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May 07, 2009


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I was driving to NYC before dawn one Saturday, using a tag-sale tape-casette collection of old radio dramas to keep myself awake, and ten minutes into "Leiningen versus the Ants", I had to pull over to seek confirmation that Orson Welles was playing the lead role. Turns out to have been Bill Conrad. Didn't know anyone else could project OW's self-amused resonance-- did Conrad ever make conscious use of the likeness?


Conrad is the best--i.e., most atmospheric--thing about Cromwell's THE RACKET, where he plays a casually dirty cop who's always in the background, chewing on what must be an ever-juicy wad of tobacco. It's the sort of small performance, happening in the corner of the frame and obsessive in its emphasis on one or two small, seedy details, that makes me wonder what Manny Farber thought of it.

Glenn, the best critic-actor example must be Stanley Kauffmann, although he's the reverse of what you're looking for--an actor who became a film critic, rather than a film critic who's made a dip into acting. (Another problem is that he was a stage actor only.) I'd also mention Graham Greene, who has a cameo in DAY FOR NIGHT.


Yeah, you basically look nothing like William Conrad. I always wonder about other people's perception of things. I have been told by various people that I resemble Pierce Brosnan, John Cassavetes. Bill Clinton, Frank Whaley and Chip from "My Three Sons," none of whom look remotely alike. Maybe my face is a Rorschach blot.


Growing up, I mostly knew Conrad from television, and it wasn't until years later that I discovered what a fine radio actor he'd been. He narrated/starred in several episodes of the innovative, mid-50s delight THE CBS RADIO WORKSHOP, whose entire run can be heard here:


Going back to the Welles connection jwarthen made, it owes a lot to the Mercury Theater of the 1930s, and was an attempt to keep that experimental spirit going in the 50s. It didn't last terribly long, but it was pretty cool.


Gordon Parks' autobiography has a wonderful passage in which Parks, preparing to direct the screen version of his novel THE LEARNING TREE for Warners, is shown the ropes around the studio by a grumbling, taciturn William Conrad.

That Anthony Burgess-scripted Shakespeare biopic was in development at WB for a long time in the 'sixties; at one time it was announced as THE BAWDY BARD, to be produced and directed by Conrad.

Ian W. Hill

Re the Welles similarity: In the very first ROCKY AND HIS FRIENDS storyline (which of course Conrad narrated and did occasional other voices for), there is a brief appearance by "Dorson Bells" reporting on a flying saucer invasion, and as I recall it's Conrad doing a pretty spot-on OW.

I also have that radio version of LEININGEN, as part of a 30-CD box set of classic radio shows, and Conrad is probably the most constant presence throughout the entire set. The man was a worker.

Okay, dammit, I've wanted to see BRAINSTORM for about a decade now, so even though I can't really afford it, I'm paying $20 for a CD-R.

Ryland Walker Knight

That "film critic" sure has a lot of, um, opinions.

Also, you probably need to box with a few more butterflies. Or, box a few more butterflies. Or, butter some flies for a box with words which won't write themselves but rather fold back and down, into, say, each other and make a little world all their own full of conjecture and imagination--in a good, but still unreliable, way.

[does that make any sense to anybody but me?]

Lou Lumenick

Conrad's dyspeptic night city editor in Jack Webb's -30- is frighteningly like many genuine specimens I encountered as a youngster in the '60s and '70s.

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