James Arness was arguably one of the most famous cowboys on television for two decades. The famous actor starred in Gunsmoke from 1955 to 1975, marking an incredible twenty-year run.
His role as Marshal Matt Dillon was the envy of everyone watching Gunsmoke. Arness was the suave lawmaker in the lawless town of Dodge City, Kansas.
Even though Arness was the show’s most important piece, he never had much say on the storylines. That was all left up to the producer, John Mantley.
In an interview from 2002 with Television Academy Foundation. Arness explains how the Gunsmoke storylines were formed by the producer. Despite not being consulted on his thoughts for the storyline, Arness was never bothered by the lack of inclusion.
James Arness on Why He Didn’t Have Any Say in Show’s Storylines
The interviewer asked the Gunsmoke star about his input on the show. He says, “Did you make any suggestions for stories out of your own experience?” At which point, Arness launches into a long explanation about how the storylines were created for Gunsmoke.
“Not really to any great extent. Because the stories, by the time they filtered down from upstairs, we had at a certain point, they got a new producer who, name of John Mantley,” Arness said. “Who did, I think, the last twelve years of the show, and he was a guy who was very talented. And plus, he was like a compulsive worker. He just didn’t want to let one little thing happen on that show that he didn’t feel was the very best that he could do.”
Arness was certainly never upset by not being asked for help in creating storylines. Rather, the star of Gunsmoke was thankful that the producer was so thorough in his work.
“And very often, he would be upstairs in the editing, and at midnight, you know, going over the thing with a cutter to make sure that every single little thing was just right. Of course, that worked greatly to our advantage. We knew that whatever bugs might have been in a script, he’d have them out to the greatest degree possible.”
James Arness was one of the icons of Western television for many years. His work is still missed to this day, but thankfully, there are re-runs of Gunsmoke to enjoy.