‘Gunsmoke’: James Arness’ Brother Was a Movie Star Who Changed Last Name for Hollywood

by Madison Miller
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James Arness became an extremely well-known name in Hollywood and across the world after starring as Marshal Matt Dillon on “Gunsmoke.” His name was so familiar that his brother even decided to change his name to avoid confusion.

Arness portrayed Matt Dillon for 20 years on CBS. He also went on to star in the Western series, “How the West Was Won.” What some people may not know about Arness is that he is actually related to Peter Graves.

James Arness and His Brother Peter Graves

Although the two do not appear to share the same last name, James Arness and Peter Graves are brothers. In fact, Arness is the older brother. He was originally born Peter Aurness, but changed his name when he started his career in Hollywood.

While James dropped the “u” in his last name, Peter Graves used the family’s maternal name instead.

Graves is most known for his roles in “Stalag 17” and “Airplane!” While he was popular in several films, Graves also had a television career. He was in more than half a dozen series as well as different made-for-TV movies.

From 1987 to 1994 Graves was also the host of the A&E show “Biography.”

According to Biography.com, Graves had his film debut in “Rogue River” in 1951. Some other credits include “The Raid,” “The Long Gray Line,” “The Five Man Army,” and “Mission: Impossible.”

Peter Graves passed away on March 14, 2010 and his brother James Arness passed away a year later on June 3, 2011.

The two never got to act onscreen together. However, Graves directed Arness in “Gunsmoke: Which Dr.” in 1996. Clearly, incredible talent in entertainment runs in the family.

James Arness Family Life

During his life, Arness had three serious relationships. He was only married twice. Once to Virginia Chapman and then to Janet Surtees. Arness and Chapman had two children, a daughter as well as a son. He had also made the decision to adopt Chapman’s son from a different relationship.

According to Fabiosa, his daughter Jenny played alongside him in “Gunsmoke” briefly. Unfortunately, she committed suicide when she was only 25. As for his son, Rolf, he had become a successful surfer. He won the World Surfing Championship in 1970.

James Arness had originally taught his son to surf after he had a nasty fall which left him with a serious skull fracture. He was hoping the physical exercise would help speed up his recovery.

His adopted son, Craig, became a photographer. He worked for National Geographic and then started a stock photography agency.

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