‘Gunsmoke’ Icon James Arness Joins Johnny Carson Show for Hilarious Skit in 1955: Video

by Jennifer Shea
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In 1955, late-night talk shows were more innocent than today’s fare. But they could still pack a punch where humor was concerned, as James Arness showed.

James Arness Joins Johnny Carson for Funny Skit

One prime example was an appearance by “Gunsmoke” star Arness on “The Johnny Carson Show.” The show was Carson’s own show, which aired from 1955 to 1956. The TV icon then took on The Johnny Carson Show in 1962.

Arness teamed up with Carson for a skit in which he tried to out-draw himself.

“Now, Jim, I know that you’re a hero, but the problem is that we have to convince the kids watching tonight that you’re a hero,” Carson began.

“Well, fine, Johnny, I’d like to help you out,” Arness replied. “But what do you want me to do?”

“Well, suppose you show the kids how fast you are on the draw,” Carson suggested.  

“All right,” Arness said. “How are we going to do that?”

“Well, you see, Jim, I’ve seen an advanced preview of your show ‘Gunsmoke’ that’s coming up,” Carson said. “And you know, there’s only one man who stands a chance with you.” 

“Who’s that?” asked Arness.

“That’s you!” Carson explained. “You see? So tonight, what we’ve done, Jim, we’ve brought a mirror, a large mirror, onstage here. And I thought maybe you could show the kids and try to see if you can out-draw yourself.”  

Watch below to see what happens when Jim Arness goes up against his mirror image:

Actor Made Television History

“Gunsmoke” was one of the longest-running TV shows in television history. Arness, who was 6’6” and towered over even the lanky Carson, played Marshal Matt Dillon for 20 years on the show.

Despite his professional success, his personal life included its share of tragedy. Arness’ ex-wife and daughter both died of drug overdoses.

The actor died at age 88 in 2011. He passed away in his sleep in his Brentwood house. 

Arness had initially been reluctant to take the leading role on “Gunsmoke” because he was afraid of being typecast, the Associated Press reported. But movie star John Wayne, who had turned the role down himself, persuaded Arness to take it.

“Go ahead and take it, Jim,” Wayne reportedly told him. “You’re too big for pictures. Guys like Gregory Peck and I don’t want a big lug like you towering over us. Make your mark in television.”

Arness would go on to star in the longest-running drama in network history until “Law & Order” came along. His 20-year prime-time stint in the role of Marshal Matt Dillon was tied only by Kelsey Grammar, who played Frasier Crane for 20 years on “Cheers” and then “Frasier.”

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