‘Gunsmoke’: Did ‘Marshal Matt Dillon’ Actor James Arness Do His Own Stunts?

by Keeli Parkey
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Actor James Arness rose to fame thanks to his role as main character Marshal Matt Dillon on the famous Western television show “Gunsmoke.”

Unsurprisingly, a show set in Dodge City, Kansas as the American West was being settled included its share of horseback riding, fistfights, gun battles, and more. To put it simply, it was an action-packed show, even though it had its share of purely dramatic moments. Obviously, this required a lot of stunts. And, someone had to perform said stunts.

According to DoYouRemeber.com, James Arness was happy to perform many of his character’s stunts. This isn’t all that surprising considering the actor’s background. Not only did he play a tough guy on television, but Arness was also a tough guy in real life.

The article reports that the man who would become synonymous with Marshal Matt Dillon, served in the United States Army and had the role of rifleman. In fact, James Arness suffered a leg injury during World War II. The injury took place during a battle in Anzio, Italy.

The leg injury led to the “Gunsmoke” actor’s honorable discharge from the U.S. Army. And, it would bother him for years after the injury occurred.

Despite his leg injury and the discomfort he often experienced because of it, Arness was happy to jump in Marshal Matt Dillon’s saddle and do battle with bad guys on “Gunsmoke.” One of the stunts that usually caused his leg injury to become painful was riding his horse on the iconic show. However, he did not back down from the responsibility.

“Gunsmoke” aired from 1955 until 1975. James Arness played Marshal Matt Dillon throughout the show’s run.

Famous Actor Suggested James Arness Play Marshal Matt Dillon on ‘Gunsmoke’

His time playing Marshal Matt Dillon on “Gunsmoke” began when Arness was just 32 years old. He was put forward for the role that would change his career and life by a very, very famous actor.

That actor was none other than Hollywood icon John Wayne. Producers of the show reportedly wanted John Wayne to play Marshal Matt Dillon. However, he turned the role down. But, in turning down the role the Duke suggested another person for the role. That actor was James Arness.

“I was under contract to Duke’s company for two years before ‘Gunsmoke’ came along,” Arness reportedly said. “I had been in about four pictures for his company with him. When the ‘Gunsmoke’ offer came in, he said, ‘I wouldn’t be able to do it, but I have a young man here under contract who I think would maybe fit the bill.’ So he very graciously offered to introduce the first episode. And it was great. It was a wonderful thing. He was a one-of-a-kind guy. There just was never anybody else like him.”

Outsider.com