James Arness is most likely best known for his role as Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke. Arness actually played the Marshall for 20 years on the iconic show, but a lot of people might not know that he wasn’t the original star to take on the role. Of course, he is the face we see when we think of Matt Dillon, but there was another man behind the marshall’s voice originally.
The character of Marshall Matt Dillon was brought to life on radio by William Conrad. Over the course of his career, Conrad held various voice roles including narrating The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and The Fugitive, according to PopCulture. Other shows Conrad narrated include F Troop and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.
As for his time working on Gunsmoke, Conrad held the role for three years. However, when the show moved to TV, James Arness was cast as the Marshall. But Conrad’s work extended far past Gunsmoke.
In addition to his voicing characters for radio, Conrad also could been seen several times on screen. The actor made appearances on other iconic shows including Matlock and Angela Lansbury’s Murder, She Wrote.
As for his last live-action role, Conrad played Jason Lochinvar “Fatman” McCabe in crime series Jake and the Fatman. In his final Hollywood role, Conrad narrated the 1991 comedy action Bruce Willis film Hudson Hawk.
William Conrad Working Behind the Camera
Conrad also took on several roles behind the camera with work as a producer and director. He served as a producer on the movie Two on a Guillotine as well as Assignment to Kill. He also directed shows like GE True, Have Gun–Will Travel, and Target: The Corruptors!
Most notably, Conrad even got to direct a couple episodes of Gunsmoke.
Conrad passed away in 1994 in the age of 73.