One ‘Gunsmoke’ Star Nearly Competed in the 1948 Olympics

by John Jamison
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From 1955 to 1964, Dennis Weaver played Chester Goode on Gunsmoke. As Matt Dillon’s right-hand man, Weaver’s character was known for refusing to carry a gun and a distinctive limp. But don’t let the bum leg fool you; Dennis Weaver was a gifted athlete in his youth. So talented, in fact, that he very nearly represented the United States at the 1948 Olympics.

Dennis Weaver, a Missouri native, was a multi-sport athlete through high school in college. At Joplin High School, football was where he really shined. In junior college, it was basketball. And at the University of Oklahoma, losing out on the starting quarterback job turned his attention toward track and field.

You wouldn’t know it by watching his Gunsmoke character move, but Dennis Weaver was a born runner. He performed so well that he represented the Sooners in the decathlon at the 1948 Olympic trials. He placed sixth, three spots back from the Team USA cutoff.

For Weaver, though, falling short of the Olympic team was far from a failure. According to his official website, his ultimate dream was always to pursue a career in acting. He was studying for an arts degree at the University of Oklahoma while competing.

Not long after, Weaver earned a role in a Broadway production of Come Back, Little Sheeba. From there, his acting career took off. Within a few years, he’d have landed the iconic Chester role that would win him a Primetime Emmy Award for his portrayal on Gunsmoke.

What Motivated Dennis Weaver to Leave a Succesful Show Like ‘Gunsmoke’?

You can take the man away from the competition, but you can’t take the competition out of the man. It seems that Dennis Weaver got tired of his figurative silver medal during his nine years on Gunsmoke.

It wasn’t easy for someone like Weaver to stand in the shadow of Matt Dillon actor James Arness for almost a decade. After all, the guy was 6′ 7.” Weaver was literally in his shadow. He explained the mindset behind his decision to leave the long-running show to the Toronto Star in 1987.

“The reason I got away from Gunsmoke was that I wanted to leave the second banana role. It was a very important — and frightening — step for me career-wise. I was a little naive. ‘Gunsmoke’ was the only series that I had done up to that point, and I thought, well, I’d just get another series, and I’d get a successful one. But that’s not the way things happened,” Weaver told the outlet.

Fortunately, it didn’t take very long for another successful series to come along. Who can forget Weaver’s seven-year run as the New Mexican marshal on the classic western McCloud?

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