Norman MacDonnell was considered a creative genius for his work in radio and television. He was responsible for creating and producing Gunsmoke, the first adult western on radio and later on television. His ability to gather an incredibly creative team of writers, actors and crew became a major contribution to the future sophistication of radio and television shows and series.
MacDonnell was born in Pasadena, California on November 8, 1916 and joined the armed forces in World War II where he was among the soldiers who stormed Normandy Beach in France on D-Day. After the war his first job was as an assistant director for CBS Radio. After working on numerous radio series, MacDonnell was promoted to director and directed Escape and produced and directed The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, a popular detective drama.
Escape ran from 1947 until 1954 and starred William Conrad and Paul Frees. Jack Webb, Elliott Lewis, Georgia Ellis and Peggy Webber were just a few of the big-name radio stars featured on this highly acclaimed radio series.
In 1947, NBC launched The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, based on the novels by Raymond Chandler. The show featured a list of well-known radio actors including Gerald Mohr as Marlowe, Gloria Blondell, Virginia Gregg and Howard McNear. The series was an action-packed drama with tough characters and a strong message that crime doesn’t pay. The series ended in 1951.
Norman MacDonnell also produced and directed a radio western drama that wasn’t as well known as Gunsmoke. Fort Laramie was a western first broadcast by CBS in 1956 and starred Raymond Burr as Lee Quince, captain of the cavalry in the Wyoming settlement of Fort Laramie. Jack Moyles was Major Daggett, Vic Perrin was Sergeant Gorce and Harry Bartell played the part of Lieutenant Seiberts.
The television series that MacDonnell was best known for producing and directing was Gunsmoke, collaborating with writer, John Meston, (pictured above with MacDonnell) for a period of two years developing concepts that would soon propel the western drama to the top of the radio charts.
CBS initially choseCharles Marquis Warren over MacDonnell as the producer and director of Gunsmoke, but MacDonnell took his place in 1956 and directed the series through four seasons. Gunsmoke starred William Conrad as Matt Dillon, the U.S. Marshal of Dodge City, Kansas and Parley Baer as Dillon’s deputy, Chester Wesley Proudfoot.
Norman MacDonnell passed away on November 28, 1979 in Burbank, California.