For many, Gunsmoke was more than just a TV western, it was an epic journey that many followed for over two decades. Join us as we explore some of the most intriguing and obscure details about Matt Dillon and the gang from Dodge City.
Just One Kiss?
Ultimately, romance wasn’t the primary focus of Gunsmoke. However, you would’ve expected the main character Matt Dillon to have had at least a couple of love interests. In 20 seasons, James Arness’s character only kissed one person – The Waltons‘ very own, Michael Learned.
Kitty Became Classy
Before the TV version of Gunsmoke first aired, the story was presented on the radio by a different cast. Also, the characters were very different. Most notably, Kitty Russell was portrayed as a very different type of lady. Although never confirmed, it was heavily implied by creator Norman McDonnell that she was an escort. “She is just someone Matt has to visit every once in a while,” he said. However, they changed Kitty’s character in the show in order to make it more family-friendly.
Long before he was cast as Matt Dillon, James Arness served in the US Army during World War II. While working as a rifleman on Operation Shingle in 1944, the young soldier severely wounded himself, causing considerable damage to his leg and foot. The effects were longterm and had drastic ramifications on his walking. So whenever Arness had a scene to shoot where there was a lot of walking required, it would take priority over everything else so that he could give his leg/foot enough time to rest.
Kitty Left For A Strange Reason
There was no denying that Glenn Strange, who was an actual cowboy-turned-actor, had a huge impact on his co-stars. Sadly though, at the age of 74, Strange passed away from lung cancer, just two years before the show came to an end. The loss was so great that Amanda Blake, who played Miss Kitty, couldn’t handle it, and was written out of the show the following year. Buck Taylor, who played Newly O’Brien, also named his third son after him – Cooper Glenn Taylor.
The Cast Didn’t Know It Was Over
One thing about Gunsmoke that bothered a lot of diehard fans is how it ended. Many anticipated an epic climax to what was one of the most popular shows of the last two decades. However, not only did the writers not tie up any loose ends, but there wasn’t really any loose ends to tie up! This unceremonious ending also perplexed the main cast, especially because they had no idea that the 20th season was going to be the final one.
There are many theories as to why Dennis Weaver decided to give his character Chester Goode a limp. It was reported that the producers told him to do it to appear shorter than he actually was. While it was also rumored that Dennis chose the limp to accompany his country accent, to make him stand out. The on-screen explanation was that he got it during the Civil War. However, Weaver ultimately regretted giving Chester the limp as it was so much hard work.
“Thad” Got Out Of Dodge
There is no doubt that Roger Ewing’s most memorable role in his career was that of Clayton Thaddeus Greenwood, better known on the show as “Thad.” Although the actor played the marshal for two seasons, he soon went off the radar. “It’s been 40+ years since I was last involved in ‘show biz,’ and I have appreciated my anonymity all these years,” he said. “I am not one to seek ‘fame & recognition’…I am a very private person and not experienced in today’s ‘world of celebrity.'”
Everyone Wanted To Be Matt Dillon
It was reported that a staggering 26 actors were considered for the role of Matt Dillon. This made sense, seeing that the show’s success heavily relied on the character’s performance. It also made sense that the man who voiced the character in the original radio show, William Conrad, was one of the first choices. Raymond Burr was another favorite to take on the role. “He was too big,” producer Charles Marquis Warren said. Other choices included John Pickard and Denver Pyle.
Second Time Lucky For Dennis
Although he was from Missouri, Dennis Weaver didn’t really have a country accent and believed that this would dent his chances when auditioning for the role of Chester. In fact, he was convinced that he hadn’t got the part after his first audition. He gave what he believed to be an under-par performance. As a result, Weaver begged the showrunners to give him a second chance. This time, he tried very hard by putting on a country accent. The rest was history.
Polly Could’ve Been Kitty
Matt Dillon wasn’t the only character who many people wanted to be. A lot of actresses auditioned for the role of Miss Kitty. In fact, it was Polly Bond who was originally chosen for the role. It seemed like a dream move, especially after starring in westerns as a child actress. However, she ultimately turned it down as she wanted to focus on family life. Little did she know, the role would have guaranteed her at least two decades of work.
