It won’t take any ‘Gunsmoke’ fan long to guess which star grew up in the shadow of a true Western frontier town in Kansas.
Few television classics have the impeccable 20-year legacy of ‘Gunsmoke.’ This is in large part due to the remarkable cast, led by Matt Dillon legend James Arness. Yet there’s one co-star who kept Arness – and all cast and crew – completely in line when it came to the American West’s authenticity. He starred in every single season of the decades-spanning show – and had a direct tie to the actual frontier days of the 19th century.
Below, James Arness speaks highly of this co-star. He shares how he made sure the experiences from his own life were reflected authentically in ‘Gunsmoke’ via an early 20th century sit-down with The Archive of American Television. Have your guess at who it is yet? Read Arness’ comments for yourself and see if you can name the cast member:
“I remember him telling us that when he was a boy that he and his pals would be playing around in the streets of this little town and these old-timers would be sitting up on the boardwalk, whittling away and all and talking about the very times when Dodge City and other frontier towns were operating in. So he had that in his mind, and boy, he wasn’t going to let anything get through that he didn’t feel was authentic.”
Know who the Matt Dillon actor is referencing? None other than Milburn Stone, ‘Gunsmoke’s Doc Adams himself.
Milburn Stone Lived in an Authentic Western Frontier Town Before ‘Gunsmoke’
In the archival interview, Arness recalls many instances of Stone talking of his hometown.
Forever associated with his 20-year tenure as Doc Adams, Milburn Stone was born in 1904 in Burrton, Kansas. The tiny town was once part of the actual Western frontier and remained largely unchanged throughout Stone’s childhood. ‘Gunsmoke’s Dodge City would remain authentic largely through the actor’s own experience growing up in the Kansas city of less than 1,000 – directly alongside the men and women who built it in the 1800s.
Burrton, Kansas houses a population of around 1,000 people today. At the time of Milburn Stone’s childhood, however, there were less than 700 citizens within, MeTV cites via a census from 1910.
It’s hard for us to imagine in the 21st century, but much of the American West was still very much wild and untamed at the turn of the century when Stone was born. Through his real-life upbringing on the cusp of the frontier, the Doc Adams actor would set the tone for ‘Gunsmoke’ in a big way.
“He had been born and raised in a little town… back in the early part of the century”
“He didn’t hesitate to speak up and say, ‘Well that wouldn’t work because it’s not the way it would actually have been,” James Arness continued of Stone. “Turned out to be a great help. A major contribution to the early formative years.”
“He was a guy that had a whole lot to do with getting us off to a good start because No. 1, he was a very dedicated actor, serious about his work and all. And No. 2, he had been born and raised in a little town in Western Kansas, back in the early part of the century,” Arness cites of his beloved co-star.
All in all, it sounds like ‘Gunsmoke’ fans have Milburn Stone to thank for ‘Gunsmoke’s incredible, 20-year-long run as a television Western staple.