On Sept. 10, 1955, John Wayne introduced James Arness to CBS audiences as Marshal Matt Dillon of Dodge City, Kansas. That led to Gunsmoke becoming the longest running prime-time drama in history. John Wayne was originally approached about the Marshal Dillon role. He turned it down but recommended his “Hondo” co-star James Arness.
The series made household names out of not only Matt Dillon, but Amanda Blake as Long Branch saloon owner Kitty Russell, Milburn Stone as the one and only Doc Adams. Milburn Stone was quite a good actor even before he became Doc Adams. He played in a lot of Western’s over the years and even starred in the early days with Roy Rogers.
Dennis Weaver starred as Chester Goode, the stiff legged deputy, and he was a great actor. Later on down to road, he went on to play “McCloud”, a detective and later played in other Westerns. He later played in country music. Dennis Weaver actually sang and played the guitar on Gunsmoke.
Glenn Strange played Sam the bartender. Glenn Strange was half Cherokee and was born and raised on a ranch and could rope and ride with the best of the cowboys before he started in show business. He played in a lot of B-Westerns like Hopalong Cassidy, The Lone Ranger, and the movie Red River. You never knew when Glenn Strange might show up. He was also a great fiddle player and played it on Gunsmoke.
New faces appeared on Gunsmoke — Buck Taylor and Roger Ewing. Buck Taylor played Newly the Gunsmith. Roger Ewing played numerous roles and became one of the deputies on Gunsmoke.
Later on, scruffy Festus Haggen was played by Ken Curtis. Festus was the only Western star I ever knew who ever rode a mule.
This mule was a jim dandy and weighed between 1,300 and 1,400 pounds. She was a great saddle mule.
Burt Reynolds played Quince the blacksmith. A lot of actors made guest appearances on the show. Morgan Woodward made 25 guest appearances on Gunsmoke. A lot of stars who were just starting out in show business got their start on Gunsmoke.
James Arness earned $1,200 an episode, but after the show won Emmy awards.
Once the show got going real good, James Arness got $20,000 an episode.
James Arness and Dennis Weaver made a lot of personal appearances at rodeos and TV shows. James Arness would ride in the arena, ride around the whole circle, and get off the horse and walk up to the platform. After all of the applause and cheers died down, he would try to tell the audience about the show. When all at once someone hollered “Mr. Dillon, Mr. Dillon,” the audience would get healthy quiet and who would come from nowhere and limp across the arena but Chester Goode.
James Arnett stated in his autobiography the place would go wild with applause, cheers, and standing ovations for quite awhile.
People liked James Arness and Dennis Weaver and the rest of the cast.
Later on Milburn Stone (Doc Adams) and Ken Curtis as Festus would make personal appearances at rodeos.
No wonder Gunsmoke went on for 20 years and is still being televised today.
Almost all of the cast members have passed away. Buck Taylor starred in more Westerns. He played the gunmaker Newly. Roger Ewing, who played Thad the deputy, ended up in Florida.
When Milburn Stone won an Emmy Award, and that was a long time ago, he ambled up on stage. He wore his doctor suit and carried his doctor case. He thanked the person who gave him his award to cheers and applause and another standing ovation. Milburn Stone thanked whoever it was and said he was glad to accept the award but said the rest of the cast deserved credit too. He also said he was glad he came because he got to see Ken Curtis, who played Festus Haggan in a tuxedo.
A lot of awards were given to the cast of Gunsmoke, which they rightly deserved.
The 50th anniversary of the Gunsmoke series was held Sept. 9-11, 2005 in Dodge City, Kansas. Many gunfights, shows and dinners were held but the highlights were the dedication and placing of large bronze sidewalk medallions honoring James Arness, Amanda Blake, Milburn Stone, Ken Curtis and Buck Taylor.
Gunsmoke was a great show and was on CBS for 20 years and should be remembered.