The ‘Gunsmoke’ Cast Had No Idea John Wayne Recorded the First Episode Introduction

by Emily Morgan
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There’s no doubt that the classic TV western “Gunsmoke” may have looked quite different had John Wayne played a part in the series. Although James Arness had a leading role on the show, Wayne actually had a small part in “Gunsmoke.” 

Before it became the classic Western as it’s known today, the show started as a radio series in 1955. Once the show transitioned to TV, showrunners pegged James Arness to play Marshal Dillon, who previously played the alien in The Thing From Another World in 1951. 

However, before the show picked Arness for “Gunsmoke,” several famed actors were considered for the part. However, surprisingly, John Wayne was never considered despite his iconic roles in plenty of Westerns. When the show hit TV airwaves, Wayne, who nearly worked side-by-side with Elvis, was at the height of his acting career. At the time, an A-list actor playing a part in a primetime TV series was unheard of, and Wayne reportedly didn’t care for working in TV. 

However, Wayne did contribute to the show in some capacity. In the past, he worked with James Arness and recommended him for the role to the show’s writer and producer, Charles Warren. In addition, Wayne also recorded an introduction for Gunsmoke’s debut episode titled “Matt Gets It.” The introduction was also a surprise for viewers and cast, who had no idea The Duke would be featured. 

John Wayne makes a brief appearance in the ‘Gunsmoke’ universe

However, his introduction is brief and to the point. During the clip, he offers praise to his “friend” Arness as well as the quality of the show. Although Wayne never actually appeared in an episode of the series, it’s a nice moment to see him give a shoutout to the Dodge City Western.

“Gunsmoke” was a huge rating success for CBS. It would end up on the air for two decades until its end in 1975. The show held the record for the most episodes produced for a primetime, scripted series, totaling 635. 

In 2018, the animated sitcom “The Simpsons” would eventually beat their record in 2018. As for Arness, he also held a record of his own. He played Dillon across the span of 50 years. In addition, he tied with Kelsey Grammer as Frasier for having played a character across 20 consecutive seasons.

After Season 20 of “Gunsmoke,” Arness would later return as Dillon for a series of TV movies. For instance, he came back in 1987 with Gunsmoke: Return To Dodge. 

Arness officially ended his acting career in 1994 with One Man’s Justice. Although the show will forever be iconic, there have currently been no attempts to revive or remake the series. In addition, it’s nearly impossible to imagine anyone replacing Arness as Marshal Dillon now.

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