Good evening. My name's Wayne. Some of you may have seen me before. I hope so. I've been kicking around Hollywood a long time. I've made a lot of pictures out here. All kinds. Some of them have been westerns and that's what I'm here to tell you about tonight. A western. A new television show called "Gunsmoke". When I first heard about the show "Gunsmoke", I knew there was only one man to play in it. James Arness. He's a young fellow, and maybe new to some of you. But I've worked with him and I predict he'll be a big star. And now I'm proud to present "Gunsmoke".
James Arness received his draft notice in 1943 and trained at Camp Wheeler, Georgia, before shipping out for North Africa. He was assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division in time for the invasion of Anzio. Ten days after the invasion, Arness was severely wounded in the leg and foot by machine-gun fire. His wounds, he lost part of his foot, plagued him the rest of his life. The injury made it difficult for him to walk for extended stretches, when shooting movies or TV shows, any scenes that required extensive walking would be shot early in the morning, before his feet and knees started giving out. The wounds resulted in his medical discharge from the army. He received the Bronze Star; the Purple Heart; the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three bronze campaign stars; the World War II Victory Medal and the Combat Infantryman Badge for his service
10 September 1955
31 March 1975
Gunsmoke is an American radio and television Western drama series created by director Norman MacDonnell and writer John Meston. The stories take place in and around Dodge City, Kansas, during the settlement of the American West.
The radio version ran from 1952 to 1961, and John Dunning writes that among radio drama enthusiasts "Gunsmoke is routinely placed among the best shows of any kind and any time." The television version ran for 20 seasons from 1955 to 1975, and still remains the United States' longest-running prime time, live-action drama with 635 episodes (Law and Order ended in 2010 with 476 episodes).
In the late 1940s, CBS chairman William S. Paley, a fan of The Adventures of Philip Marlowe radio serial, asked his programming chief, Hubell Robinson, to develop a hardboiled Western series, a show about a "Philip Marlowe of the Old West." Robinson instructed his West Coast CBS Vice-President, Harry Ackerman, who had developed the Philip Marlowe series, to take on the task.
Ackerman and his scriptwriters, Mort Fine and David Friedkin, created an audition script called "Mark Dillon Goes to Gouge Eye". Two auditions were created in 1949. The first was very much like a hardboiled detective series and starred Rye Billsbury as Dillon; the second starred Straight Arrow actor Howard Culver in a more Western, lighter version of the same script. CBS liked the Culver version better, and Ackerman was told to proceed.
But there was a complication. Culver's contract as the star of Straight Arrow would not allow him to do another Western series. The project was shelved for three years, when MacDonnell and Meston discovered it creating an adult Western series of their own.
MacDonnell and Meston wanted to create a radio Western for adults, in contrast to the prevailing juvenile fare such as The Lone Ranger and The Cisco Kid. Gunsmoke was set in Dodge City, Kansas during the thriving cattle days of the 1870s. Dunning notes, "The show drew critical acclaim for unprecedented realism."
The radio series aired from April 26, 1952 ("Billy the Kid," written by Walter Newman) until June 18, 1961 on CBS. It starred William Conrad as Marshal Matt Dillon; Howard McNear as Doc Charles Adams; Georgia Ellis as Kitty Russell; and Parley Baer as Dillon's assistant Chester Proudfoot.
Conrad was one of the last actors who auditioned for the role of Marshal Dillon. With a powerful, distinctive voice, Conrad was already one of radio's busiest actors. Though Meston championed him, MacDonnell thought Conrad might be overexposed. During his audition, however, Conrad won over MacDonnell after reading only a few lines. Dillon as portrayed by Conrad was a lonely, isolated man, toughened by a hard life. MacDonnell later claimed "Much of Matt Dillon's character grew out of Bill Conrad."
Meston relished the upending of cherished Western fiction clichés and felt that few Westerns gave any inkling of how brutal the Old West was in reality. Dunning writes that Meston was especially disgusted by the archetypal Western hero and set out "to destroy that type of character he loathed." In Meston's view, "Dillon was almost as scarred as the homicidal psychopaths who drifted into Dodge from all directions."
