of the violence that moved west with young America, and the story of a man who moved with it.” Then Conrad’s booming voice would come in saying, “I’m that man, Matt Dillon, United States Marshal – the first man they look for and the last they want to meet. It’s a chancy job, and it makes a man watchful … and a little lonely.” 

People had grown used to the deep voice of William Conrad during his nine years on the radio narrating “Gunsmoke.” His voice had been the trademark of his career. In fact, a popular John Wayne film even had him as the narrator.

Conrad narrated the 1970 Wayne film called “Chisum.” The cast of that film also includes Forrest Tucker, Christopher George, Ben Johnson, and Glenn Corbett. The film is loosely based on characters from the Lincoln County War of 1878 in New Mexico territory. John Chisum, portrayed by Wayne, was a historical figure during that period. Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid are also figures represented in the film.

William Conrad Career Outside of ‘Gunsmoke’

Unfortunately for Conrad, the directors and creator of “Gunsmoke” didn’t think that he was the right fit for the television version of the story. Instead, Arness was cast and it would become the trademark role of his career.

Although he lost out on 20 years of “Gunsmoke,” Conrad still had a very successful career.

According to MeTV, Conrad held onto a career through his highly desired deep and authoritative voice. He would make an audio voice appearance in the “Gunsmoke” series during the 19th season. He narrated a single episode.

Conrad’s voice is also recognizable in a variety of different projects over the years. He was the narrator of “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle” from 1959 to 1961. He also opened a show called “The Fugitive” while it was on from 1963 to 1967.

Perhaps even more recognizable was a PSA he did in 1971. It was called “Keep America Beautiful.” It was an anti-pollution PSA that featured Iron Eyes Cody shedding a single tear as he paddles along in filthy water. Conrad says, “Some people have a deep, abiding respect for the natural beauty that was once this country… and some people don’t.” It continues to be a highly popular pop-cultural image.

He also worked with “Manimal,” “The Lone Ranger,” “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century,” and “The Making of Star Wars.” His voice is a pivotal factor in several TV shows and films during that time period.

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