‘Gunsmoke’ Star Milburn Stone Described on Early Feud With James Arness

by Madison Miller
Photo by: Bettmann / Contributor / via Getty Images

The cast of “Gunsmoke” certainly spent a lot of time together. Twenty years, to be exact.

Some actors appeared more frequently than others, but, regardless, it would be quite the commitment on the screen. James Arness, who played Marshal Matt Dillon, and Milburn Stone, who played Doc, were two of the most consistent “Gunsmoke” characters during the show’s lifetime of 1955 to 1975.

Arness was the only cast member to appear in all 635 episodes of the show. Meanwhile, Stone appeared in an impressive 605 episodes. He was forced to leave the show temporarily after needing heart surgery following a heart attack.

Feud Between Two Different ‘Gunsmoke’ Actors

This means that the two worked together a lot, perhaps more than any other duo. As it turns out, it wasn’t all sunshine, rainbows, and friendship between the two “Gunsmoke” actors.

Arness was heavily desired for the role on “Gunsmoke.” The network and creators had to convince him to join the show. John Wayne also played a huge part in urging Arness to take the leap. Despite all of this, Arness apparently had a certain attitude and personality while filming that some were not a huge fan of.

“We didn’t get along too well in the early days. He used to annoy me, because at rehearsals he’d sit there and whistle or make all kinds of silly noises. So one time I started in on him really screaming and yelling. Jim’s got a frightening habit in such circumstances. When he gets really tense, he kinda winces and bites his front teeth together real fast,” Stone said during an interview with TV Guide.

It may not have completely changed his outlook, however.

“I had embarrassed the hell out of him, but Jim stood there and took it and then had the guts to
say that. You think this didn’t make an impression on me? As the years went by, I realized that he’s the most un-hypocritical guy I ever knew,” Stone also said.

What Stone considered immaturity, and others considered a playful personality, never truly faded. He would burst into random yodels and would joke around while filming. Clearly, he still managed to get things done and didn’t upset anyone too bad. This is clear since he was on “Gunsmoke” for 20 years.

Eventually, he’d grow more professional, too. He grew with the show. Director Vincent McEveety said that Arness was “the most professional man I’ve ever worked with.”

Arness Remembers Getting Yelled at by Stone

Although the two weren’t buddy-buddy, James Arness remembered some of their experiences fondly during a Television Academy Interview from 2002. He always wanted to make people laugh while filming “Gunsmoke,” but Milburn Stone wasn’t usually the one laughing.

He once was comedically staring at someone while biting into an ice cream cone after they had finished a close-up.

“One day I was doing that and he was on the sidelines watching and he said ‘God dam*mit Chuck … I’ve never seen anything so unprofessional in my life.’ He went stomping around the place and he said afterward, ‘I thought Jim was gonna come over and hit me,’” Arness said in the interview.

He said he thought it was funny, but Stone always “kept everyone on the straight arrow.”