‘Gunsmoke’: Here’s Which Star Took Over for Frank Sinatra

by Joe Rutland
(Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

“Gunsmoke” put together quite a cast of characters and actors. Ken Curtis made his mark as “Festus,” but he also was a singer, too.

Wait a minute. Some of you are saying, “Festus? A singer?”

Yes, it’s true. Curtis, before turning his attention to country music, actually was a Big Band crooner. He would be the vocalist standing out in front of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra back in the 1940s.

For music buffs, though, the name that comes to mind when mentioning the Dorsey band and the 1940s is Frank Sinatra. As hard as it might be to believe, Curtis would sometimes fill in for Sinatra as lead vocalist for Dorsey.

Ken Curtis Would Fill In For Frank Sinatra On Bandstand

Sinatra was becoming a very big star in the 1940s, finding his way to individual concerts and even hosting or guest-starring on major radio shows. His stature grew and it would sometimes take him away from his Dorsey band duties.

That’s where Curtis comes into the picture. He would fill in for Sinatra in between “Ol’ Blue Eyes” taking over the microphone. Curtis started doing this upon returning from serving the country in World War II.

His time as a singer helped lead Curtis into getting film roles. Ultimately, he caught the eye of producers looking for actors to play roles on the TV version of “Gunsmoke.” The western had a long-running radio show with William Cannon as the voice of Marshal Matt Dillon.

When it came to TV, though, producers wanted someone else to look the part. James Arness fit the bill and slipped on the boots and badge for a long run with the CBS show.

Curtis Leans Toward Country Music While On TV

Curtis began leaning away from Big Band music and toward country music. He still managed to find some success in that realm, yet becoming “Festus” would cement him in TV history.

So, the next time you see a “Gunsmoke” rerun and catch Curtis in his role of “Festus,” then maybe picture him as a Big Band crooner. The picture might not make a bit of sense, yet Curtis could say that he spent a part of his life taking the place of Frank Sinatra.

That’s not a bad gig right there, friends.

H/T: Cheatsheet