Since I haven't been able to see that well in recent weeks, I've been spending a lot of time listening to old-time radio in general and one series in particular -- "Gunsmoke," which I wrote about last August because Robert Stack, who had a supporting role in Carole Lombard's final movie, "To Be Or Not To Be," was pushed by some executives at CBS to portray U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon, a role that eventually went to William Conrad (http://community.livejournal.com/carole_and_co/229988.html).
I've been listening to just about everyone episode from the series' inception in the spring of 1952 -- I'm up to early 1954 now -- and there's scarcely a clinker in the bunch (in terms of writing, acting and sound effects, not necessarily in the aural quality). The episodes are literate, textured, reflecting the violent realism of Dodge City, Kansas in the 1870s. It was truly the first radio western geared for adults.
That's Brad Pitt, left, and Ryan Reynolds, both of whom are reportedly being considered to play the marshal in a planned big-screen version of "Gunsmoke." While I rave about the radio "Gunsmoke" (many have called it the finest dramatic radio series regardless of genre) and it aired for nine years, most people better remember the TV "Gunsmoke," which also had a lot going for it. Dillon was played on TV by James Arness, who certainly had the visual presence for the role:
Responses to a story about possible Matt Dillon casting fell into two camps -- one strongly for Pitt, the other not for or against Reynolds but for ...Tom Selleck, who'd have been just right for the role a decade ago but is now probably too old for it.
But one response struck a chord with me. Here's part of it:
"I'm a huge fan of the original show, and the movies they released later and personally don't want to see Gunsmoke ruined by New Hollywood remakery/remade at all. I'll probably cry at the first hint of CGI. I wish they could go back to making movies the way they were meant to be made. Especially westerns. There's no place for graphics in a western. It doesn't have to ALL be explosions. There are such things as characters to explore, you know those things that talk and occasionally show emotions?"
Couldn't agree more. I don't recall ever watching westerns in my youth or having "cowboy" toys. What makes "Gunsmoke" the western for people who don't like westerns (definitely on radio, and to a lesser extent on TV) were the characterizations, the sense of community developed in Dodge City. The people there faced all kinds of challenges, and with Dillon leading the way, it's fascinating to see how those citizens reacted.
I have no idea who will ultimately be cast as Marshal Dillon. I simply hope the producers stay true to the vision of its creator, Norman Macdonnell, and stay away from juvenile cliches, graphic violence (as opposed to implied violence, which was a part of the program) and substituting special effects for intelligent writing. One wishes everyone associated with the movie would be given, and listen to, a set of the nearly 500 episodes from the radio series to learn how it should be done.
If you check the entry from last August, you'll find a phot of the four principal radio actors -- Conrad, Parley Baer as Chester Proudfoot, Howard MacNear as Doc Adams and Georgia Ellis as Kitty Russell -- in period clothing as they (unsuccessfully) tried to make the case they should be considered for the TV version of "Gunsmoke." Well, here are two more photos from that effort, taken at Knott's Berry Farm.
First, from left, Conrad, Ellis, MacNear and Baer:
The next photo, showing Dillon and Chester walking around Dodge, was taken by veteran radio actor Harry Bartell, who played all sorts of supporting roles over the years and appeared on many other series:
That picture sums up Conrad's portrayal of Dillon, something he noted in the introduction to most of the radio episodes: "It's a chancy job, but it makes a man watchful. And a little lonely."