In an interview with Rob Word of A Word on Westerns, Bruce Boxleitner gave some casual insight on the last season of Gunsmoke. He realized that James Arness was rarely in the studio for the last season because he was busy dating his then-girlfriend, Janet Surtees.
You can watch the interview clip below:
The two went on to get married. The decision to stay away from the tv show was probably a good idea on Arness’ part. In fact, his first marriage fell apart because of his involvement with the show.
The Road to ‘Gunsmoke’
James Arness had a rocky start in Hollywood. After being injured in the military, he traveled out west with a friend of his. There, he decided to get into acting. Before we knew him for his time on the hit tv show, Arness played in movies. Eventually, he moved on to tv shows after being told he was too tall for the silver screen.
He met his first wife Virginia before he joined Gunsmoke. They got married together without a penny to their names. When the show started to take off in popularity, their marriage worsened. Virginia felt alone all of the time (because she was) and felt that she was a nuisance to Arness and his friends. That’s the nature of Hollywood, though. To be successful in one’s career, they often have to sacrifice their family. Arness would spend his time at the range learning how to handle firearms. If he wasn’t at the range, he was at the studio shooting. More often than not, he would be gone for 12 to 13 hours a day. When he did get time at home, he would be too tired to engage with his wife and kids.
Eventually, his marriage blew up in his face. During his bid to have it all, he lost the most important thing: family. Virginia tried to tell him how she felt in Hollywood, but what could Arness do? That was his job. Eventually, she left and traveled around the world to try and forget the star. She ended up in Honolulu, where she tried to commit suicide. She survived, and Arness helped her pick up the pieces of her life. The two ended up divorced.
Arness Spent Time Away from the Show for Second Wife
It seems that Arness learned his lesson when balancing work and romance. He met his second wife, Janet, through mutual friends. Janet was nervous about meeting him at first, but soon the two hit it off. Ironically, she agreed to meet him only because her son was a fan of Gunsmoke. After chatting all night, he asked for her number and the rest is history. After four years of dating, they got married. They remained married up until his death in 2011.