‘Gunsmoke’ Star James Arness Opened Up About Not Playing in Many Major Movies

by Clayton Edwards
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James Arness starred in one of the longest-running primetime TV shows ever made. Gunsmoke ended its 20-year run in 1975. However, the show remains an important part of American TV history. Thousands of people still seek the show out and watch it. Arness is arguably a large part of the draw of the series.

In addition to Gunsmoke, James Arness appeared in several other movies and TV shows. However, most of those movies were either made for TV or smaller B-movies. He never really made the transition from TV to Hollywood. In a 1962 interview with Australia’s TV Times, Arness opened up about why he never made that shift in his career.

James Arness on Why He Never Appeared In Major Films

The reason James Arness never appeared in major films is that he was a man of principle.  “The problem most TV actors like myself have is that we’re usually offered the small type movies,” he told the publication. In his eyes, studios wanted to cash in on the success of Gunsmoke. Arness would draw countless moviegoers because of the reputation he built with Matt Dillon. As a result, the low-budget movies would be able to turn a sizeable profit. That was, Arness said, “Exactly what I don’t want. I want major pictures and I don’t care if it’s not the leading role.”

Additionally, James Arness knew that he would make plenty of money for studios. “I don’t believe the axiom that people won’t pay to see in a theater what they can see at home on TV for free,” he said. After all, he watched people line up and pay to see him in person. However, he knew that if people were going to have to pay to see him, whatever he was in needed to be good. At the time, low-budget movies weren’t the best thing on the big screen.

John Wayne Told Arness to Stick to TV

Gunsmoke showrunners offered the part of Matt Dillon to John Wayne. He declined but suggested they hire James Arness instead. Then, he recorded an intro for the pilot episode of the show. In that short clip, he told the viewers at home just how great Arness was. He added that they should get used to seeing the big cowboy like they had gotten used to seeing the Duke. Wayne predicted that Arness would be around for quite some time.

However, John Wayne knew that James Arness would never make it in Hollywood. It wasn’t that the Duke didn’t believe that Arness had the acting chops. Wayne just thought the Gunsmoke star was too tall for Hollywood. “Actors like me and Gregory Peck and Gary Cooper don’t want you towering over us,” he told Arness.

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