Charles Conrad; Ex-GOP Assembly Leader


Charles J. Conrad, Republican leader in the California Assembly for 26 years and member of the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission, has died. He was 88.

Conrad, also a motion picture and television actor, died Jan. 15 in Thousand Oaks, his family announced Wednesday.

Known as an expert parliamentarian, Conrad twice served as speaker pro tem and during the 1963-64 term was Republican minority floor leader.


A chemical warfare specialist during World War II, Conrad was an outspoken defender of using chemical defoliants in Vietnam. He once created a furor by proposing that Jane Fonda, the actress who was an antiwar activist and crusader against defoliants, allow herself to be sprayed while lying nude in a rice field near Sacramento.

The legislator said the defoliants were so safe that he would also sit or lie in the field “clad only in swimming trunks and allow the spray to fall on my body.” He said he would also drink a container of water exposed to the defoliant spray.

The suggested demonstration was never carried out.

Over the years, Conrad proposed the wide use of educational television in California higher education and was given major credit for passage of legislation regarding the drug LSD, riots and drunk driving.

He was first elected in 1946 to represent a vast Assembly district, centered in Sherman Oaks, that once stretched from Burbank on the east through portions of North Hollywood, Universal City, Studio City, Hollywood, Encino, Tarzana, Woodland Hills, Calabasas and Agoura west to the Los Angeles County line and south into the Santa Monica Mountains.

After being defeated for reelection in 1972 by Los Angeles Democrat Howard Berman, Conrad was named to the state Air Resources Board by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan. He was also elected chairman of the governing board of the Council of State Governments.

In 1981, then-state Atty. Gen. George Deukmejian appointed Conrad to the Fair Political Practices Commission, where he served four years.


As an actor, Conrad was best remembered for his roles as a judge on the “Perry Mason” television series.

Conrad was born in Philadelphia and came to California in 1935 to work in the movie industry. He served with the Coast Guard in the Pacific Theater during World War II.

A widower, Conrad is survived by his sister, Mrs. Ernest N. George of Ridgecrest, Calif., and a nephew.