Chester's character had no surname until Baer ad libbed "Proudfoot" during an early rehearsal. The amiable character was usually described as Dillon's "assistant," but the December 13, 1952 episode "Post Martin," Dillon described Chester as Dillon's deputy. The TV series changed Chester's last name to Goode.
Doc Adams was iconoclastic and grumpy, but McNear's performances became more warm-hearted. In the January 31, 1953 episode "Cavalcade," Doc Adams' backstory is revealed: His real name is Calvin Moore, educated in Boston, and he practiced as a doctor for a year in Richmond, Virginia where he fell in love with a beautiful young woman who was also being courted by a wealthy young man named Roger Beauregard. Beauregard forced Doc into fighting a duel with him, resulting in Beauregard's being shot and killed. Eeven though it was a fair duel, because Doc was a Yankee and an outsider he was forced to flee. The young woman fled after him and they were married in St. Louis, but two months later she died of typhus. Doc wandered throughout the territories until he settled in Dodge City seventeen years later under the name of "Charles Adams."
Georgia Ellis appeared in the first episode "Billy the Kid" (April 26, 1952) as "Francie Richards," a former girlfriend of Matt Dillon and the widow of a criminal. "Miss Kitty" did not appear on the radio series until the May 10, 1952 episode "Jaliscoe." Kitty's profession was hinted at, but never explicit; in a 1953 interview with Time, MacDonnell declared, "Kitty is just someone Matt has to visit every once in a while. We never say it, but Kitty is a prostitute, plain and simple." The television show portrayed Kitty as a saloon proprietor, not a prostitute.
Gunsmoke was often a somber program, particularly in its early years. Dunning writes that Dillon "played his hand and often lost. He arrived too late to prevent a lynching. He amputated a dying man's leg and lost the patient anyway. He saved a girl from brutal rapists then found himself unable to offer her what she needed to stop her from moving into...life as a prostitute." (Dunning, 304) Some listeners, such as Dunning, argue the radio version was more realistic. Episodes were aimed at adults and featured some of the most explicit content of their time, including violent crimes, scalpings, massacres, and opium addicts. Many episodes ended on a somber note, and villains often got away with their crimes. Nonetheless, thanks to the subtle scripts and outstanding ensemble cast, over the years the program evolved into a warm, often humorous celebration of human nature.
Apart from the doleful tone, Gunsmoke was distinct from other radio westerns, as the dialogue was often slow and halting, and due to the outstanding sound effects, listeners had a nearly palpable sense of the prairie where the show was set. The effects were subtle but multilayered, giving the show a spacious feel. John Dunning wrote, "The listener heard extraneous dialogue in the background, just above the muted shouts of kids playing in an alley. He heard noises from the next block, too, where the inevitable dog was barking." (Dunning, 305)
Not long after the radio show began, there was talk of adapting it to television. Privately, MacDonnell had a guarded interest in taking the show to television, but publicly, he declared that "our show is perfect for radio," and he feared that, as Dunning writes, "Gunsmoke confined by a picture could not possibly be as authentic or attentive to detail." (Dunning, 305) "In the end," wrote Dunning, "CBS simply took it away from" MacDonnell and began preparing for the television version. (Dunning, 305)
Conrad and the others were given auditions, but they were little more than token efforts—especially in Conrad's case, due to his obesity. However, Meston was kept as the main writer. In the early years, a majority of the TV episodes were adapted from the radio scripts, often using identical scenes and dialogue. Dunning wrote, "That radio fans considered the TV show a sham and its players impostors should surprise no one. That the TV show was not a sham is due in no small part to the continued strength of Meston's scripts." (Dunning, 304)
MacDonnell and Meston continued the radio version of Gunsmoke until 1961, making it one of the most enduring vintage radio dramas.
Conrad directed two television episodes, in 1963 and 1971, while McNear appeared on six, playing characters other than Doc, including three times as storekeeper Howard Rudd.
