In a 2002 interview, “Gunsmoke” star James Arness discussed the show’s biggest will-they-or-won’t-they relationship and how it ended.
Viewers often tuned into the hit western to see if Arness’s Marshal Matt Dillon would ever end up with Miss Kitty. It’s a relationship that the show teased at times but never fully committed to. In an interview in 2002, the late Arness discussed why the show’s producers chose to keep the relationship a mystery.
“I think they felt you can only go so far with it. And then you’d have to change the character and nature of the show,” Arness said in the video. “If you have Matt and Kitty have an on-screen love affair, then they’d have to get married or something. Then, you’d have a different show there.”
“Gunsmoke” ran for 20 years on the air, and a lot of that was due to its episodic nature. The show chronicled numerous adventures in Dodge City and the Old West. But viewers didn’t have to tune into every episode to understand its characters. A relationship between Arness’s and Amanda Blake’s characters would have serialized the show in a way. It would have also changed the focus, turning the show more into a romance than a western.
James Arness Believed the Show Made the Right Choice
Ultimately, Arness believed the producers behind “Gunsmoke” made the right choice. They didn’t commit to a Dillon/Miss Kitty relationship because it kept viewers invested. They would often tune in each week to see if the two ended up together. Producers used the tension to draw in more viewers. They figured people might tune out if the couple got together.
“So they kept it in that groove that seemed to work,” Arness said. “We used to get a lot of mail from people, particularly women, saying why don’t you get Matt and Kitty together more and all. I think they always felt that’s the kind of mail we want to get. We want to have them eager to tune in and see. So, they kept it at that level purposely. I think it worked out awfully well.”
Ultimately, Dillon and Miss Kitty’s relationship remains one for the minds of “Gunsmoke” fans everywhere. People can imagine what the two might have got up to when the camera wasn’t rolling. But Arness said the undisclosed relationship remained one of the key parts of the show. Perhaps, Dillon and Miss Kitty ended up riding off into the sunset at some point, even if it’s just in fans’ minds.