‘Gunsmoke’: James Arness Once Revealed the ‘Problem Most TV Actors’ Have

by Quentin Blount
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Gunsmoke actor James Arness was always outspoken about his life as a prominent television actor. One of his most interesting comments came in an interview where he reveals a problem that many TV actors share.

Many fans of classic Western television of course know James Arness for playing the role of Marshal Matt Dillon for 20 years on the hit show Gunsmoke. The show was without a doubt one of the most successful of its time. And with all of that success, one would think that Arness would have been offered some major acting roles in movies as well as television.

But we never quite saw that happen. When asked why the Gunsmoke star didn’t make a move to the big screen in movies, his answer may leave you surprised. He says that TV actors oftentimes don’t get offered roles in major films.

“The problem that most TV actors like myself have is that we’re usually offered the small-type movies, where they can exploit our name and shoot it on a small financial budget,” Arness said in an interview with Australia’s TV Times in 1962. “In my case, pictures like that simply want to take advantage of the Matt Dillon reputation, which is exactly what I don’t want. I want major pictures — and I don’t care if it’s not the leading role.”

However, if his track record was any indication, it seems like Arness was perfectly content with centering his life around Gunsmoke. After all, the leading actor played the same character on the show for more than two decades. That set a record for the longest continuous time period on prime-time TV. The classic Western show aired on CBS from 1955 until 1975.

How Much Did the ‘Gunsmoke’ Actor Make?

As James Arness previously confessed, he didn’t have a problem turning down small-movie roles during his career. That’s likely because he was getting more than enough from Gunsmoke to remain comfortable. But just how much did the fan-favorite show pay Arness?

Out of all of the show’s characters, perhaps none were quite as popular as Dodge City Marshal, Matt Dillion, played by the late Arness. As a result, the show had to pay up to keep him as the star of the show.

James Arness reportedly earned $1,200 per episode when he was starting out. But it didn’t take long for the show to grow into one of the biggest hits in the country. As a result, the star actor went on to earn $20,000 an episode.

For more on Gunsmoke and other classic television shows, stay tuned in right here on Outsider.

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