‘Gunsmoke’: James Arness Was ‘Very Surprised’ When John Wayne Introduced the Series’ Premiere

by Clayton Edwards
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Many fans agree that “Gunsmoke” was the best western series to ever hit the airwaves. However, the first person to lay that title on the show was the one and only John Wayne.

He recorded a brief introduction for the show’s series premiere. During his short speech to the audience, he called it, “The best thing of its kind that’s come along.”

John Wayne’s Introduction

There are few better endorsements for a western. The Duke is still the most iconic on-screen cowboy. So, if he says a western is good, you can hang your hat on it. He also praised the show’s star, James Arness. However, no one in the cast knew that he had done the introduction.

Wayne’s Endorsement Stuns “Gunsmoke” Cast

The cast was completely unaware that John Wayne recorded the introduction for the show. “Gunsmoke” star James Arness discussed their surprise in an interview with The Television Academy Foundation.

The interviewer asked how John Wayne ended up doing the “Gunsmoke” introduction. Arness said that it was because Duke was friends with one of the network big wigs in New York.

So, the exec asked Wayne to shoot a short introduction for the show. According to Arness, Wayne, “Being the kind of guy he was, was more than willing to do it.”

In the clip, John Wayne praises not only “Gunsmoke,” but also its star, James Arness. In fact, he tells audiences that he thinks that the man playing Matt Dillon was destined to be a big star.

He went on to say that audiences should get used to him as they had gotten used to Wayne. This led the interviewer to believe that Arness had some hand in planning it. However, he was just as surprised to see it as anyone else.

The whole cast of “Gunsmoke” gathered at Arness’s home to watch the premiere of the now-iconic show. That is when they found out about Wayne’s introduction, according to Arness.

He said, “We were all actually over at my house, all of the gang from ‘Gunsmoke,’ and watching this show come on. And here’s Duke Wayne with this intro. It was absolutely marvelous.”

It wasn’t just an amazing endorsement for the show and its star to Arness. He had worked with and looked up to John Wayne in the past. So, hearing Duke say those kind words meant more to Arness than maybe anyone else. It hooked audiences. At the same time, it let Arness know that he was doing something right.

“Gunsmoke” ran for twenty years. It is still the longest-running primetime drama series in television history. So, it would seem that John Wayne was on to something when he said it was the best thing of its kind to hit the airwaves.

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