RARA-AVIS: Re: Hardboiled Radio

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 14 Jul 2006


Re your response to Miker's comment below:

"'I believe that Conrad was considered and rejected for the TV show, but I wouldn't swear to it.'"

Neither Conrad, nor the other members of the radio cast were seriously considered. They campaigned for the parts, but were never contenders.

There are some pictures of the radio cast, in costume as their characters from the show, which they had taken at Knott's Berry Farm as part of their campaign to show that they could meet the visual expectations audiences would have of their characters. You can see some of them here:


"There's a story, possibly true, that after meeting with the television producers, as he got up to leave, the armchair in which he'd been sitting got up with him. In those days, Arness must have been thin enough to stand alone."

As you can see from the pictures, Conrad at this point, still in the prime of his early 30's, though undeniably stout, was not as heavy as in his CANNON or JAKE AND THE FAT MAN days. That story's probably apocryphal.

"Conrad did appear as Matt Dillon, sort of, in the fifties movie The Ride Back. Though he was a sheriff and not a marshal and his name was not Dillon, the western was based on one of the Gunsmoke radio shows in which the lawman hunts down an escaped criminal and then is faced with the ordeal of bringing him back to justice. The star of the movie was Anthony Quinn, who played the escapee, but Conrad is the protagonist. At least that's how I, a Gunsmoke fan, remember it."

It's a very good movie, and the screenwriter, Anthony Ellis, is also the guy who wrote the original GUNSMOKE radio play. Actually, although several critical pieces refer to Conrad's Dillon analog as a "sheriff," he describes himself as a marshal in the movie. The badge Conrad carries (in his shirt pocket rather than pinned to his chest) is the same kind of "star enclosed by a shield" design worn by Arness on the TV version, and the set of the town at the beginning of the movie looks like it might possibly have been the same set that the TV show was using for Dodge City at the time.

It's availabe on DVD, if anyone's interested. You can read more about it here:


When GUNSMOKE first debuted on the radio, many critics, noting it's unflinching realism and its convincing portrayal of a dedicated, professional law officer on the frontier, called it "DRAGNET on the Plains."

Which beings me to MY favorite hard-boiled radio detective show, DRAGNET. I love the show in most of its incarnations, partly because it's generally very well-done, whether it's the noir-ish early '50's TV episodes, the 1954 Warner feature that seems reminiscent of Warner's Depression gangster films, the PBO novels, and even the pastel-looking, counter-culture obsessed '60's/'70's revival.

But it never shined brighter than on its original medium, radio. The clipped dialog, the narrative bridges, the expert use of muted sound effects to give it a realistic ambience, etc, serve to make it one of the finest radio dramas ever done. In fact, if you play a DRAGNET radio episode back-to-back with a GUNSMOKE, you'll see the influence DRAGNET had on its western counterpart.

DRAGNET's success led to several similar shows during dramatic radio's last few years. Two of the best were THE LINEUP, set in a nondescript "great America city"
(which became San Francisco when the show moved to TV), and the NYC-set 21ST PRECINCT, about the commander of a busy Manhattan police station.

Finally, while I enjoyed the adaptations of Hammett and Chandler on the SAM SPADE and PHILIP MARLOWE radio shows (I prefer Gerald Mohr as Marlowe to Van Heflin, for what it's worth), my favorite radio PI was created espcially for the medium. YOURS TRULY JOHNNY DOLLAR, about a free-lance insurance investigator was a fine show throughout its long run, but its best years were in the mid-'50's, when it was run as a five-times-a-week fifteen minute serial. With an hour and 15 minutes to spin a yard, the writers were able to stretch their story-telling muscles, and stretch them they did.

Like Bill, I also recommend PAT NOVAK FOR HIRE, in which Jack Webb played a metaphor-spouting waterfront character who, ostensibly, rented boats, but was really an unlicensed PI. Webb also did PI turns in JOHNNY MODERO - PIER 23 (a clone of NOVAK), and JEFF REGAN - INVESTIGATOR.


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