Iconic Hollywood star James Arness is perhaps best known for his role as Matt Dillon on the hit television series “Gunsmoke.”
The long-running “Gunsmoke” remains one of the most popular shows to ever air on television to this day. The show ran for 20 years, with Arness starring as Dillon, from 1955 to 1975. With its incredible staying power, “Gunsmoke” is one of the most-watched television programs of the 20th series. James Arness was surrounded by a terrific cast on “Gunsmoke” while he portrayed lawman Matt Dillon. As the head of local law enforcement, Dillon’s job was to oversee the good folks of Dodge City, Kansas, and keep them safe from harm. With a 6’7″ burly frame, Arness made Dillon look like an intimidating giant who was ready to dole out western justice at a moment’s notice.
The “Gunsmoke “actor’s large frame wasn’t always a positive in the minds of Hollywood casting agents. In a 2005 interview with The Herald-Tribune, Arness admitted that it was hard to find work as a plus-size actor. While he will always be known as Marshal Matt Dillon, his breakthrough performance came in a much different role.
‘Gunsmoke’ Actor James Arness Recalled Playing ‘The Thing’
In 1951, James Arness was cast as “The Thing” in the film “The Thing From Another Planet,” which became a hit movie. Arness was forced into uncomfortable positions while playing The Thing and rumors swirled that he hated the part.
During the same interview, Arness said that the rumor is far from the truth. In fact, he credited his role as The Thing as his big break. And he said that it set the stage for his future career successes, including “Gunsmoke.”
“Not true!” He said. “I started in movies in 1946 and lost a lot of parts because of my height. When Howard Hawks put me in ‘The Thing,’ it was a great break for me at the time because I was struggling to get any kind of job whatsoever. And that picture got a tremendous amount of publicity. It got me other work afterward.”
The gentle giant found getting Hollywood work to be much easier after starring as The Thing. He would go on to become the lead character on “Gunsmoke,” a role he played for more than 20 years. Today, James Arness is considered a western icon in the same ranks as his mentor, John Wayne.
Arness passed away in 2011 at 88-years-old.