‘Gunsmoke’ Star James Arness Spent Days Chasing Waves Before the Show

by Joe Rutland
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(Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)

Long before Gunsmoke star James Arness held his title of Marshal over Dodge City, he had another job that, well, was as a beach bum.

Yes, Outsiders, Arness would spend his time as a surfer.

Let us get some clarity about this from an article on MeTV.

The Farmer’s Daughter was meant to be his big break in movies. The future Gunsmoke star, though, heard the waves and they were alluring.

Arness, from Minnesota, got the role in that 1947 film because it was about a Swedish-American woman. Arness could do Scandinavian accents.

So, Jim Arness was new to Los Angeles. He headed there after getting over a war injury. The wound left him with a shorter limb, a slight limp, and lifelong pain.

‘Gunsmoke’ Star Ended Up Going Back Home to Minnesota For a Bit

The movie hit theaters but Arness was no fan of casting calls. Arness went back to Minnesota and visited his mom.

Arness headed back to California and got a job at a bowling alley. He also surfed, too. It was 1947.

Surfing became more important than acting to the Gunsmoke legend.

Arness went out to San Onofre beach in California. It was not a glamorous life of a movie star. Arness would work odd jobs and get unemployment checks after The Farmer’s Daughter. He slept in his car and on the beach.

Old Friend of James Arness Hits Beach, Dumps Fan Mail For Him To See

San Onofre happened to be on land associated with Camp Pendleton in California.

U.S. Marines had beach houses along the shore.

What happened? Well, Arness and his buddies began squatting in the unused Marine bungalows. They dragged in furniture from a dump. Eventually, a Marine showed up and ordered the squatters to clear out in two hours.

The Surf Club moved back outdoors. It stayed on the beach this time and kept things tidy. They didn’t want any more trouble with the Marines.

They shared bottles of Muscatel wine and idled.

Suddenly, a car roared down the beach and it was an old friend with fan mail for Arness. It poured in following The Farmer’s Daughter. 

“He chewed me out for wasting my time lying on the beach when I could be having a career in movies,” Arness said. “My beach bum friends had not known about my acting.” 

Ed Hampel urged Arness to come with him to an audition. He landed a role in the play. The rest was history.

Gunsmoke ran for 20 seasons on CBS. In fact, John Wayne happened to appear before the first episode aired on TV. He gave Arness his blessing and the show, too.

Outsider.com