Who wouldn’t want the town drunk around as often as possible? Alright, different rules apply when it comes to television. Fans of the classic TV series “Gunsmoke” certainly remember James Nusser’s lasting impression as Louie Pheeters. The man was an electric presence in Dodge City, even though he only had a handful of lines in first appearances.
So electric, in fact, that the show’s producers wanted to get the camera on him whenever they could. Why? Because he gave “Gunsmoke” a much-needed childlike charm. That, and he was an instant fan favorite. According to MeTV, a favorable writeup helped sell the “special touch” Nusser brought to the show.
That same critic interviewed “Gunsmoke” producer John Mantley, who had an idea of Nusser’s exceptional presence all along. Per the outlet, Mantley was so confident in the Louie Pheeters actor’s ability that he said he’d snap up any screenplay that seemed like it was suited to his abilities.
‘Gunsmoke’ Star James Nusser Had an Idea of His Own Popularity Too
It wasn’t as if Nusser felt underappreciated as one of the character actors on the show. Clearly, the crew knew his value. And his popularity with audiences spoke for itself. But that doesn’t mean he fully understood it. In fact, he had to look externally for answers there.
“Kids like Louie, and when I ask my wife why, she answers, ‘Louie is a kid,’” Nusser said, per MeTV. “I don’t understand Louie any more than I understand myself. I don’t want to know him too well.”
But Nusser’s success on “Gunsmoke” wasn’t without its drawbacks. It’s a tale as old as time. A relatively unknown name finds huge success as a specific character on a wildly popular show and struggles to find work elsewhere. Per John Mantley, James Nusser was such a hot item on “Gunsmoke,” that other popular Westerns wouldn’t go near him. That was the case with “Bonanza,” at least.
Per MeTV, witnessing this motivated “Gunsmoke” to get Nusser’s Louie Pheeters even more involved. They even went so far as giving him his own episode in Season 8.