‘Gunsmoke’: James Arness Explained Why Melody Ranch Was a Perfect Place to Film Show

by Joe Rutland
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James Arness, who played Marshal Matt Dillon, found the iconic Melody Ranch as a really wonderful place to film “Gunsmoke” episodes.

Arness, in a 2006 interview, recalled doing the first couple of years of outdoor shots at Melody Ranch.

He was asked if he knew why the place was picked to shoot scenes for the extremely popular CBS western.

“I don’t, really, but it certainly was the ideal place to do these shows,” Arness said. “You had all kinds of different locations there including, even, there was a train there.

‘Gunsmoke’ Star Was Happy To Do Scenes At Melody Ranch

“It was great to be there,” the “Gunsmoke” star said. “And then eventually, in later years, we went to all these various places, out at Thousand Oaks and all that. Great country then. Now it’s all built up with condominiums. But back then, there was a lot of great country out there, which we used.”

Now Melody Ranch might not be a name that comes to your mind right away. If you heard the name of Gene Autry, then you might pop up and take notice. Autry, one of the western movie’s greatest stars and original owner of MLB’s California Angels, purchased the studio in 1952.

John Wayne and Gary Cooper are just among the legion of Hollywood stars to have shot their western movies at Melody Ranch. HBO western-themed shows “Deadwood” and “Westworld” also used the sprawling space, too. The western shows that dominated television screens throughout the 1950s owe a big debt of gratitude toward Melody Ranch.

John Wayne Plays Big Part In Cameo For CBS Western’s First Show

“Gunsmoke” crossed over from radio into TV in 1955. Wayne, in fact, introduced the first episode and played a pivotal role in Arness getting the lead role.

When Wayne appeared on the show, it was during a time when his popularity was through the roof. Just by showing up for a few minutes and tipping his cowboy hat toward “Gunsmoke” gave the show instant credibility. John Wayne was whom people identified with western movies for many years.

Arness and the rest of the cast would take the show to incredible heights on CBS. From 1957-60, “Gunsmoke” was the No. 1 show in the Nielsen ratings. Between 1955 and 1975, when the show’s run ended, “Gunsmoke” always was in the Nielsen Top 30 shows. Most of that time, it was in the Top 20.

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