‘Gunsmoke’: James Arness’ Wife Spoke Out About Him Remaking John Wayne Film in 2017 Interview

by Joe Rutland
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James Arness, known as Marshal Matt Dillon on “Gunsmoke,” was asked to do a TV remake of John Wayne’s “Red River.” He made a reluctant choice.

That’s according to his widow, Janet Arness, who said in a 2017 interview that Arness “was a little reluctant” to do it.

“Red River,” originally released in 1948, starred Wayne and Montgomery Clift in a movie directed by Howard Hawks. Walter Brennan, who co-starred with Wayne in “Rio Bravo,” also was in this movie, too.

But Arness was approached to remake this film on TV in 1988. Bruce Boxleitner, who at the time had a hit TV show on CBS with “Scarecrow and Mrs. King,” co-starred with “Gunsmoke” star Arness in the movie.

‘Red River’ Was a Favorite Wayne Film of James Arness

About the remake, Janet Arness said, “Well, that was a big step and he didn’t know if he really wanted to do it. But ‘Red River’ was one of Jim’s favorites that John had done and they had worked together on ‘Hondo.’ So he was a little reluctant, yeah.”

John Wayne’s “Red River” is the fifth-greatest Western film of all time in the American Film Institute’s 10 Top 10 list.

The plot of the film revolves around a fictional story of the first cattle drive along the Chisholm Trail.

There is tension between the father (James Arness) and the son (Bruce Boxleitner) over who should be leading the drive. In Hawks’ movie version, Wayne plays the father and Clift plays the son.

John Wayne Introduces Arness on ‘Gunsmoke’ Debut

By 1955, John Wayne already established himself as a major movie star. He rarely made appearances on television shows at that time due to his movie schedule.

But Wayne did make one very important appearance on “Gunsmoke” and it was in support of his friend Arness.

When “Gunsmoke” joined CBS’s TV programming in 1955, Arness was pretty much of an unknown to viewers. Yet if Wayne could introduce him and give those watching at home an OK from “The Duke,” then people may tune in more to “Gunsmoke.”

Wayne also managed to pitch Arness’ name to show producers who were looking to cast Dillon. They gave Arness a screen test and he passed.

Before Arness appears on the screen, Wayne appears in cowboy clothes with his hat in hand. He tells the audience that he knows Arness and says he’ll do a great job on “Gunsmoke.” With that introduction from Wayne, it was a big boost for the show and James Arness.

Arness admits later that he was “very surprised” Wayne introduced him. Yet it helped as “Gunsmoke” had a 20-season run on CBS, posting solid ratings through most of its run.

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