‘Gunsmoke’ Legend James Arness Revealed the Character That He Was Always Asked About

by Joe Rutland
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“Gunsmoke” had characters TV viewers could identify with. It turns out James Arness received lots of inquiries about a specific one.

“He was such an integral part of the show, and people loved his character of Chester,” Arness, who plays Marshal Matt Dillon, tells The Los Angeles Times in a 2006 interview. “He and I used to go out on appearances in the early years — we traveled all over the country together at fairs and rodeos — and his character was just indelibly etched in the minds of millions of people around the country.

“Everywhere you went, people would ask, ‘How’s Chester?'”

Dennis Weaver played Chester Goode, who was Dillon’s sidekick from 1955-64. Arness talks to the newspaper after Weaver dies on Feb. 24, 2006, at 81 years old.

‘Gunsmoke’ Star Found Other TV Fame On ‘Gentle Ben,’ ‘McCloud’

But Weaver’s career didn’t end after leaving “Gunsmoke.” He played Tom Wedloe on the CBS family show “Gentle Ben” in 1967-69 alongside Clint Howard, better known as Ron Howard’s brother.

In 1970, though, Weaver finds himself in another career-defining role as Deputy Marshal Sam McCloud in “McCloud.” The show is part of the “NBC Mystery Movie” alongside “Columbo” and “McMillan & Wife.” It was a success and stays on NBC for seven seasons in different lengths, ranging from 60 minutes to two hours.

“Gunsmoke” gave Weaver instant credibility, plus he made Chester into a memorable character. How? Through his humor and ability to walk with a slight drag of his leg. It is just a small enough change to make Chester Goode someone fans would, as noted above, ask Arness about all the time.

Classic TV Western Almost Found Itself On Cancellation List

The show continues to be one of CBS’s standouts in the network lineup after Weaver leaves in 1964. Now ratings for the show wavered a little bit and there was some talk about canceling “Gunsmoke.” When fans heard about it, they wrote letters to the network pleading to keep Matt, Kitty, Doc, and the whole crew on the air.

Get this. Would you believe “Gilligan’s Island” almost finds itself in the lineup spot held by the CBS western? Yes. Ratings for the CBS sitcom were much better than “Gunsmoke,” so executives were close to pulling the western off TV. In other words, the mixture of viewers’ outrage and one network executive’s wife really wanting “Gunsmoke” on TV proved too much to ignore.

“Gunsmoke” stays on the air and “Gilligan’s Island” gets canceled after three seasons. Obviously, the fabled CBS western kept on running for 20 seasons. It’s the longest-running western on TV. Only “Bonanza” on NBC at 14 seasons is even close to that top spot. Since westerns aren’t as popular on modern-day TV networks as decades ago, one could presume “Gunsmoke” is safe at that No. 1 spot.

Outsider.com