‘Gunsmoke’ Director Once Described Joke James Arness Pulled on Him

by Victoria Santiago

James Arness was well-known for liking to keep a low profile. Around friends and coworkers, however, it was a different story. He often felt overwhelmed by the characters he played on the screen. When it actually got down to doing the work, he let loose a little and played jokes on his Gunsmoke castmates.

During one such instance, he even had the cameras rolling to capture people’s reactions. Vincent McEveety, the director, detailed exactly how James Arness got him good during a 1979 interview with TV Guide.

“Jim steps out into the street, draws his gun, shoots right past his hip- pow! It’s timed just right-except it’s Jim who falls over dead. Well, I ran over in shock at first, He’d secretly exploded a blood capsule inside his shirt, which made it look frighteningly real. But then some of the crew started laughing. Jim had done this as a joke on me. He’d told the crew to let the camera run and see what I’d do. He’s been doing things like this for years to charge me up, make me laugh. But that was a classic moment. You really should see it sometime.”

Unfortunately for all of us that weren’t on the set that day, we’ll never be able to see it. Although James Arness made sure that the little stunt was filmed, he also made sure that it was promptly destroyed. We’ll have to live vicariously through McEveety for this story, at least.

James Arness Didn’t Enjoy Fame As Much As Others Did

During a 1966 interview, another producer for the popular Western once talked about how much James Arness disliked being in the spotlight. Arness started acting on sort of a whim, and even when he joined the popular show he was relatively new to the acting world. If not filming, the Gunsmoke star would often seclude himself in his trailer.

“There has never been an admiring throng around Jim (James Arness). He’d much rather go to his dressing room and lie down or talk to one of the guys. There is no exhibitionistic thing about Jim. All he wants is to do the show and get away,” Norman Macdonnell said.

Even if Arness didn’t like being in the spotlight, he loved being on the show. Even though he was new, he quickly became friends with his costars and rose through the ranks of Hollywood fame. He stayed on Gunsmoke so long that he broke the record for the longest amount of time an actor had played a TV character. That was back then, of course. He once even said that he would star in Gunsmoke forever if that’s what the fans wanted. For someone that disliked fame as much as Arness did, he sure was dedicated to his work and to the fans.