For “Gunsmoke” leading man James Arness, acting wasn’t necessarily something that he had been a part of his entire life.
After his discharge from the Army, Arness went on to be a radio announcer in Minneapolis before eventually taking the trek over to Hollywood. He started acting with RKO Pictures and the 6′, 6″ actor had his first film role in “The Farmer’s Daughter.”
‘Gunsmoke’ Actor Skeptical of Co-Stars Acting Skills
His life completely changed when he took on the role of Marshal Matt Dillon for 20 seasons. It would be his life-defining role.
Despite his popularity, one of his co-stars, Milburn Stone, revealed that he wasn’t always impressed by the acting skills of James Arness. It was something he felt like the rookie had to truly step into. When he got the call to be on “Gunsmoke,” Arness was just working as an extra in different Western production.
While he may not have been doing too much acting, Arness had over a decade of experience on different sets. That wasn’t the kind of experience that Stone thought Arness needed, however.
“I spent the first two years on Gunsmoke despising Jim’s lack of professionalism. Now
I say his acting has reached classical proportions,” Stone said during an interview with Robert De Roos.
To Stone, his co-star just lacked a little bit of the temperament that was a given for actors at the time. Regardless, James Arness would certainly grow into his role on “Gunsmoke” over the years and got quite the praise as well.
Stone had a thing or two to say about praise, as well. “Actors are children. They have to be told they are good and needed,” he said.
James Arness Very Reserved
For James Arness, he would eventually put up a great divide between his acting life and his personal life.
In an article in The Tallahassee Democrat from 1973, the “Gunsmoke” star was called “one of the most private men in Hollywood.” At this point, “Gunsmoke” had been on for over 15 years and it would have given the cast plenty of time to talk and become close friends.
As it turns out, Arness preferred keeping to himself. While he was always fun on set, his co-stars felt like they didn’t know much about him at all.
“Jim is the mystery man. Like most men, he’s an overgrown 12-year-old. He’s delightful, charming, one of the funniest men I’ve ever known. I really don’t know much about him, because he’s a private person. But he’s fun to work with,” Amanda Blake, who played Kitty on “Gunsmoke,” said, according to MeTV.
That easy-going, fun personality while filming never really went away. That’s something we imaging Milburn Stone didn’t love.