The TV series ran from September 10, 1955 to March 31, 1975 on CBS with 635 total episodes. Its longevity has runners-up questioning its primacy as longest run. It is said to be one of many scripted primetime U.S. television series in contention having "recurring characters," though some shows were foreign-made with US airing. As of 2010, it is the sixth globally, after Doctor Who (1963–1989, 2005- ), Taggart (1983-), The Bill (1984–2010), The Simpsons (1989-) and Law & Order (1990–2010). James Arness and Milburn Stone portrayed their Gunsmoke characters for twenty consecutive years, as did Kelsey Grammer as the television character Frasier Crane. George Walsh, the announcer for Gunsmoke, began in 1952 on radio's Gunsmoke and continued until television's Gunsmoke was canceled in 1975.
Losing the role embittered Conrad for years, though he later starred in another CBS television series, Cannon (1971–1976). Denver Pyle was also considered for the role, as was Raymond Burr, who was ultimately seen as too heavyset for the part. Charles Marquis Warren, television Gunsmoke's first director, said "His voice was fine but he was too big. When he stood up, his chair stood with him. According to a James Arness interview, John Wayne was offered the role, but would not do it; Wayne was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, and at that time, working in television was a step down in prestige for a star actor. The account is disputed by Charles Marquis Warren, the director who brought Gunsmoke to television. Although he agrees Wayne encouraged Arness to take the role, Warren claims "I hired Jim Arness of the strength of a picture he's done for me... I never thought for a moment of offering it to Wayne."
In the end, the primary roles were all recast, with Arness taking the lead role of Marshal Matt Dillon upon the recommendation of John Wayne, who also introduced the first episode of the series; Dennis Weaver playing Chester Goode; Milburn Stone being cast as Dr. Galen "Doc" Adams; and Amanda Blake taking on the role of Miss Kitty Russell, owner of the Long Branch Saloon. MacDonnell became the associate producer of the TV show and later the producer. Meston was named head writer. Arness held rein to doing one scripted role for a record twenty years.
In 1962, Burt Reynolds was added to the show's lineup, as the "halfbreed" blacksmith Quint Asper and rode the span between characters Chester Goode and Festus Hagen. Three actors, who later played Dodge deputies, Ken Curtis, Roger Ewing and Buck Taylor, had previous guest roles. In 1963, singer and character actor Ken Curtis had a guest shot as a shady ladies' man. In 1964, Weaver left the series to venture out as the lead in his own show, Kentucky Jones. Ken Curtis returned in 1964, and was cast to play the stubbornly illiterate hillbilly Festus Haggen. The character came to town (in an episode titled "Us Haggens") to avenge the death of his twin brother, Fergus Haggen, and another brother, Jeff Haggen, and decided to stay in Dodge when the deed was done. Initially on the fringes of Dodge society, Festus was slowly phased in as a reliable sidekick/ part-time deputy to Matt Dillon when Reynolds left in 1965. In the episode "Alias Festus Haggen," he is mistaken for a robber and killer whom he has to expose to free himself (both parts played by Curtis). In a comic relief episode ("Mad Dog"), another case of mistaken identity forces Festus to fight three sons of a man killed by his cousin. Chester and Festus were perhaps Dillon's more popular sidekicks, though others would pin-on a tin badge as deputy for two and a half to seven-year stints, included Roger Ewing (1966–1968) as Thad Greenwood and Burt Reynolds as Quint Asper (1962–1965). Buck Taylor, who played gunsmith Newly O'Brian from 1967–75, also served as back-up deputy and doctor, having some studies in medicine.
The back stories of some of the main characters were largely left to the imagination of the viewer. Little was said about Matt's familial background, apart from his wayward youth and subsequent tutorage of a caring lawman. Kitty Russell, born in New Orleans and raised by a flashy foster mother (who once visited Dodge), apparently had no living family, although in an early episode, John Dehner portrayed a New Orleans businessman claiming to be Kitty's father, but leaves under a cloud of suspicion after his attempts to have Kitty sign over her interest in the Long Branch to him. Barkeep Sam was said to be married, though his wife never made an appearance. Quint Asper's white father was killed by white scavengers. Thad Greenwood's father, a storekeep, was also murdered. The question as to whether Chester Goode's stiff right leg was wooden or just maimed, was never fully answered. Doc and he never discussed the issue, which might have painted the free spirited, comic deputy with a darker tone. Newly O'Brien was named after a physician uncle, who ignited his interest in medicine.
