‘Gunsmoke’: James Arness Held Record for Longest Stint Playing Single Character Until Kelsey Grammer Came for the Title

by Keeli Parkey
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Actor James Arness, who played Marshal Matt Dillon on “Gunsmoke,” was known for many things. There was his tall stature – he was 6-feet, seven-inches tall. There was also his recognizable voice.

Arness also set a record, though.

Thanks to the success of “Gunsmoke,” the show stayed on television for two decades. And, Arness played Marshal Matt Dillon for all 20 of those years, according to IMDb.com. In doing so, he set the record as the actor who had played the same role for the longest continuous time period on prime-time television. “Gunsmoke” aired on CBS television from 1955 until 1975.

The actor’s “Gunsmoke” record went unmatched for decades. Then, in 2004 Kelsey Grammer tied it for playing Dr. Frasier Crane. According to IMDb.com, Grammer first played the role on “Cheers.” Then, he played the doctor on the spinoff show “Frasier.”

Other Long Character Stints on Television

Of course, others have reached the longevity in career since Arness and Grammer first took the title. Matiska Hagarty is on her 22nd season of Law & Order SVU as Olivia Benson. She has been on air since 1999 and now hold the title over Grammer’s Frasier.

Kelsey Grammer and a Frasier Reboot

Kelsey Grammer just might retake the crown as Frasier seems it could be returning to TVs. Add a few more years to his title as Dr. Frasier Crane and Grammer may be unbeatable. According to recent reports, the actor is set to return as Dr. Frasier Crane with the reboot of “Frasier.”

The reboot will air on the Paramount+ streaming service. And, Grammer is ready to play the popular doctor once again.

“Having spent over 20 years of my creative life on the Paramount lot, both producing shows and performing in several, I’d like to congratulate Paramount+ on its entry into the streaming world,” Grammer said. “I gleefully anticipate sharing the next chapter in the continuing journey of Dr. Frasier Crane.”

John Wayne Suggested James Arness Play Marshal Matt Dillon

James Arness was 32 years old when he began his decades-long tenure as Marshal Matt Dillon on “Gunsmoke.” Interestingly, it was the famous John Wayne who told the show’s producers that Arness would be good for the role of the marshal of Dodge City.

“I was under contract to Duke’s company for two years before ‘Gunsmoke’ came along,” Arness reportedly said. “I had been in about four pictures for his company with him. When the ‘Gunsmoke’ offer came in, he said, ‘I wouldn’t be able to do it, but I have a young man here under contract who I think would maybe fit the bill.’ So he very graciously offered to introduce the first episode. And it was great. It was a wonderful thing. He was a one-of-a-kind guy. There just was never anybody else like him.”

Here’s something else you might not know about James Arness – he was injured while serving in the United States Army during World War II. His injury took place in Anzio, Italy, according to IMDb.com.

Arness received several medals for his service, including the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three bronze campaign stars, the World War II Victory Medal, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.

Outsider.com