‘Gunsmoke’ Star James Arness Wanted to Star on the Show ‘Forever

by Michael Freeman

Some actors leave long-lasting roles for different ones or simply do not wish to be there anymore. Gunsmoke star James Arness had the opposite mentality, saying he could have played as Marshal Matt Dillon forever.

James Arness played Matt Dillon for a decade, but according to an old interview with Australia’s TV Times from 1962, he would have loved to play the role even longer. Toward the end of the interview, the outlet asked about Gunsmoke and how long Dillon’s .45 will “keep smoking.” His answer? “Forever, if people want it.”

Earlier in the interview, Gunsmoke’s longevity was discussed. With the show being on for seven years at the time, people feared Dillon’s character may grow stale. Arness acknowledged the possibility, but still provided his own thoughts. “We’ve all probably had our secret doubts about going on with it. Maybe there isn’t much more I can do with the role after all this time. But so what?”

Continuing, he said he doesn’t care and noted when actors leave, people often want them back at some point anyway. “The dough’s still coming in, and I could keep on playing Matt Dillon forever. When Dennis left the show this past season to seek out greener pastures I told him he’d be back. And he did return. But for a while it was kind of tough trying to figure out what would happen to the show with him gone. Public opinion called him back. We were swamped with letters asking for him. So when his own TV show idea fell through, he came back. I was mighty happy to see him.”

Arness has a good point, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone, right?

Fellow ‘Gunsmoke’ Star Bruce Boxleitner Stated James Arness was Full of Energy on Set

James Arness openly stated he could play Gunsmoke character Matt Dillon forever and if his on-set attitude is anything to go by, it seems true. Co-star Bruce Boxleitner thinks the same, saying Arness was a “fun-loving guy” and full of energy.

Appearing on A Word on Westerns, Janet Arness and Bruce Boxleitner discussed James Arness at length and his legacy. Boxleitner worked with Arness on several other westerns besides Gunsmoke and said he’ll never forget the time the two spent together.

“He was a fun-loving guy. He loved to have a little prankishness going on,” Bruce Boxleitner shared. ” 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.”

Also stating Boxleitner “learned a lot from him,” he said it was a joy personally and professionally working with Arness.