'Gunsmoke': James Arness Wasn't the Original Matt Dillon

Actor James Arness was most well known for his role as Marshal Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke, but many may not know that he wasn't the original star to take on the role. In 1952, when Gunsmoke first debuted as a radio series on CBS, the role of Matt Dillon was voiced by actor William Conrad. It wasn't until the TV series debuted in 1955 that Arness took over the role in Dillon's live-action debut. Notably, Conrad auditioned to play Dillon for the show, but it is said that the network was concerned that his weight would be an issue.

According to GunsmokeNet, another legendary star also auditioned for the role as well: Raymond Burr, better known as the original star of Perry Mason. However, Gunsmoke's first TV director Charles Marquis Warren was quoted as saying, "His voice was fine but he was too big. When he stood up, his chair stood with him." Ultimately, the role went to Arness, who played it perfectly, but the show's co-creator Norman Macdonnell once said that "much of Matt Dillon's character grew out of Bill Conrad."

While many likely won't remember Conrad from his days voicing Matt Dillon on the radio, he is very recognizable from some other voice roles. He narrated The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle from 1959 to 1964, as well as The Fugitive, which ran from 1963 until 1967. Conrad also did the narration on other classic shows such as F Troop and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

Conrad was no stranger to appearing in TV shows as he once turned up in Matlock, as well as Murder, She Wrote. Conrad delivered his final live-action role as Jason Lochinvar "Fatman" McCabe in the late '80/early '90s crime series Jake and the Fatman. Conrad's final Hollywood role was as the narrator of the 1991 Bruce Willis action-comedy film Hudson Hawk.

It is also important to note that Conrad was not just an actor, as he produced and directed a number of projects as well. He served as producer on films such as Two on a Guillotine and Assignment to Kill. During his time behind the camera, Conrad directed shows like GE True, Have Gun–Will Travel, and Target: The Corruptors! He also directed a couple of episodes of Gunsmoke. Conrad died in 1994, at the age of 73.