Kitty was extremely softhearted, beneath what could be a very businesslike exterior. Kitty had eyes for Matt Dillon, a dauntless and fearless United States Marshal. Matt's loyal, well-meaning deputy was Chester goode, who walked with a pronounced limp, talked with a twang, and brewed a mean pot of coffee. Chester left the series in 1964 and was replaced by Festus Haggen, the scruffy hillbilly deputy who remained for the rest of the run. Matt Dillon set the tone of the show throughout its long life, standing for justice, sincerity, and truth.
Cast & Characters
- James Arness as Marshal Matt Dillon
- Milburn Stone as Dr. Galen (Doc) Stone
- Amanda Blake as Kitty Russel (1955-1975)
- Dennis Weaver as Chester Goode (1955-1964)
- Ken Curtis as Festus Haggen (1964-1975)
- Burt Reynolds as Quint Asper (1962-1965)
- Glenn Strange as Sam the Bartender (1962-1974)
- Roger Ewing as Clayton Thaddeus Greenwood (1965-1967)
- Buck Taylor as Newly O'Brien (1967-1975)
- Dabbs Greer as Mr. Jones (1955-1960)
- James Nusser as Louie Pheeters
- Howard Culver as Howie
- Charles Seel as Barney
- Tom Brown as Ed O'Connor
- John Harper as Percy Crump
- Hank Patterson as Hank (1957-1975)
- Sarah Shelby as Ma Smalley (1962-1975)
- Ted Jordan as Nathan Burke (1964-1975)
- Roy Roberts as Mr. Bodkin (1965-1975)
- Woody Chamblis as Mr. Lathrop (1966-1975)
- Charles Wagenheim as Halligan (1967-1975)
- Fran Ryan as Miss Hannah (1974-1975)
Broadcast HistoryFirst Telecast: September 10, 1955
Last Telecast: September 1, 1975
Original Network: CBS
Number of Seasons: 20
Number of Episodes: 635
Original Primetime TV Schedule:
- September 1955- September 1961, CBS, Saturday 10:00-10:30pm
- September 1961- September 1967, CBS, Saturday 10:00-11:00pm
- October 1961- June 1964, ABC, Tuesday 7:30-8:00pm
- September 1967- September 1971, CBS, Monday 7:30-8:00pm
- September 1971- September 1975, CBS, Monday 8:00-9:00pm
Theme Song & Opening Credits
"Gunsmoke" (also known as "Old Trails") by Glenn Spencer and Rex Koury
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Gunsmoke on DVD
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Gunsmoke TriviaThe wonderful theme song for the TV show was also titled "Gunsmoke" (also sometimes "Old Trail") and was written by Glenn Spencer and Rex Koury.
John Wayne was offered the part of Matt Dillon but decided that movies were where he wanted to stay. He actually recommended James Arness to play Matt Dillon. (See Opening Narrative below).
Before the TV show, there was a Gunsmoke radio show than aired from April 26, 1952 through June 18, 1961, co-existing with the Gunsmoke TV show for six seasons! The cast included William Conrad as Marshall Matt Dillon, Parley Baer as Chester, Howard McNear (Floyd the Barber on The Andy Griffith Show) as Doc, and Georgia Ellis as Kitty. The radio show's opening narrative was different than that of the TV show (See Below). It was narrated by Roy Rowan, George Walsh, and George Fenneman (Groucho Marx's sidekick on "You Bet Your Life") at different times during its run and went like this: "Around Dodge City and the territory out west there's just one way to handle all the killers and the spoilers, and that's with a US Marshal and the power of ... Gunsmoke!" William Conrad also had a narrative on each radio episode as follows: "I'm that man ... Matt Dillon, US Marshal. The first man they look for and the last they want to meet. It's a chancy job, but it makes a man watchful ... and a little lonely."
While there had been other westerns before such as "The Lone Ranger" and "Annie Oakley", Gunsmoke was the first one oriented towards Adult audiences. Within a few years there were more than 30 such shows on the air at one time! Some favorites were "Bronco", "Have Gun Will Travel", "Maverick", "Rawhide", "The Rifleman", "Wagon Train", and "Wanted Dead or Alive".
James Arness is the brother of Peter Graves (Jim Phelps on Mission Impossible).
First Lady, "Lady Bird Johnson", was such a huge fan of the program that, when she learned that James Arness was a Republican, she felt personally betrayed!
Gunsmoke was actually scheduled for cancellation in 1967 due to low rating. CBS President William Paley and his wife were big fans of the TV show, however, so he decided to try moving it from Saturday to Monday. It worked! The TV show got back into the top 10 rankings and stayed on the air 8 more years!
It is often stated that Gunsmoke's 20 years on the air makes it the longest running American television series but that's not strictly true. It is the longest running "typical" TV show in prime-time not counting reruns. Other shows have been on the air longer but not in prime-time or they were news, variety, sports or talk shows. At this time (2008), "Meet the Press (1947)" is actually the longest running TV show on television with 60 continuous seasons! Second is "The Tonight Show" - 54 seasons. Others are "60 Minutes" - 40, "Monday Night Football" - 38, "The Wonderful World of Disney" (And Various Other Titles) - 34, "Saturday Night Live" - 33, "20/20" - 29, "The Ed Sullivan Show / "Toast of the Town") - 28 and "Late Show With David Letterman" - 27.
The name of Matt Dillon's horse was mentioned only one time throughout the entire Gunsmoke series by Festus Hagen when he called the horse, "Buck". Festus often called his own mule "Ruth".
At 6 feet 7 inches tall, James Arness was the tallest TV actor to play in a lead role. He weighed 235 pounds and had a 48 inch chest. Due to his large size, he was one of the first soldiers to storm the beaches at Anzio, Italy in world war II. Like many of those brave men, he was wounded.
If Arness didn't always look huge onscreen, maybe it was because his co-star Dennis Weaver (Chester) was also tall at 6 feet 2 inches! Weaver was a vegetarian and environmentalist. His home was built almost exclusively from recycled building materials. In the 1948 Olympic trials, he won the 1500 meter run and got 6th place in the Decathlon! In 1958, he Amanda Blake (Kitty), and Milburn Stone (Doc) began singing together. In 1960 at the New Mexico State Fair, their performance broke the attendance record at the Albuquerque Arena! He refused to wear a leg brace as a prop on Gunsmoke as he feared being seriously injured while riding a horse. His trademark "limp" seemed to do just fine on its own!
Dennis Weaver, in fact, came up with the idea of a bad leg that caused a wierd limp on his own. He felt that would help his character stand out a bit from the magnificent presence that James Arness had on the screen. Weaver might not have even gotten the role as Chester if not for another brilliant move! When he auditioned for the part, things didn't seem to go real well the first time through. He asked if he could redo the audition and use that comical, "good ole country boy" accent that we all know so well, and he got hired!
Ken Curtis (Festus) started as a singer for Tommy Dorsey's orchestra! That led to several roles in "singing cowboy" movies which were popular in the late 1940s. He appeared in many of Director John Ford's movies after that (he married Ford's daughter) before landing his role on this program.