Television has had its fair share of Westerns on throughout the decades. Gunsmoke, though, had a little different flavor to it. How so?
Lead actor James Arness, who played Marshal Matt Dillon, talked about this in an interview years ago. We get a little insight into what he was saying thanks to some help from GunsmokeNet.com.
“What made us different from other Westerns was the fact that Gunsmoke wasn’t just action and a lot of shooting: they were character-study shows,” Arness said in an interview with the Amarillo (Texas) Globe-Mail newspaper. “They’re interesting to watch all these years later.
‘Gunsmoke’ Star Also Said CBS Western Had ‘Outstanding Quality of Writing’
“With Gunsmoke, we had an outstanding quality of writing,” he said. “The show had been on [the] radio for three years, so they were able to fine-tune the characters.”
He played Dillon for 20 seasons on CBS. But Arness also had a stellar surrounding cast, too, with Amanda Blake and Milburn Stone along for most of the time the show was on TV. Others that made stops on Gunsmoke as show characters included Burt Reynolds and Dennis Weaver.
It made its debut on TV in 1955 and, as Arness points out, Gunsmoke was able to be a part of five different decades. Amazingly, it is still being watched by old and new fans alike today. You can tune into different cable channels or streaming platforms and watch an episode or two. Gunsmoke also has its own dedicated channel on the Pluto streaming platform.
Arness Actually Took Circuitous Route To Career-Defining Role
James Arness was focusing on his movie career. Television work did not seem to be in his view of him back in the 1950s.
All of that changed, though, while working with the legendary John Wayne in movies. Back then, Arness worked with The Duke in four pictures. Yet it would be Wayne himself to nudge the actor toward TV work.
“Well, I was under contract to Duke’s company for two years before Gunsmoke came along,” Arness said. “I had been in about four pictures for his company with him. When the Gunsmoke offer came in, he said, ‘I wouldn’t be able to do it, but I have a young man here under contract who I think would maybe fit the bill.’”
That would be Arness and, yes indeed, John Wayne took a few minutes on the debut episode. In fact, he told the viewing audience about Arness and asked them to give the actor a chance.
Arness said that Wayne’s introduction “was great. It was a wonderful thing. He was a one-of-a-kind guy. There just was never anybody else like him.”