‘Gunsmoke’: Here’s Why James Arness Thought the Show Was Able to ‘Go So Long’

by Katie Maloney
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How was Gunsmoke able to stay popular for twenty years? James Arness shared his thoughts during an interview in 2002.

In 1955 fictional character Marshal Matt Dillon made his television debut in the first episode of Gunsmoke. The show had previously soared to fame as a radio show so everyone knew the story already had a solid fanbase. But no one could have predicted that the television show would become one of the longest-running television Westerns of all time. Gunsmoke ran for 20 seasons and aired a record-making 635 episodes. The show maintained the record for decades until The Simpsons broke the record in 2018. So what’s the Gunsmoke secret to success? During an interview in 2002, James Arness, who played Matt Dillon on the show, talked about what made the show so enduring.

“One of the things that you would say about our group is that we all got along marvelously well. Between the family members, we never had any kind of a serious falling out,” said Arness. “Which again, I think is one of the reasons that we could go so long. If you had a lot of conflict or dissension between the main actors, you’d have a heck of a time lasting that long.

Arness also talked about his co-star Milburn Stone, who played Doc Adams on Gunsmoke. Arness said that Stone’s perfectionism also contributed to the show’s success.

“He never stopped making sure that things were done right. You had to really give him credit for that,” said Arness. “He was a big part in keeping the characters and situations in the right area. Plus, he was a wonderful guy to be around.”

James Arness in a clip from Gunsmoke

Did Gunsmoke Actor James Arness Ever Get Tired of Playing a Cowboy?

It often seems that one of an actor’s greatest fears is being typecast. So after twenty years, many actors might tire of playing the same character. But that wasn’t the case for James Arness and Gunsmoke. In fact, during an interview in 1978, Arness said that he was totally okay with being typecast.

“I don’t think that simply putting on a suit and tie is necessarily going to be good for me,” said Arness. “I don’t mind being typecast. It’s certainly the area that I’ve been right for.”

Arness added that after he started acting, the popular film genres changed. And he wasn’t interested in getting involved with projects that were growing in popularity at the time. He was completely happy sticking with Gunsmoke.

“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,” said Arness.

Outsider.com