How ‘Gunsmoke’ Affected James Arness’ Personal Life and Marriage

We all know James Arness for his time on Gunsmoke. The actor rose to major fame thanks to the show that was once the most popular series on tv.

After filming the 195th episode of the show back in 1980, Arness reflected on all of the ways Gunsmoke had impacted his life thus far. He spoke about material things of course, but bigger things too, like family and marriage. By this time, he had a 1000-acre ranch, a Thunderbird, a 40-foot boat, and even his own production company. He went on to inventory his family – which, by this time, consisted of three kids and no wife. In fact, he said he had everything but a wife. Introspectively, he said that was the high price to pay for everything that he had earned.

“In fact, the only thing I haven’t got is a marriage,” he said at the time. “Virginia and I are busted up. That’s the price I’ve had to pay for success. It’s a darn high one, too. And I don’t think I’ll ever get married again, not for many, many years. Not until the kids have grown up. This TV business is not conducive to successful marriages.”

James Arness was like any other star – sometimes we forget that they have their own personal aspects to their lives. A few months before his interview with Parade, his wife had reportedly tried to commit suicide in Honolulu because of their separation. He helped as best as he could, but the incident made him think about everything that had gotten him to that point.

‘Gunsmoke’ Elevated His Career but Ruined His Marriage

After his first movie in Hollywood, he took all of the money he made and moved to Mexico with it. There, he lived on the beaches until the money ran out. After he came back to Hollywood, he met his future wife Virginia Chapman. They became friends, fell in love, and got married with virtually no money to their name. Eventually, Arness began working in movies again. By the time he had acted in 20 or so films, he made the switch over to tv. There, he landed his iconic role in Gunsmoke.

As soon as he landed the role, things seemed to take a turn for the worse marriage-wise. He had to be fully committed to his career. He spent time at gun ranges and then spent 12 to 13 hour days on set. Around the same time as the start of his production company, Virginia felt unwanted and unloved. She felt like she annoyed all of the men that Arness surrounded himself with. After sharing her turmoils with Arness, she left.

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