‘Gunsmoke’ Star James Arness Once Raced Buddy Ebsen Across the Pacific Ocean on Yacht

by Joe Rutland
(Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

Imagine having the time of your life on the high seas. Well, “Gunsmoke” star James Arness did with another TV star in a yachting race.

Who was this other TV star? None other than Buddy Ebsen, better known to classic TV fans as Jed Clampett on “The Beverly Hillbillies.” But I bet you are wondering what in the tarnation Uncle Jed was doing racing across the Pacific against Marshal Matt Dillon.

Obviously, we’re just referencing their TV characters for a minute. Arness and Ebsen were starting out with a number of other sailboats on July 4, 1968, according to an article from metv.com. The actors were taking part in the Multihull TransPacific Race, which would leave Los Angeles and arrive in Honolulu, Hawaii.

‘Gunsmoke’ Star Crosses Finish Line First But Ends Up Second

Arness’ catamaran was called the “Seasmoke” and it stretched 58 feet in length. Ebsen answered with the “Polynesian Concept.” Ebsen’s catamaran stretched 35 feet in length.

Alright, so who won this race between TV stars and others? Arness crossed the finish line at Diamond Head in first on July 15, 1968. That would make the “Gunsmoke” star the winner, right? Not so fast, Quick Draw. Ebsen, who served in the United States Coast Guard, knew a thing or three about handling a boat.

Ebsen strolled into the harbor after Arness did in the early-morning hours of July 17, 1968. OK, so Ebsen finished second? No. Ebsen won the event.

Competitive sailing rules have something called “corrected time.” That gave the victory to Ebsen, who crossed the line in 10.5995. Arness crossed it in 10.8835.

Arness’s Show Started Same Week As Another Iconic TV Western

“Gunsmoke” moved from radio to TV on CBS in 1955. Another major western show also premiered in the same week.

Hugh O’Brian starred in “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp” on ABC. “Wyatt Earp” geared its stories toward an adult audience, not solely focused on children viewers.

“Gunsmoke” and “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp” made it possible for other westerns to follow in their paths and tackle tough issues.

O’Brian starred as Earp, a Marshal like James Arness’s Matt Dillon. The show ran for six seasons and premiered four days before “Gunsmoke.” Desilu Productions ran “Wyatt Earp” with the show being in the Top 10 on a regular basis.

The man who played Wyatt Earp died on Sept. 5, 2016, at 91 years old. Arness died on June 3, 2011, at 88 years old. Ebsen died on July 6, 2003, at 95 years old.