Dennis Weaver of Gunsmoke and McCloud fame definitely was a throwback to another era of America. He was born and raised in middle America, living in Missouri, then Louisiana. He grew up during the Great Depression, so his parents moved the family for work, which was why Weaver also spent time in California and Oregon. Long before he ever became famous for playing Chester on Gunsmoke, folks called him Bill. That was his name, Bill Weaver. He served his country as a pilot in World War II. And when he left the Navy, he was a super athlete, first competing for a junior college in Missouri, then as an Oklahoma Sooner.
His first goal was to make the U.S. Olympic team as a decathlete. But he was only sixth-best at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Besides, no one was going to beat Bob Mathias for the gold medal. But after the trials, he stuck around New York to attend acting school. He used to dream about being an actor as a kid, back when everyone knew him as Bill.
There was one problem with acting. There already was another Bill Weaver. So rather than create a new identity like so many other Hollywood stars, Weaver switched to his middle name. And that’s how Dennis Weaver became his Hollywood self, on his way to Gunsmoke fame, then eventually his own starring vehicle in McCloud.
Weaver stuck with Gunsmoke for nine seasons and 290 episodes. His first episode was Matt Gets It. And his last one on the iconic western was Bently. And if you’re a really hard-core Gunsmoke fan, IMDb notes that Weaver’s last line on was “I think maybe I’ll take you down to the stage.”
Weaver didn’t want to play second fiddle on a show anymore, so he decided to leave Chester and Gunsmoke behind. The writers never explained what happened to Chester. Soon enough, Festus (Ken Curtis) showed up in Dodge City to keep Matt Dillon company.
By 1970, Weaver landed the title role in McCloud. The Clint Eastwood movie Coogan’s Bluff inspired the TV series.
Weaver also gave back to his acting community. He served as president of the Screen Actor’s Guild. And he spent his life as an activist for environmental causes. He moved his family to Colorado and into a homemade with all recycled products. He called it “Earthship.”
The Hollywood Walk of Fame gave this Gunsmoke icon a star. He also was included in the 1981 induction class into the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.
But here’s a little more about Weaver. Long before he made it big on Gunsmoke, back when he was just plain Bill Weaver, he met his wife, Gerry, at a college sock hop. She was a graceful roller skater and wore one of her outfits to the dance. Weaver fell almost immediately in love. He proposed to her at a football game. They got married and stayed together for 61 years until he died in 2006.
The couple started a family as Weaver tried to build his acting career. He sold vacuum cleaners to pay the bills. He also delivered flowers. In fact, he was out on a delivery when he learned he’d gotten the part of Chester, Matt Dillon’s right-hand man, on Gunsmoke. But by then, he was Dennis Weaver.