By Thad Mitchell
One of the most
popular television shows to ever air on television, Gunsmoke ran from 1955 to
1975. The show is the longest-running, primetime, live-action series of the
The show takes
place in Dodge City, Kansas, where lawman Matt Dillon enforces his own brand of
justice. Dillon is the show’s central character and is portrayed by actor James
Arness. At 6’7″ Arness was an imposing figure as Matt Dillon and he ran a tight
ship in Dodge City, despite the best efforts of local criminals.
Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke for 20 years and has played the role in five different
decades. The tall actor was a big reason for the show’s success as he gave life
to the lead character and played the role with toughness. In addition to the
long-running television program, Arness played Dillon in several made-for-tv
Gunsmoke movies, including 1987’s Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge.
Served Country Before Hollywood
Before taking on
the role of Matt Dillon, Arness served his country in battle as a rifleman in
World War II. The future actor joined the military after high school and became
a rifleman with the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division. He was severely wounded in
battle in 1944 in Anzio, Italy. He underwent several surgeries before being
honorably discharged in 1945. For his efforts in fighting for his country
during the war, he awarded a Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart, the
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal,
and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
After leaving the
military, he found work as a radio announcer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, for a
while. He then made his way to Hollywood where his acting career really took
off. He got his first film role in “The Farmer’s Daughter,” a 1947 film
starring Loretta Young. It would be a couple of years later before he got his
big break with Gunsmoke in 1955.
In addition to his
work in western-themed programs, Arness also starred in a couple of science
fiction films. He appeared in Them! and The Thing From Another World. He played
The Thing in the latter film.
After his run on
Gunsmoke ended, Arness continued to play western-type characters in several
films. He passed away in Los Angeles in 2011 at 88-years-old.