For the cast members of “Gunsmoke,” they had ended up spending a lot of time with each other over the years.
The show was on for 20 seasons between 1955 and 1975. Both James Arness and Milburn Stone portrayed their characters for the 20 consecutive years the show was on. James Arness played Marshal Matt Dillon and Milburn Stone played Doc Adams.
It is an accomplishment that few actors have come close to. Mariska Hargitay from “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” has a record of 21 consecutive years.
Arness and Stone had a difference in personality. Arness was infamous for being a jokester while filming to try and reduce tension and nerves. In a Television Academy interview from 2002, James Arness talked about how he would make people laugh while they were filming.
James Arness and Milburn Stone
After he was done with a close-up and it switched to someone else he would stand there with an ice cream cone. He would stare at them while he bit on the ice cream.
“One day I was doing that and he was on the sidelines watching and he said ‘God dam*mit Chuck … I’ve never seen anything so unprofessional in my life.’ He went stomping around the place and he said afterward, ‘I thought Jim was gonna come over and hit me,'” Arness said in the interview.
While it was no serious fight or yelling, Arness remembers it fondly as a bit of fun. Stone also took his role on the show very seriously.
“It really made me realize … that I thought it was fun, but boy he was right on the track at all times … he kept everyone on the straight arrow,” Arness said.
Despite very small differences in opinion, the cast had remained friendly during the show’s run. Arness passed away in 2011. He wrote, “James Arness: An Autobiography” in 2001 when he was 78.
The ‘Gunsmoke’ Friendship Trio
He told the Los Angeles Times in 2001 how much he enjoyed being able to help keep things fun and enjoyable on set.
“You work on something day after day and month after month, and it kind of breaks the tension and all. That is the way you get through all of those years. We all, of course, got to know each other so well. We knew how to get along and have fun with the show, which we really did. The bottom line of it is I don’t think you could make the series with the basic characters like we had unless they really got along well, which our people certainly did,” James Arness said.
There was once an article in the Madera Tribune in July of 1963. It was as “Gunsmoke” was going into its ninth consecutive year on television. The article has the headline “Gunsmoke Cast Friendship Monumental.”
Milburn Stone and Amanda Blake spoke about their close trio of a friendship. Both of them spoke fondly of Arness and his abilities as an actor. Stone talked about how Arness is the one who made the show a hit. He would even adapt the script to give “them more to do.” They also said that as time went on, many of them actually would ad-lib parts of the dialogue since they knew their characters so well.
Blake admitted to not liking Stone at first because he was getting third billing and she wanted it. That hostility quickly faded.
“We’re almost like a family now. We have parties on the set with the crew members whenever there’s a special occasion As far as I know there is nothing like it in show business … I just hope we can carry on for another eight years. It’s the best thing that ever happened to any of us,” Amanda Blake said.