Old School Americana & Nostalgia


John Wayne Convinced James Arness to Take ‘Gunsmoke’ Role

John Wayne Convinced James Arness to Take ‘Gunsmoke’ Role

When he first started his career, James Arness focused on having a movie career but someone changed his path. Now, we’ll get to who helped put Arness in the saddle for Gunsmoke in a minute. Yet Arness, even after he had fulfilled his duties as Marshal Matt Dillon on the classic CBS series, still watched the show.

“I can enjoy them all,” Arness told The Associated Press in an interview. Gunsmoke did have its fair share of Western stories. Yet there was something a little bit different about that show from others.

According to Arness, “What made us different from other Westerns was the fact that Gunsmoke wasn’t just action and a lot of shooting: They were character-study shows.”

With this knowledge, the person who helped Arness become a TV staple must know something about Westerns. You better believe John Wayne did, according to MeTV. See, early in Wayne’s career, he did a number of short Western movies. These were not the major full-length ones (think The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly or even Unforgiven).

John Wayne Tells James Arness That TV Is A Good Idea

No, Wayne cut his teeth on these shorter movies. He even referenced them when telling Arness that going on television was a good idea.

“When I was starting out, I did a lot of quickie Westerns and serials,” Wayne said in an interview. “You learn so much. Plus, you’ll get a tremendous audience of people who will know who you are.”

After listening to Wayne and realizing that he put a good word in for him, Arness went ahead with Gunsmoke. But Arness was stepping into a role that already was created…on the radio. Gunsmoke had a built-in radio audience, so he was going to have to win them over on TV.

Classic TV fans will recognize the name of William Conrad. A wonderful actor in his own right, Conrad had been the voice of Matt Dillon on the radio show. He was not considered for the TV show. Yet he would find himself in the TV detective world in the 1970s. Conrad starred in the show Cannon.

Arness worked hard to make Gunsmoke a success. He worked with a solid cast, including Amanda Blake and Milburn Stone. Burt Reynolds was on there for a bit. So were Dennis Weaver, Ken Curtis, and Buck Taylor.

Gunsmoke developed a loyal audience throughout its run on CBS. Because of this, it remained a part of the network’s primetime lineup even into the 1970s.

Arness became a household name and could enjoy his life after Gunsmoke. He played Matt Dillon well, and probably no one will be able to touch that role again.