Get The Hell Out Of Dodge!
Some of the most casual phrases have the most trivial of origins. Take the term “get the hell out of Dodge,” for example. Over time, it has alluded to the idea of getting out of trouble or leaving somewhere quickly. However, the line was originally said on Gunsmoke. It is a reference to Dodge City, Kansas, which is when the show is set. Many villains would use the term when they had been one-upped by Matt Dillon and the gang.
Gunsmoke Killed Gilligan’s Island
It may have been extremely popular during its run, but in 1967, Gunsmoke was on the verge being canceled by CBS. Thankfully though, William Paley, who was the network’s president at the time, was a big fan (along with his wife) and didn’t want it to end. Consequentially, he took the show and had it fitted into the time slot that Gilligan’s Island usually was – Mondays at 8 pm. As a result, Gilligan’s Island met an early and abrupt end.
James Arness Was In Every Episode
To say that James Arness didn’t rest during his time on Gunsmoke is the understatement of the century! While the rest of the cast missed episodes from time to time, the showrunners were adamant that Matt Dillon appeared in every single episode. This means that Arness played Dillon for over 20 years and for a staggering 635 episodes. Only Kelsey Grammer has played a character on American primetime TV for longer, for his role as Frasier Crane. Milburn Stone only missed six episodes, due to a heart attack.
They say that artists have the ability to adapt to different mediums fairly easily. This is certainly true as far as Buck Taylor was concerned. One of the actors who was brought in to add some youth to the cast of Gunsmoke during the 60s, the man who played Newly O’Brien evolved into a perfect western character. These days, the actor likes to paint, having recently painted the portrait of James Arness. Many of his pieces are on display at some of Texas’s biggest rodeos.
Ol’ Matt Dillon
It seemed like James Arness simply couldn’t let go of the character who he had played for so long – Matt Dillon. Even after the original series of Gunsmoke came to an end in 1975, Arness was constantly asked to come back to reprise the role. In 1987, CBS aired the reunion TV movie – Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge. Although Amanda Blake and Buck Taylor also reprised their respective roles, Milburn Stone died seven years before the movie came out. Arness starred in all five reunion movies.
Jeanette Nolan Led The Spinoff
On the back of Gunsmoke‘s success, CBS released a spin-off series called Dirty Sally. The show, which ran for just one season, starred Jeanette Nolan, who originally starred alongside Orson Welles in 1948’s Macbeth, as well as the show The Virginian. Nolan played an old woman who leaves Dodge City with Dack Rambo’s character to search for gold in California. Although it wasn’t particularly popular, Nolan was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Best Lead Actress in a Drama Series.
One part of Gunsmoke that remained consistent throughout the majority of its run was the opening credits. The very first episode saw Matt Dillon square up against another gunman. The creators loved the scene so much that they started every episode with this iconic sequence. However, this was eventually changed in the early 70s, just a few years before the show came to an end. The change was implemented as a result of intense anti-violence politics at the time.
Not only was Gunsmoke a hit with the fans, it also received much critical acclaim, often considered the greatest western epic of its time. It ended up accumulating 15 Primetime Emmy Award nominations throughout its run, with the show winning four of them. One of the most notable wins was when Dennis Weaver was awarded the award for Best Supporting Actor (Continuing Character) in a Dramatic Series in 1958. Milburn Stone also ended up winning the same award just 10 years later.
William Conrad Was Originally Matt Dillon
It is no secret that Gunsmoke was originally a radio show before the advent of primetime TV. Before James Arness was cast as Matt Dillon in the TV version, it was William Conrad who portrayed the main gunslinger during the radio days. He even portrayed the character after the TV show had already begun, carrying on the role until 1961. Although he was considered, the showrunners ultimately decided to go with Arness instead. It is rumored that Conrad’s weight was a big factor.
Number One For Four Years
One key detail that clearly demonstrated the impact that Gunsmoke had on society at the time was its undeniably good ratings. For four consecutive years, between 1957 and 1961, the western show was the number one TV show in the country. All in all, the show’s ratings were consistently impressive throughout its 20-year run, making it one of the longest and most successful shows of all time. However, when the producers decided to make the episodes half an hour longer, ratings start to go down.
