‘Gunsmoke’: How James Arness’ War Injuries Influenced Filming Schedule

Before he was everybody’s favorite marshal on “Gunsmoke,” actor James Arness served in the U.S. Army back during World War II. Injuries related to his time in the military plagued the actor for the rest of his life.

Many viewers may never have noticed, what with all the excitement of the Wild West. But Matt Dillon walked with a limp on the hit TV series. That wasn’t a character choice that the actor made. Arness had a limp in real life that made it difficult to walk at times. If you were to binge-watch the show, you would notice that Dillon’s limp became more pronounced as the series progressed.

In real life, Arness dealt with a lot of pain from his leg, that worsened as he got older. Producers would often film any scenes that involved a lot of walking earlier in the day. This gave the actor time to rest in between takes because Arness couldn’t stay on his feet for extended periods of time. Later in his life, the war-time injury even made it difficult and painful for Arness to mount a horse. (But at least he wasn’t allergic to them).

James Arness in the Military

Arness was just one of many soldiers drafted into the Army to serve their country. The actor served in the military during World War II, back before he had any aspirations of acting. During that time, Arness was more focused on surviving and winning the war. He was part of thousands of soldiers in the 1944 invasion of Anzio, Italy.

Due to his size, Arness stuck out among the troops as much as he later would on the TV screen. The 20-year-old was among many attempting to take Anzio, in what many consider among the deadliest battles of the war. A German soldier shot Arness during the assault. The bullets from the machine-gun fire ripped through the future actor’s leg and crushed the bone.

Afterward, Arness spent over a year in the hospital recovering from the wound. Doctors had to perform multiple surgeries to piece back together the actor’s leg. For his role in the assault, the Army awarded Arness both the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.

It wasn’t until Arness left the military that he decided to move to California to pursue acting. He would then appear on the long-running series as a result.

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