‘Gunsmoke’: How James Arness Felt About Playing Marshal Matt Dillon

by Joe Rutland
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James Arness oversaw law and order in Dodge City for 20 seasons as Marshal Matt Dillon on “Gunsmoke.” But, did the iconic actor enjoy playing Dillon?

Arness, who starred in the CBS western, talked about the lead role during an interview with True Western Magazine.

“Gee, as far as playing him, it was wonderful,” Arness said. “It took me a little while to get into the groove. When we first started, I had played a number of different parts in pictures and everything but never had to carry that much responsibility.

“In most of those early episodes, I was in almost every scene,” he said. “I was suddenly faced with being in 15 pages a day and having to learn all this dialogue (laughing). But after a couple of years of that, I began to feel more comfortable, and really from that time on, it just sort of played itself. I felt I had gotten into the character, and it was just really fun from that point on.”

He put a face on the role made famous on “Gunsmoke” when it was a radio show. Actor William Conrad provided the voice of Dillon on the radio. The show moved into the CBS lineup in 1955 and James Arness secured his place in classic TV lore.

Arness was joined on “Gunsmoke” by Amanda Blake, Milburn Stone, Dennis Weaver, Burt Reynolds, Ken Curtis, and others throughout its run. Weaver and Reynolds found success on the show, yet moved along to other roles.

Weaver, who played Chester Goode, would star in NBC’s “McCloud” after his time on the CBS western. Obviously, Reynolds, who played Quint Asper, would also star in other TV series yet became the biggest box-office star in the 1970s.

‘Gunsmoke’ Star Admitted Modern Movies Weren’t His Thing

Don’t think that once James Arness stopped playing Matt Dillon weekly on “Gunsmoke” that he didn’t keep an eye on the entertainment industry.

He did but admitted in a 2005 interview that those modern movies didn’t have much to his liking.

“They are not my kind of movies, the movies that would appeal to me,” Arness said. “I don’t connect to Hollywood of today and I don’t know the new generation of actors.”

Arness loved playing in westerns and they provided him with a long, prosperous career. He died on June 3, 2011, at 88 years old.

“Gunsmoke” remains a show that generations of fans still watch thanks to the world of classic TV reruns.

Outsider.com