‘Gunsmoke’: Why James Arness Missed Out on Meeting Dwight D. Eisenhower During White House Visit

by John Jamison

James Arness played Marshal Matt Dillon on the iconic TV western “Gunsmoke” for 20 years. With this legendary run and his contribution to American culture, you’d think Arness would have a decent shot at meeting the president when he went to the White House. So what kept the actor from meeting then-President Eisenhower during his visit to the capital?

His “Gunsmoke” character, Marshal Matt Dillon, was a federal officer. This means he would have reported to the Department of Justice. And the DOJ falls under the umbrella of the executive branch of government, so Marshal Matt Dillon technically worked for the president.

President Eisenhower could have found a minute to meet with the legendary actor and honorary U.S. Marshal, right? Well, according to an interview with the Santa Monica Mirror in 2006, the legendary actor was at the White House and ready to meet. Eisenhower, however, was nowhere to be found.

“I was in Washington D.C. when Ike was president. I met a California senator whose secretary took us onto the Senate floor,” the “Gunsmoke” star told the outlet. “Then we went to the White House for a visit and were told that the president was in a meeting. Actually, he was back on his putting green. I never met him but the Washington newspapers said, ‘President Eisenhower could not meet with the legendary actor.'”

Sorry, James. President Eisenhower had some slightly more pressing business to take care of. Apparently, Ike knew the secret of golf: drive for show, and putt for dough.

‘Gunsmoke’ Star James Arness Served in World War II

In addition to his honorary status as a U.S. Marshal, James Arness served with distinction in the U.S. Army during World War II.

While Eisenhower was a general at the time, Arness was with the U.S. 3rd Army Infantry Division during the invasion at Anzio. Storming the Italian beach, he was wounded by German machine-gun fire to his leg. The wounds he suffered stayed with him his whole life, but so too did the Bronze Star and Purple Heart he earned for his bravery under fire.

Clearly, the longtime “Gunsmoke” actor was more than equipped to play a U.S. Marshal and navigate the dangers of Dodge City.