While Dillon and Miss Kitty clearly had a close personal relationship, the two never married. In a July 2, 2002 Associated Press interview with Bob Thomas, Arness explained, "If they were man and wife, it would make a lot of difference. The people upstairs decided it was better to leave the show as it was, which I totally agreed with." In the episode "Waste", featuring Johnny Whitaker as a boy with a prostitute mother, her madam questions Dillon as to why the law overlooks Miss Kitty's enterprise. It appears that bordellos could exist "at the law's discretion" (meaning the marshal's). Miss Kitty was written out in 1974. The actor sought more free time and reportedly missed her late co-star, Glenn Strange, who played her Long Branch barkeep,Sam. When Blake decided not to return for the show's 20th (and final) season, the character was said to have returned to New Orleans.
There were differences between the characters on the radio and TV versions of Gunsmoke. In the radio series, Doc was acerbic, somewhat mercenary, and borderline alcoholic — at least in the program's early years. On radio's Gunsmoke, Doc Adams's real name was Dr. Calvin Moore, who came west and changed his name to escape a charge of murder.
The television Doc, though still crusty, was in many ways softer and warmer. Miss Kitty, who in the radio series likely engaged in prostitution, was viewed more as "the proprietor of a saloon" on the television series. Except for a few early scripts taken from the radio series, viewers only saw Miss Kitty as a kindhearted businesswoman. Nonetheless, several scenes depicted one of her girls leading a cowboy to the second floor of the saloon, where the boarding house was situated.
For sixteen years on television, a sign hung over "Doc's" office that read "Dr. G. Adams". Toward the end of the series' run, Milburn Stone was given free rein to choose the character's first name. The actor chose the surname of an ancient Greek physician and medical researcher named Galen as a first name.
From 1955 to 1961, Gunsmoke was a half-hour show (re-titled Marshal Dillon in syndication). It then went to an hour-long format. The series was re-titled "Gun Law" in the UK. The Marshal Dillon syndicated rerun lasted from 1961 until 1964 on CBS, originally on Tuesday nights within its time in reruns.
Gunsmoke was TV's No. 1 ranked show from 1957 to 1961 before slipping into a decline after expanding to an hour. In 1967, the show's 12th season, CBS planned to cancel the series, but widespread viewer reaction (including a mention in Congress and the behind-the-scenes pressure from the wife of CBS's president) prevented its demise. On the Biography Channel's "Behind The Scenes: Gilligan's Island"; 2002) Gilligan producer Sherwood Schwartz states that the wife of CBS's president pressured her husband not to cancel "Gunsmoke" in 1967, and so the network cut "Gilligan's Island" instead. The show continued in its new time slot at 8 p.m. on Mondays. This scheduling move led to a spike in ratings that saw it once again rally to the top 10 in the Nielsen ratings until the 1973–1974 television season. In September 1975, despite still ranking among the Top 30 programs in the ratings, Gunsmoke was canceled after a twenty-year run; it was replaced by Mary Tyler Moore spin-offs Rhoda and Phyllis. Thirty TV Westerns came and went during its 20-year tenure, and Gunsmoke was the sole survivor, with Alias Smith and Jones leaving the airwaves in 1972 and Bonanza in 1973.
Arness and Stone remained with the show for its entire run. Stone missed seven episodes in 1971 due to a heart-related illness and was temporarily replaced by Pat Hingle. Hingle played "Doctor John Chapman" while Doc Adams left Dodge to further his medical studies on the East Coast.
