‘Gunsmoke’: Remembering James Arness, Who Died On This Day In 2011

by Joe Rutland
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Actor James Arness of the classic TV show Gunsmoke died on this day in 2011 but the memories surrounding his work are still strong. Arness was 88 when he died on June 3, 2011. The work that he did on TV as Marshal Matt Dillon gains new fans year after year. His career also included a long, fruitful friendship with John Wayne.

On May 26, 1923, Arness was born James King Aurness. He did have a brother named Peter Aurness. But you know him better for playing Jim Phelps on Mission: Impossible as Peter Graves. Arness would go into radio in his hometown of Minneapolis. Arness, though, had an itch to be an actor and would go to Hollywood. The actor appears in the movie The Farmer’s Daughter but would make a slight tweak in his last name. He dropped that “u” and would be known as James Arness forever.

James Arness Of ‘Gunsmoke’ Fame Served In World War II

While serving in the U.S. Army in World War II, the actor really did want to become a pilot. Yet his eyesight and height were issues. OK, so his pilot dreams were dashed. Arness was drafted into the U.S. Army in March 1943. Arness was a rifleman and took part in the Battle of Anzio with the 2nd Platoon, E Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division.

It was during the war that Arness injured his right leg. The future Gunsmoke star was evacuated from Italy to Iowa. Arness, in an interview with the Santa Clarita Signal, says that John Meston helped conceive the whole show. “He did most or all the radio shows, and then when it came to television, he did most of those for the first couple of years,” Arness says. We get more from Pop Culture. What about the connection with The Duke? Arness would talk about it with the Signal. He reflected upon being under contract with Wayne’s company for two years before the famed TV show comes along.

Actor Would Appear In ‘How The West Was Won’ After TV Show Ended

“When the Gunsmoke offer came in, he said, ‘I wouldn’t be able to do it, but I have a young man here under contract who I think would maybe fit the bill,'” Arness recalls. “So he very graciously offered to introduce the first episode. And it was great.”

Gunsmoke ran for 20 seasons on CBS and has its run come to an end in 1975. Still, Arness would go on to appear in How The West Was Won between 1977-79. While he would do other TV work, Arness came back to Dillon for some made-for-TV movies.

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