‘Gunsmoke’: Watch James Arness Tell Story Behind Being Cast as ‘Marshal Matt Dillon’

James Arness initially turned down his role in Gunsmoke. But one acting legend convinced him to accept the role of Marshal Matt Dillon.

The filming of Gunsmoke was big news all over Hollywood. In fact, James Arness had already heard all about the new television show before he was asked to audition.

“I had heard that they were going to do this television show out of Gunsmoke. I had heard it on the radio many times…and they were looking at practically every actor in town,” said Arness during an interview. “But they hadn’t called me so I was in this picture. And I had a pretty good part in this picture.”

James Initially Turned Down Gunsmoke

James Arness was filming a movie in the Bahamas when Gunsmoke producers finally called him. They offered him the role of Marshal Matt Dillon. But he was hesitant to take the role because he was doing so well in the movies. Arness sought guidance from the director of the film he was acting in at the time. However, the director wasn’t very excited about the idea of Arness moving to television.

“He said to me, ‘You’re at the point where if you got just the right break in a movie, you might really step up. If you get stuck in a television series like this western thing and it goes a couple of seasons and then dies, you’ll be in bad trouble in the movies. You’ll be used goods and you won’t be anywhere.’ And I paid attention to his views because he was an old-timer,” said Arness.

So, James Arness called back the Gunsmoke crew and turned them down.

“I said, ‘Thank you very much but I think I’m going to pass,’” said Arness.

However, the producers weren’t having it. So, they called in the biggest guns they had – John Wayne. They got John Wayne to call Arness and convince him to take the role.

“The Duke called me. He said, ‘You would be crazy not to take this…You will really learn a lot about being in front of the camera and working on stunts.’ He really talked turkey to me,’” said Arness.

No one refuses John Wayne. So, James Arness accepted the role and the rest is wild west history.

James Arness and John Wayne Were Close Friends

Friends don’t let friends turn down career-making roles. John Wayne proved that when he convinced James Arness to accept the role of a lifetime as Marshal Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke. But the two were friends long before that conversation. In fact, the two co-starred together in Big Jim McLain, Hondo, Island in the Sky, and The Sea Chase. James Arness also starred in Gun the Man Down for Wayne’s company.

Interestingly, Gunsmoke producers initially offered John Wayne the role of Matt Dillon. But he didn’t want to step away from his successful movie career. So, he recommended his friend James Arness for the lead role. So, it makes sense why producers would call Wayne to talk some sense into Arness and convince him to take the role.

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