James Arness was a larger-than-life character on “Gunsmoke” portraying Marshall Matt Dillon. He was larger-than-life in real life as well.
For those who don’t know, the “Gunsmoke” actor is a whopping 6 foot, 7. His super tall build makes him menacing, which was perfect for his 20 seasons on the show. Matt Dillon was a hero, constantly righting wrongs and doing good for the community. He would often literally stride in on horseback to save the day. Quite the cliche, but it was pretty iconic on “Gunsmoke.”
James Arness Talks About ‘Gunsmoke’ Horse
Arness once wrote a piece called “‘No Trick Horses’ For Me” and reflected on his relationship with horses, both in and out of Hollywood. When it comes to his relationship with the horse on “Gunsmoke,” it was a bit complicated.
“When the occasion demands I ride a horse in ‘Gunsmoke.’ Usually it is a big buckskin gelding named Buck, chosen not because of his intellect, or his fidelity, but because he is very large and only a very large horse will fit me,” Arness wrote in the piece.
He went on to explain that the show tried to be real about the relationship people had with horses at that time. The horse in the show is never identified because in the Old West a marshal wouldn’t keep a horse for too long. The horse was kind of more of a tool, which could often be traded or upgraded over the years.
Buck is just supposed to be an impersonator of sorts of all these horses Matt Dillon would be riding to get his jobs done. In this case, however, James Arness had to stick to the same horse due to his height and overall size. Not only that, but Arness seemed to think Old Buck wasn’t really all that.
“You’ll never catch Faithful Old Buck doing calculus on ‘Gunsmoke.’ Confidentially, Old Buck is kind of stupid. Can’t even count to four,” he also wrote.
For what it’s worth, seeing Old Buck on the screen was always exciting for fans. It meant something epic was certainly about to happen.
John Wayne Talks About James Arness
James Arness became insanely famous for his continuous role in the popular Western series.
For iconic movie star John Wayne, he seemed to think that Arness couldn’t have ever made it in film. So, he was happy he was able to make it in the TV world. According to an interview in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, John Wayne was actually once offered a major role in a weekly Western series but turned it down.
He ended up suggesting someone else for that TV role, instead.
“Try and make your mark in TV, Jim, because you’re not going to make it in movies. You’re too tall. Actors like me and Gregory Peck and Gary Cooper don’t want you towering over us,” Wayne had said.
Make his mark, he did. He even got his own specially selected horse to make that mark.