Keeping Up With The Times
What made Gunsmoke such an impressive show was that it had such a fervent determination to stay relevant, despite the rapid growths in technology. So many advances in media meant that a lot of other “shows” fell by the wayside. However, Gunsmoke kept going in some shape or form for over 40 years. It started off as a radio series before transforming into a black and white primetime show. It evolved into an hour-long color series and even released five reunion movies.
Last Man Standing?
If there is one main character who has gone on to become a true Hollywood superstar, then it’s obviously Burt Reynolds. One of the only remaining cast members who is still alive, the actor who played Quint Asper for 50 episodes during the 60s has gone on to star in some of the most iconic movies of all time. These include the likes of Deliverance, The Longest Yard, Smokey and the Bandit, and Boogie Nights, to name a few.
John Wayne Got James The Job
Although it is merely a rumor that western legend John Wayne was offered the role of Matt Dillon, it certainly wouldn’t come us a surprise. However, it is true that Wayne did persuade James Arness to take the role when he was given the offer. At first, Arness was apprehensive to take the job, with many advising him against it as they believed it would tarnish his career. Nevertheless, Wayne thought differently and talked him into it.
Kirk and Spock Were In Gunsmoke?
It appears that before they joined the Enterprise, the main characters from Star Trek stopped off at Dodge City for a handful of cameos. At different stages, you will find the actors who played Kirk, Spock, Scotty, and Bones in a variety of episodes throughout Gunsmoke‘s run. While William Shatner, DeForest Kelley and James Doohan each made a cameo in one episode each, it was the late, great Leonard Nimoy who appeared the most, with four episodes to his name.
The Man With No Name?
Of course, it was Clint Eastwood who informally became the Man with No Name in his Fistful of Dollars trilogy. However, Milburn Stone technically went by no name during his first 16 seasons on Gunsmoke. He was known as “Doc,” or Dr. Adams, but not even the writers had an actual first name for him. Eventually, the producers gave Milburn Stone the opportunity to choose his own name for Doc, as he knew his character the best. He called him Galen.
One thing was for sure, Gunsmoke saw many future Hollywood superstars pass through Dodge City during its run. Many young aspiring actors who have cameoed on the show have gone on to become some of the most iconic names in the movie industry. Some these include the likes of Harrison Ford, who obviously went on to star in blockbusters such as Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Jodie Foster also made a cameo when she was just a little girl.
The Wild Bunch
Another iconic TV show that had many main cast members appear on Gunsmoke was none other than The Brady Bunch! During seasons fourteen and fifteen of the show’s 20-season run, three of the younger members of the famous family made appearances in a handful of episodes. Christopher Knight, who played Peter Brady, appeared in season fourteen’s episode, “The Miracle Man.” Just a few episodes later, Jan Brady’s Eve Plumb appeared in an episode. Also, Susan Olsen, who played Cindy Brady, appeared in both seasons 14 and 15!
Gary Busey Was The Last To Die
One actor who probably had the most notable cameo on Gunsmoke before embarking on a fairly successful career in Hollywood was Gary Busey, of all people. He might have only appeared in one episode, but it was a huge moment in the show’s history. Playing the character Harve Daley in one of the show’s final episodes in 1975, Gary Busey made history when he became the final character to ever be killed off on Gunsmoke.
The Simpsons – The New Gunsmoke?
Although it has been off the air for almost half a century, Gunsmoke still manages to hold the primetime record for the most episodes in one show, with a staggering 635 episodes to its name. However, it looks like the classic animated series The Simpsons will soon overtake Matt Dillon and the gang. As of March 2018, Matt Groening’s show has released 632 episodes, so it is only three away from equalling Gunsmoke‘s record. However, the western show did it in a shorter amount of time.
It wasn’t only James Arness’s scars from war that affected his performance on set. In the second half of his time on Gunsmoke, the actor who played Matt Dillon contracted a severe case of arthritis. It developed into a serious issue and prevented Arness from working the hours that he had grown accustomed to over the years. To tackle the condition, he agreed with the producers to start shooting all of his scenes for an episode in just one day so that he had more time to rest.