Obituary: William Conrad

William Conrad, actor, producer and director: born Louisville, Kentucky 27 September 1920; married (one son); died California 11 February 1994.

AS THE PRIVATE eye Frank Cannon in the Seventies, William Conrad proved that you do not have to be young, slim and fit to make it as a television detective. It was the portly American actor's biggest role, although his booming voice had previously been heard as the narrator of other international successes such as The Fugitive and The Invaders.

Born in Kentucky in 1920, Conrad was the son of a theatre-owner who moved to southern California, where he excelled at drama and literature while at school.

He began his career as an announcer, writer and director for the Los Angeles radio station KMPC, before becoming a Second World War fighter-pilot in 1943. Two years later, he left the US Air Force with the rank of captain, having finished his time in it as producer-director of the Armed Forces Radio Service.

Back in civvy street, Conrad acted in radio dramas and was the original Marshal Matt Dillon in the so-called adult western Gunsmoke, which ran for 11 years on CBS, before it switched to television, with James Arness taking over the lead role.

Conrad entered films in 1946 with The Killers and followed it with pictures such as Sorry, Wrong Number (1948), East Side, West Side (1949), Lone Star (1952), The Desert Song (1953), The Naked Jungle (1954) and -30- (1959, retitled Deadline Midnight in Britain), playing the newspaper city editor.

As a producer for Warner Brothers, he made a string of feature films, including An American Dream (1966, retitled See You in Hell, Darling for British release), A Covenant With Death (1966), First to Fight (1967) and The Cool Ones (1967), and also directed My Blood Runs Cold, Brainstorm and Two On a Guillotine (all 1965).

On television, he produced and directed Klondike and This Man Dawson, produced the popular private eye series 77 Sunset Strip (starring Efrem Zimbalist Jnr and Edd Byrnes), and directed 35 episodes of the series True.

His voice was one of those heard in the classic Fifties American animated children's series Rocky and His Friends, whose sophisticated comedy made it appeal just as much to adults, and he narrated the hit Sixties series The Fugitive (1963-67, starring David Janssen) and The Invaders (1966-67, starring Roy Thinnes), as well as the 1976 television movie The Macahans: How the West Was Won (starring James Arness and a pilot for the series).

But it was as the fat, balding detective Frank Cannon that Conrad found small-screen fame. Cannon, which started in 1970 with a television movie of the same name, was turned into a series the following year and ran for five years, becoming one of the most successful programmes of its genre.

'For 15 years before Cannon,' said Conrad in the middle of the programme's run, 'I couldn't get much work as an actor because I was too fat and unattractive. I'm 53 years old, 5ft 9in tall, look like an overfed walrus, and I'm bald to boot.'

Ten years after the programme began, Conrad revived the character in the television movie The Return of Frank Cannon (1980). There was no room for another series, but Conrad bounced back with a new character, the tough policeman- turned-district-attorney Jason 'Fatman' McCabe, in Jake and the Fatman, first in a 1987 television movie, then in a moderately successful series (1987-92).

An animal-lover and conservationist, Conrad was also known in the US as narrator of The Wild, Wild World of Animals (1973-78).

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent