‘Gunsmoke’ Star Bruce Boxleitner Said Last TV Movie Wasn’t Meant to End Series

by Lauren Boisvert

Bruce Boxleitner spoke with A Word On Westerns in 2019, where he discussed working on “Gunsmoke.” Janet Arness was also there to talk about her life and experiences being married to James Arness, the star of “Gunsmoke.”

Boxleitner starred alongside Arness in the “Gunsmoke” film “One Man’s Justice” and in the remake of “Red River.” In conversation with A Word On Westerns, Boxleitner spoke about “One Man’s Justice,” and how it wasn’t originally supposed to be the end of “Gunsmoke.”

“I don’t think they planned on it being [the last], it just happened that way,” Boxleitner said. He joked, “I didn’t intentionally kill ‘Gunsmoke.'”

The show ended in 1975 without a proper finale; the five subsequent films were an attempt to end the show on its own terms. Except, “One Man’s Justice” ended the series unexpectedly again. The film followed the now-retired Marshall Dillon as he attempted to find the gang responsible for a robbery and murder of a woman. He also had to stop her teenage son from going after outlaw justice. The film also featured the now-“Yellowstone” star Forrie J. Smith in a bit part.

“One Man’s Justice” was James Arness’ last appearance as Marshall Matt Dillon, and his final acting role before his retirement. All in all, “One Man’s Justice” is a fitting end to “Gunsmoke.”

‘Gunsmoke’: James Arness Had a Fun-Loving Attitude on Set

According to Bruce Boxleitner, James Arness wasn’t as serious as his character Matt Dillon; in his interview with A Word On Westerns, Boxleitner shared insight into Arness’ attitude on set.

“He was a fun-loving guy. He loved to have a little prankishness going on,” said Boxleitner. “I always knew it was a great day because I could hear him coming from his trailer and someone’s either just told a very dirty joke or something because he would have this high-cackling laugh that you just knew it would make you laugh.”

Arness’ “Gunsmoke” stunt double, Ben Bates, once said that Arness laughed “from his toes to the top of his head.” Boxleitner said of Arness that he would sit with everyone out on set, that there were very few divas on a Western set because everyone was on equal footing. “He would sit out […] And you know, he was just a lot of fun […] He’d joke around with us a lot. And there was always that sense of humor going on.”

Boxleitner said he considered Arness a sort of mentor, even though Arness was “too shy of a guy to [openly mentor].” He led by example, and Boxleitner took notes. “I watched how it was to be a television star on a day-to-day basis,” said Boxleitner. According to Boxleitner, watching Arness helped him transition from doing theater to performing on film.