He is very much known for his portrayal as Marshal Dillion on “Gunsmoke,” but how did James Arness snag the icon role? Western film legend John Wayne definitely has something to do with it.
During a 2006 interview, James Arness recalled how John Wayne helped him get the “Gunsmoke” role. “I was under contract to Duke’s company for two years before ‘Gunsmoke’ came along,” Arness explained. He also said that at the time he had already been run four pictures with Duke’s company. “When the ‘Gunsmoke’ offer came in, [Wayne] 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.’ So he very graciously offered to introduce the first episode.”
James Arness described the “Gunsmoke” experience as great. And he also called John Wayne a one-of-a-kind guy., “There just was never anybody like him,” Arness declared. When asked about working at Melody Ranch for the series, Arness shared, “We did our first episode there. But he wasn’t out there. He just did his piece in the studio. He did the introduction, and then the show came on.”
When asked about being the tallest person in the cast at 6-foot-7, James Arness said, “The two gentleman who originated the show — you know, it was on the radio for two or three years. Before they brought it to television — John Meston was the man who conceived the idea of the whole thing. He did most or all the radio shows. And then when it came to television, he did most of those for the first couple of years.”
James Arness Reveals What the ‘Essence’ of ‘Gunsmoke’ Is
As he continued to talk about “Gunsmoke,” James Arness revealed what the “essence” of the hit series was. “I think you could say that compared to most of the Westerns that had been, up to that point in time. No criticism of them, but they were more or less. I wouldn’t say ‘kid shows,’ but they were more or less kind of ‘fun-time’ Westerns, whereas ‘Gunsmoke’ they dubbed the ‘adult’ Western.”
As he talked about the relationship between his character and Miss Kitty, James Arness spoke about why the duo never got married. “The short answer there is that I think it just would have changed the whole premise of the show. The idea was that Matt had this job that he had to do, which was potentially a dangerous job, and you would have had a different show if he had been married and had kids.”
James Arness went on to add that he thinks over the years everybody released that the characters had a really close relationship. “They really cared for each other and all. But it just wouldn’t have worked, really, to have him be a married man or with kids.”