“Gunsmoke” ran for 20 years on the air and featured a colorful cast of characters. But only one episode brought Matt Dillion’s gang all together. Chester, Quint, and Festus only appeared together in one episode during the series’ run.
The three characters appeared together in “Prairie Wolfer” in Season Nine of the show. The reason why the three never shared more screen time together is that Chester was leaving “Gunsmoke” for greener pastures. Actor Dennis Weaver, who played Chester, wanted to pursue other opportunities. He had been on the show since the beginning. But he decided to leave during Season Nine.
Production brought in actor Ken Curtis as Festus to replace the character. Curtis had played various roles in “Gunsmoke” before. According to MeTV, he had also appeared as Festus in a Season Eight episode. So producers reintroduced the character in Season Nine. Festus rolled into town, just as Chester was leaving it. “Gunsmoke” passed the torch from Chester to Festus by having the characters interact.
‘Gunsmoke’ Continued For a Decade More
Likewise, Burt Reynolds starred on “Gunsmoke” as Quint Asper. He appeared on the hit western for three seasons. The episode occurred during the middle of his run. Reynolds decided to leave the show a year later to pursue a career in movies.
Chester and Festus appeared in other episodes together. Likewise, Quint appeared in episodes with both men. But this was the only “Gunsmoke” episode where Matt Dillon had more help than he needed. The episode offered an introduction to Festus in a regular capacity on the show. He rolled up into Dodge City on little more than a mule, carrying wolf furs with him. He quickly introduced himself to Matt Dillon, Chester, and the rest of the town’s crew. The episode revolved around the case of dead cattle in the area. And the “Gunsmoke” episode ended with a promise he would be making regular appearances soon.
During the series run, Curtis ended up appearing as Festus for around 300 episodes, one of the longest of Dillon’s deputies. Audiences took to his honest hillbilly character turned deputy on the show. Reportedly, Curtis based the character off a local drunk in his town, adapting that country twang to film.
Festus ended up staying in Dodge City for the remainder of the show’s run, until it was canceled in 1975. The character proved to be a popular mainstay and one of the show’s memorable characters for years to come.