‘Gunsmoke’: Meet ‘Marshal Matt Dillon’ Actor James Arness’ Second Wife Janet Surtees

by Katie Maloney
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Who is the woman who captured the heart of the 6’7″ tall actor, James Arness?

Her name is Janet Surtees and the two were married for 33 years. Janet met James while she was working at a clothing store. James’s make-up artist on the set of Gunsmoke married the woman who owned the clothing store. After years of working together, Janet and the owner became friends. One night, her friend invited Janet over for dinner to meet James Arness. But Janet was hesitant at first. She wasn’t sure how she felt about meeting, and possibly dating, a big-time Hollywood star. During an interview, Janet opened up about the night she met James.

“One night she [her friend] said, ‘Well, Jim is coming over for dinner. Why don’t you come over and meet him? ‘And I thought, ‘Eew, an actor I don’t know,'” said Janet with a laugh.

But fate stepped in. Turns out, Janet’s son was a huge fan of Gunsmoke. So, Janet went to dinner simply so she could tell her son that she met James Arness.

“Then there was a knock at the door. And here comes this huge man through the door. I was like, “Oh my gosh, he is a big guy,'” said Janet.

However, James was a friendly giant. Janet revealed that “he was very polite and friendly.” The two spent the entire night talking and at the end of the night, James asked Janet for her phone number. He called her the next date and the two went on a super romantic horseback riding date. However, after one magical date, James didn’t call Janet for three months! Luckily, their first date was memorable enough that, when he did finally call, Janet answered and accepted a second date offer. The two married in 1978 and were together until James Arness passed in 2011.

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Actor James Arness poses with his wife Janet during a signing of his new book “James Arness: An Autobiography.” (Photo by David Keeler/Getty Images)

Who Is Janet Surtees?

Both Janet and James Arness were pretty private people. Although he was a famous actor, James liked to keep his personal life under wraps. So, even after 33 years of marriage, there isn’t a lot of information about the Hollywood actor’s wife. Here’s what we do know.

Janet’s father and brother were both pilots. But information about her mother isn’t available in the media. Both James and Janet had children from previous marriages. Janet had one son (the previously mentioned Gunsmoke fan). James had a son named Rolf who became a World Surfing Champion in 1970. He also had a daughter named Jenny who passed in 1975. However, James and Janet never had any children together.

Janet still lives in Los Angeles where she lived with James before his passing, according to Celeb Suburb. And she’s an avid humanitarian. She loves to volunteer and can often be found working with the United Cerebral Palsy Research and Education Foundation. James frequently donated items he’d collected from the sets he worked on to charity. So, just like her husband, Janet continuously finds ways to give back.

James Arness Wrote a Letter About His Wife Before His Passing

Arness wrote a letter to his fans that he asked Janet to post on his website after his passing. In the letter, James thanks all of his fans for cheering him on throughout his career.

James wrote, “I wanted to take this time to thank all of you for the many years of being a fan of Gunsmoke, The Thing, How the West Was Won, and all the other fun projects I was lucky enough to have been allowed to be a part of. I had the privilege of working with so many great actors over the years. Thank you again for all the many letters, cards, emails, and gifts we received from you over the years. You are and always have been truly appreciated.”

But there was one person in particular that James wanted to thank most – his wife, Janet.

He wrote, “I decided to write a letter to you for Janet to post on our website in the event I was no longer here. I had a wonderful life and was blessed with so many loving people and great friends. The best part of my life was my family, especially my wife Janet. Many of you met her at Dodge City so you understand what a special person she is.”

Both his letter and his love story prove that James Arness was not just a gritty actor. He was also a sensitive and loving man and husband.

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