The ‘Gunsmoke’ Story (With 2 Rare Clips)
First, please click on this link and listen closely to the first :60 seconds…it will reveal three surprises.
The first surprise…’Gunsmoke’ started as a CBS Radio show. The second surprise is how the series got it’s famous name. The third surprise is the familiar voice of William Conrad who was the radio star of ‘Gunsmoke’…Matt Dillon.
A fourth surprise is that you just listened to the first ever episode of ‘Gunsmoke’, The radio series aired from April 26, 1952 (“Billy the Kid,” written by Walter Newman), until June 18, 1961, on CBS. It starred William Conrad as Marshal Matt Dillon, Howard McNear as Doc Charles Adams, Georgia Ellis as Kitty Russell, and Parley Baer as Dillon’s assistant Chester Wesley Proudfoot.
Conrad was one of the last actors who auditioned for the role of Marshal Dillon. With a powerful, distinctive voice, Conrad was already one of radio’s busiest actors and the show’s creator Norman MacDonnell thought Conrad might be overexposed. During his audition, however, Conrad won him over after reading only a few lines. Dillon as portrayed by Conrad was a lonely, isolated man, toughened by a hard life. MacDonnell later claimed, “Much of Matt Dillon’s character grew out of Bill Conrad.
By the way, it was CBS head William Paley’s idea to create the show. In the late 1940s, Paley, a fan of the Philip Marlowe radio serial, asked his programming chief to develop a western series that would be like a “Philip Marlowe of the Old West.” Harry Ackerman, who had developed the Philip Marlowe series took on the task with the help of MacDonnell.
The TV series ran from September 10, 1955, to March 31, 1975, on CBS with 635 total episodes. The first 12 seasons aired Saturdays at 10 p.m., seasons 13 through 16 aired Mondays at 7:30 p.m.and the last four seasons aired Mondays at 8 p.m. It is the longest running, primetime series of the 20th century. Today, it still has the highest number of scripted episodes for any, U.S. primetime, commercial live-action television series. In ’61, the show went from a half hour to an hour.
John Wayne, may or may not have been offered the lead role (there are conflicting versions), but he did push hard for his friend James Arness to star as Matt Dillon. Wayne even introduced the show to CBS television audiences in the first episode. Here is the first episode of the television version of ‘Gunsmoke’, complete with Wayne’s intro. Enjoy and share!