“Gunsmoke” actor James Arness unpacked the relationships between him and his costars after rumors swirled about potential feuds. Airing from 1955 to 1975, Gunsmoke starred Arness alongside Dennis Weaver, Milburn Stone, and Amanda Blake. When Weaver briefly left the series, audiences questioned the behind-the-scenes dynamic of the show.
“Its really very simple,” said Arness in an interview. “In the early years of the series Dennis and I used to go on personal appearance tours occasionally. And sometimes I went alone. But it got to the point where it was a strain. Its tremendously fatiguing for me to work all week, then hop on a plane or train and travel maybe 2,000 or 3,000 miles on a weekend, attending social and civic functions, parties, and so on, and then fly back to work. But Doc, Chester, and Kitty – I call them that out of force of habit – still do all that and people think because I don’t accompany them, then we’re not close. But we are. Don’t let anybody kid you.”
During its heyday, Gunsmoke consistently ranked in the top 20 shows. Additionally, it held the U.S. record for most scripted episodes until 2018, when it was surpassed by The Simpsons. While it also had records for longest-running scripted live-action series and longest-running television character, those now held by Law & Order: SVU. The only other show globally with more records and higher worldwide ratings is, unsurprisingly, Doctor Who.
Gunsmoke Star Talks Doubts About the Show
In addition to discussing his costars, Arness talked about his future with the show. Given that the interview was in 1962, the actor did not yet know that would become his largest and most recognizable role.
“We’ve all probably had our secret doubts about going on with it,” Arness revealed. “Maybe there isn’t much more I can do with the role after all this time. But so what? The dough’s still coming in, and I could keep on playing Matt Dillon forever.”
Weaver didn’t initially agree. The actor left the show for a brief stint, but he ended up returning. He left the series a second and final time in 1964.
“When Dennis left the show this past season to seek out greener pastures, I told him he’d be back,” Arness continued. “And he did return. But for a while, it was kind of tough trying to figure out what would happen to the show with him gone. Public opinion called him back. We were swamped with letters asking for him. So when his own TV show idea fell through he came back. I was mighty happy to see him.”
Unlike Arness, whose career centered on Gunsmoke, Weaver did see later fame, appearing in many television shows. He even became the president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1973 to 1975. Even so, both Weaver and Arness are mostly known for their iconic turns in Gunsmoke.