John Wayne Wanted to Cast ‘Gunsmoke’ Star James Arness in ‘The Alamo’: Here’s Why He Never Landed Role

by Matthew Wilson
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When John Wayne stepped behind the camera to film his passion project “The Alamo,” there was one actor he wanted to star alongside him – James Arness. But the “Gunsmoke” star never appeared in the movie for this very peculiar reason.

According to IMDb, Wayne wanted to cast Arness as Texas founding father Sam Houston in the film. It’s a role that would have certainly fit Arness and his demeanor. But for whatever reason, Arness never actually showed up to the interview to discuss the role with Wayne. He flaked on Wayne, leaving the actor turned director to find someone else to fill the spot.

Ultimately, Wayne cast Richard Boone in the part. But Arness not showing up for the part was only one bit of bad luck in what turned out to be a cursed production for the Duke. Wayne felt under immense pressure to produce a film that rivaled his mentor director John Ford. As a result, the actor never quite forgave Arness for abandoning him when the chips were down.

John Wayne Makes James Arness a Star

John Wayne ended up playing an instrumental role in James Arness becoming the star that he was remembered for today. For one, Wayne and Arness appeared in a total of four movies together, all in the 1950s. The movies were “Hondo,” “The Sea Chase,” “Island in the Sky, and “Big Jim McLain.”

They never acted alongside each other again after Arness turned down “The Alamo” so abruptly. But Wayne also helped Arness land his most famous role as Marshal Matt Dillon on “Gunsmoke.” Arness had been hesitant to take the role. And Wayne had to talk some sense into him.

“Look, you’d be crazy not to take this thing. It’ll be just like it was with me when I was a young actor,” Wayne said, according to MeTV. “You will really learn your craft if you get in there. You have to work fast, and … you have to pick up your pace, and you’ll learn a whole lot about acting in front of a camera and doing stunt work.”

Once Arness agreed to star in the series, Wayne made sure audiences turned out to watch Dillon and the gang. He took time out of his schedule to film a TV spot in which he urged viewers to give Arness a chance. And he promised them that there was something special about the actor. Arness ended up portraying Dillon for 20 years.

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