‘Gunsmoke’: Leonard Nimoy Recalled Running into James Arness before He Began Filming the Show

by Suzanne Halliburton
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Did you know that Marshal Matt Dillon from Gunsmoke and Star Trek’s Mr. Spock were good friends from way back?

We’re talking friends from so far back that at the time they each were young actors trying to hone their craft. It was long before either James Arness or Leonard Nimoy carved out their spots in our pop culture vernacular.

Nimoy talked about his relationship with Arness with EmmyTVLegends.org during an interview in 2000. The two met in Los Angeles in the early 1950s when they both were members of a small acting group. This was years before Gunsmoke came on the air.

Nimoy Was Stationed in Atlanta. That’s Where He Listened To Gunsmoke

Then Nimoy enlisted in the Army Reserves in 1953. He was stationed at Ft. McPherson near Atlanta, Ga. Nimoy wrote and directed shows for the Army. He spent 18 months in service to the country, rising to the rank of sergeant. Ken Berry, who played Sam Jones on the Andy Griffith Show and Mayberry RFD, was in Nimoy’s platoon. And while in Atlanta, Nimoy started listening to a radio show called Gunsmoke, which starred William Conrad.

Meanwhile, Arness happened to be in Atlanta for a movie. Nimoy called him to catch up. And Arness told him he’d just been cast in the TV version of Gunsmoke.

Nimoy said he told Arness: “If it’s as good as the radio show, then you’re in for a ride because the radio show is very well done and really popular here.”

Mr. Spock Correctly Predicted Matt Dillon’s Future

So Nimoy predicted the future of Gunsmoke. But did Gunsmoke predict the future of Nimoy? Maybe. In that same interview in 2000, Nimoy talked of how he guest-starred in an episode of Gunsmoke. It was his last acting job before he started playing Spock in Star Trek. He’d already filmed the pilot when he appeared on a 1966 episode of Gunsmoke.

In it, he played a man named John Walking Fox, who was a Comanche. Nimoy said: “It was an interesting story, nicely written.”

John Walking Fox was good friends with a fur trapper, who was killed in Dodge City. John Walking Fox wanted to avenge his friend and business partner’s death. So he started paying for stuff with $50 gold coins. He made people in town believe he had a bunch more gold in the woods. And he pulled enough mental strings so that the bad guys fought each other. He didn’t need to lift a finger for successful revenge.

There never was any treasure in the woods.

“So it’s kind of a wry way of getting to social justice,” Nimoy said of his Gunsmoke episode. “And John Walking Fox … leaves town as an enigma. Was there ever a treasure or wasn’t there? That was the story.”

Nimoy died in 2015 at age 83. Arness died in 2011. He was 88.

Outsider.com