‘Gunsmoke’: James Arness Had to Change One Part of His Appearance to Come Across More Masculine

by Joe Rutland
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“Gunsmoke” star James Arness had naturally blonde hair. But he did something about it so he would look more masculine.

What did he do? Well, Arness, who played Marshal Matt Dillon, dyed his hair to have a more darker look to it.

In fact, Charles Marquis Warren, a novelist, screenwriter, and producer who brought “Gunsmoke” from radio to TV, made him do it.

“Arness, a towhead, was ordered by Warren to dye his hair, and it stayed dyed for 20 years,” according to a TV Guide story. The word “towhead” describes a person who has very light blonde hair.

You never saw Arness with his natural hair color on “Gunsmoke” because, after all, who would view Dillon as serious with blonde hair? It speaks to the mindset of Warren, who had total control over how the show would be presented to viewers.

But Arness went along with Warren’s wishes and ended up overseeing troublemakers in Dodge City for 20 seasons.

Taking A Look At Arness Behind ‘Gunsmoke’ Scenes

A lot of people like to wonder what type of guy James Arness was behind the scenes. People watched him for many seasons on CBS in the role of Dillon. Playing a U.S. Marshal is a rather stoic way of maintaining law and order.

Yet, was Arness himself the same as Dillon or different? Janet Arness, James Arness’s widow, with one of his co-stars, Bruce Boxleitner, talked about it in a 2017 interview.

Boxleitner points out that Arness the man had a really funny sense of humor.

“I always knew it was a great day because I could hear him coming from his trailer,” he said. “And, someone’s either just told a very dirty joke or something because he would have this high cackling laugh that would make you laugh.”

Janet Arness shared Boxleitner’s sentiments, calling James Arness’ laugh “contagious.”

Boxleitner also said James Arness would sit with the rest of the cast and crew and joke around. He helped make shows feel like a communal experience.

Well, so much for him staying in character all the time whether on or off the “Gunsmoke” set.

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