‘Gunsmoke’: Why the Producers Tried to Keep Burt Reynolds’ Role Small

by Craig Garrett

Gunsmoke producers were so threatened by Burt Reynolds’ raw charisma that they admitted to holding him back on the classic tv western. According to a recent MeTV article, the producers even openly said they kept Reynolds sidelined. Reynolds played Native American blacksmith Quint Asper. He was introduced to the show in 1963 during season 8. Though a supporting character, he quickly became a breakout fan favorite. Supposedly, acclaimed filmmaker Quentin Tarantino was named after Reynolds’ character.

Burt Reynolds ended up appearing on 50 episodes of Gunsmoke. Adding Reynolds to the cast was controversial. After all, the young actor literally sued to get out of his previous tv acting gig. Renolds claimed he was bored with his role on Riverboat, and demanded out of his contract. He also disliked his co-star, future A Christmas Story star, Darren McGavin. Reynolds later joked with TV Guide about McGavin. “I will say this about McGavin, he is going to be a very disappointed man on the first Easter after his death.”

Though Reynolds often quarreled with people on set, it did not stop him from being a recurrent guest star. In fact, he appeared in Alfred Hitchcock PresentsThe Twilight Zone, Perry Mason, and Route 66–just to list a few–between his roles in Riverboat and Gunsmoke.

The producers of Gunsmoke could see Reynolds’ charisma and talent easily, however that is what made them cautious as well. Quint was hardly ever put in the spotlight at the beginning, for fear he would take over it completely. Gunsmoke producer Norman MacDonnell pulled no punches about Reynolds when speaking to TV Guide at the time.“I have the feeling that if he ever got the bit in his teeth, he’d run away with it, MacDonnell explained. “He’s not afraid of man, beast, or God.” 

Gunsmoke was a different experience for Reynolds than Riverboat

However, Burt Reynolds got along great with his Gunsmoke costars. He even sang the praises of series lead James Arness and guest (future Star Trek legend) Ricardo Montalbán. “I’ve worked with nice guys in this business—guys like Jim Arness and Milburn Stone and Ricardo Montalbán, guys who go out of their way to help you all they can.” It makes you wonder what Arness did differently compared to Darren McGavin.

Considering Gunsmoke was on the air for an amazing 20 seasons, Reynolds had a short stay. He was only on the show for 3 seasons, and often sparingly in some episodes. However, he was a stand-out to fans. Much of the fan mail received during Reynolds’ tenure on the show was addressed to him. Producer MacDonnell was aware of the young actor’s appeal straight away. “Innately, he’s a leading man, which creates something of a problem for us. We can’t use him as such.”

Of course, Burt Reynolds went to pastures well beyond Gunsmoke. Still, it’s a treat to see the future mega star in his early tv roles.