The entire cast was stunned by the cancellation, as they were unaware CBS was considering it. According to Arness, "We didn't do a final, wrap-up show. We finished the 20th year, we all expected to go on for another season, or two or three. The (network) never told anybody they were thinking of canceling." The cast and crew read the news in the trade papers. (Associated Press, July 2, 2002, Bob Thomas)
At 20 years and 633 episodes, the longest-running American prime-time drama TV series to date. (2008)
It was originally produced for the CBS Television Network by Filmcrafters at the Producers Studio (now the Raleigh Studio). Around 1960, CBS took over production and moved it to KTLA Studios, then owned by Paramount Pictures. Around 1963 production was moved to CBS Studio Center, formerly Republic Studios, where it remained for the rest of the show's run. Starting around 1970, CBS produced it in association with The Arness Company (James Arness). Originally syndicated by CBS Films and then by its successor, Viacom, now Paramount Television.
James Arness and Milburn Stone are the only two regulars to stay with the show for its entire 20-year, 633-episode duration on CBS.
Slated to be canceled in 1967 due to low ratings, but then-CBS president William Paley reversed the decision. He moved the show from Saturdays to Mondays (cancelling "Gilligan's Island" (1964) in the process), placing it back in the Nielsen's Top Ten (Paley and his wife were both big fans of the show).
Rumor has it that Rex Koury had so little time to pen the theme song that he hastily scribbled it while in the bathroom. It was originally written for "Gunsmoke" when it was a radio show and later adapted for TV.
"Gunsmoke" was created by writer John Meston and producer Norman MacDonnell as a radio series that premiered on CBS in 1952. Many of the early television episodes are adaptations of Meston's radio scripts. The radio series ran for more than 400 episodes and lasted until 1961.
The series was set in the 1870s. Kansas entered the Union in 1861. The Marshals Service provided local law enforcement in territories, not in states. The duties Matt Dillon performed would have been handled by a town Marshal or county sheriff (in this case, Ford County). Each state (or federal court district) had one US Marshal, who was in charge of all the Deputy US Marshals in that particular jurisdiction; Matt Dillon would have been a Deputy US Marshal.
The actress originally offered the part of Miss Kitty, Polly Bond (aka Polly Ellis), turned it down due to her recent (at the time) marriage to actor Tommy Bond in 1953.
This show, along with "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp" (1955) helped launch a great era of the TV western. Westerns became so popular on TV that by the end of the 1950s, there would be as many as 40 Westerns in prime time.
Originated in a 30-minute format, later expanding to 60 minutes
According to a TV Guide article published in the August 23, 1975 issue (just before the show left the air), 26 actors screen-tested for the role of Matt Dillon. William Conrad (voice of radio's Matt Dillon) was one, but didn't look the part. Raymond Burr sounded great, but according to producer-director Charles Marquis Warren: "he was too big; when he stood up his chair stood up with him" (Burr later lost considerable weight to play Perry Mason)). John Pickard almost made it, but did poorly in a love scene with Kitty (he later guest-starred a few times in various roles). Warren and producer Norman MacDonnell stoutly denied that they even considered major film star John Wayne - but they went with James Arness, who looked and sounded a LOT like Wayne. When Arness was reluctant to take the role, Wayne persuaded him and even agreed to introduce the first episode.
Gary Busey's character Harve Daley was the last man killed on the show.
The famous opening scene of every episode showed Matt Dillon facing down a gunman on Dodge City's main street, the gunman drawing and firing and Dillon firing back. That "gunman" was actor and quick-draw artist Rodd Redwing, famous for his ability to draw his gun from its holster and fire it in only two-tenths of a second.
The gunfight between Matt Dillon and an unknown gunman that opened every episode was shot on the same main street as that used in High Noon (1952).
According to "The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows" (8th Edition, pg. 495), John Wayne was the first choice to play Marshal Matt Dillon on "Gunsmoke" (1955), but declined because he did not want to commit to a weekly TV series. He did, however, recommend his friend James Arness for the role, and gave the on-camera introduction in the pilot.
When a replacement for Dennis Weaver was needed when he was leaving the show it was director Andrew V. McLaglen's suggestion that Ken Curtis be brought in for a tryout as Festus Haggen in a few episodes. McLaglen had directed Curtis in a similar role in an episode of "Have Gun - Will Travel" (1957). Festus was given the job of deputy to make him different from Weaver's character of Chester Good (who was never a deputy).