Gunsmoke star James Arness had a very famous brother in Hollywood. Maybe you remember him, too. It’s Peter Graves.
Peter Graves was the younger brother of James Arness by three years. Both served in the military during World War II. Arness suffered a severe leg wound. It was Graves who pushed his older brother to take a radio course as he recuperated from his war injury.
As they left Minnesota for Hollywood’s klieg lights, they both tweaked their names. The family surname was Aurness. It was Norwegian. It became Arness for James. Then in 1950, when Peter Graves earned a part in the movie Rogue River, he changed his last name to Graves to distinguish himself from his big brother.
Put the emphasis on big. Peter Graves stood 6-foot-2, while James Arness, at 6-7, towered over everyone. Some actors stood on crates while shooting Gunsmoke when they were in scenes with Arness.
Graves’ new surname was a nod to his Minnesota family. He took the last name of his maternal grandfather.
James Arness became Marshal Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke in 1955. He was Matt Dillon for two decades on the series, then he starred in five more Gunsmoke reunion movies. At 20 years, Arness set a record for playing the longest-running role by a single actor in prime time. Kelsey Grammer, as Frasier Crane, tied the record but needed two shows to do it — Cheers and Frasier.
While Arness Starred On Gunsmoke, Peter Graves Earned Top Role in Mission:Impossible
Meanwhile, while Arness was protecting Dodge City from the bad guys on Gunsmoke, Graves was an earnest secret agent protecting America on Mission: Impossible.
He was Jim Phelps from 1967 to 1973. He played Phelps again in 1988-90. Phelps was the leader of the Impossible Missions Force. Phelps’ group always went undercover to get the bad guys. And the TV series inspired the Tom Cruise Mission: Impossible movies.
In later years, Graves starred as Captain Clarence Oveur in the 1980 comedy Airplane!. He also was in its sequel. Basically, Graves mocked all the strait-laced characters he ever played. His talented big brother, thanks to Gunsmoke, also had a similar reputation.
But, did the talented brothers ever act together? Was Peter Graves ever a gunslinger battling his big bro on Gunsmoke? Was James Arness ever a bad guy on Mission:Impossible.
Sadly, no. American audiences missed out seeing the original Aurness brothers on their TV screens.
However, Peter Graves did direct his brother in an episode of Gunsmoke. He directed “Which Dr.” The episode was broadcast in 1966.
Here’s the synopsis: “While on a fishing trip with Festus, Doc is abducted and forced to operate on a sick child, then ordered to be a bridegroom in a true shotgun wedding.”
The brothers enjoyed long, successful lives. They died months apart. Peter Graves was the first to pass away. He died in 2010 at the age of 83. He’d just returned home from brunch when he suffered a fatal heart attack. He was four days away from his 84th birthday.
And Arness, who always will be known for Gunsmoke, died 15 months later. He was 88.