‘Gunsmoke’: How the Series Cost a Small Fortune Before Filming Even Started

by Halle Ames
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Gunsmoke may have been a hit TV show from 1955 until 1975, but prior to its debut, it cost a small fortune.

Gunsmoke originated from a radio series that ran from 1952 through 1961. But making a script for a show, it a bit more challenging and costly than just putting an actor in front of a camera.

ME TV reports that a 1955 issue of Broadcasting magazine draws it all out.

Before the cameras were rolling, Gunsmoke producers blew through $135,000. According to the Inflation Calculator, that much money in 1955 is more like $1.3 million in today’s cash.

Only the Best for Gunsmoke

However, only the best would do for the soon-to-be hit television series.

CBS producers brought in decorated director Charles Marquis Warren. He was known as “one of the motion picture industry’s leading experts on the American frontier West.”

Although, Warren refused to refer to Gunsmoke as a ‘western’. In fact, people on set saw repercussions if they called it such.

“On the west coast film stage for the series, all hands must plunk a nickel in the coffee kitty whenever the naughty word slips out,” said Broadcasting.

That’s a colorful way of saying you had to pay the swear jar. I guess that is one way to raise funds after a costly production.

Nearly $45,000 was dumped into a lengthy and throughout the casting process. In all, over 150 men and women auditioned for Gunsmoke on an actual set, with a whole film crew. The four leads roles eventually went to James Arness (Matt Dillon), Amanda Blake (Miss Kitty), Dennis Weaver (Chester), and Millburn Stone (Doc Adams)

Dodge City

Additionally, a 12,000 square foot indoor set to look like Dodge City in the late 1800s was created. The fake building featured wheels so camera angles could be achieved easier. The set total cost priced out at $34,000. One of the most expensive sets at the time.

Producers forked over the final sum of money for the Gunsmoke story creation.

In all, Gunsmoke ran for 20 seasons and boasted 635 episodes. It is regularly referred to as the best show of its time. So, safe to say all that money paid off in the long run!

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