‘Gunsmoke’ Star James Arness Once Revealed John Wayne’s Biggest Question

by Joe Rutland
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(Photo Courtesy Getty Images)

When taking the role on Gunsmoke, James Arness already had a solid friendship with John Wayne. What was the biggest question from The Duke?

It probably had something to do with the CBS Western that Arness would become a star on for 20 seasons. Let’s see what is going on here with some help from GunsmokeNet.com.

“[When we first met, John Wayne] asked me a couple of questions about my acting,” Arness said in an interview with the Amarillo (Texas) Globe-Mail newspaper. “Then he said, ‘The main thing I have to know is _ do you drink?’

‘Gunsmoke’ Legend Set The Duke Straight On Whether He Took A Drink or Not

“I didn’t want to say because I didn’t know him at the time; maybe he was a teetotaler,” Arness said. “I said, ‘Well, I have been known to take one occasionally.’ We got a big laugh out of that and he put me on the picture Big Jim McLain.”

The Gunsmoke icon was a close friend of Wayne. In fact, The Duke would put Arness in some of his own movies.

Yet their tie-in would lead Wayne to help out Arness get off to the right foot on TV. The major motion picture star took time out of his schedule to appear as himself in the show’s first episode.

Wayne’s Appearance on First Episode Might Have Helped Viewers Trust Arness

When people tuned into Gunsmoke for the first time in 1955, the first person they saw was Wayne. He encouraged viewers to give Arness a chance. That was like a seal of approval for many of them because they trusted the word of John Wayne.

It wasn’t too often at that time for him to appear on TV. He did years later on talk shows and variety shows, too. Sometimes, he’d dress up like a cowboy and “walk-on” a show. It was all set up before he got there. Still, having a chance to see him on TV was almost must-see TV for many of his fans.

Much later in life, Arness looked back on the show being canceled on CBS in 1975. There was something that didn’t happen that he wished did take place.

“We didn’t do a final [Gunsmoke] wrap-up show,” he said in the same interview. “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.”

That put Arness out of regular TV work, but the actor was in demand for other roles. People knew him from playing Matt Dillon and grew to eventually trust him as well. Arness made himself visible while not really liking to do it outside of work.

Outsider.com