James Arness played Marshal Matt Dillon for 20 years, the longest role of his entire career. The actor discussed being typecast in his “Gunsmoke” role. In a 1978 interview with The New York Times, Arness said he had no qualms about Dillon or other western roles.
Dillon felt at home in the western genre. And he confessed he didn’t mind wearing the cowboy hat and also a gun holster for the rest of his career.
“I don’t think that simply putting on a suit and tie is necessarily going to be good for me,” he told the outlet. “I don’t mind being typecast. It’s certainly the area that I’ve been right for. I look around at so much of the stuff that’s being done, in theatrical features and television, and I wonder, ‘Well, gee, would I like to do that particular role?’ No, I wouldn’t want to. There isn’t that much around that’s very appealing to me, for my type of thing, what I do.”
The actor also discussed how audiences’ tastes had changed since he started acting. Arness couldn’t imagine himself playing a role that didn’t involve boots and spurs. He didn’t want to act in other genres like science fiction that were becoming increasingly popular in that era.
James Arness Starts Acting
For much of his early life, James Arness never entertained the idea of being an actor. He sort of fell into the craft after coming home from military service. The actor had served in World War II. He found work as a movie extra after moving to California.
“[My friend] knew some guy who had been an extra in movies, so we came out, looked him up, and thought maybe we’d get on as extras once in a while. We just kind of drifted in it,” Arness said in a 2011 interview. “I did wind up going to a little acting school and picked up on that, and things just sort of opened up there for a while.”
Arness’s first role was in the film “The Farmer’s Daughter,” but he quickly found a knack for acting. During his career, he starred in several westerns and a few sci-fi films as well. Westerns were always the actor’s bread and butter. He soon became friends with John Wayne, appearing in four of the legendary cowboy’s films. But the role that ultimately defined his career was Marshal Matt Dillon on “Gunsmoke.”
And Arness was completely okay with that.