Saturday, June 4, 2011

James Arness (1923 - 2011)

Marshal Matt Dillon, Gunsmoke

The hero of my childhood became the TV pal of my middle years.

Dennis Weaver, James Arness, Milburn Stone, Amanda Blake
Gunsmoke, 1955-1975 / 5 TV movies 1987 - 1994

From Burt Reynolds' foreword to James Arness, An Autobiography by James Arness with James E. Wise Jr. published by McFarland & Company, Inc in 2001:

"The biggest surprise for everyone who had the good fortune to work on a few episodes of Gunsmoke in those days was Jim Arness. He was funny. I mean get-the-giggles, wrap-up-for-the-cast-and-crew, "time-out"-and-get-it-together funny. He had that wonderful ability to surprise you, make you laugh at yourself or the situations that actors often find themselves in."

Ann Doran, William Kirby Cullen, Katherine Holcomb
Richard Kiley, James Arness, Eva Marie Saint
Vicki Schreck, Bruce Boxleitner
The Macahans, 1976 / How the West Was Won 1977 - 1979

Did you know that Uncle Zeb is even cooler than Marshal Matt? It's true. Zebulon Macahan is one extremely cool cat and How the West Was Won breathtakingly memorable television.

I find in the earliest of James Arness' screen performances a joy and an earnestness that would grow into the confident professional able to create such commanding and legendary characters as Dillon and Macahan. It is work I admire most, work that hides the work.

James Arness was an intensely private individual during his time in the spotlight, however in his later years he reached out in kind to the affection that came his way from his many, many fans through his autobiography, his participation in the TV Archives oral history project (found on YouTube) and through his website. Fans who turned to that site upon hearing of his passing, perhaps to leave a note of condolence, would instead find themselves condoled by Jim:Hi friends,

I decided to write a letter to you for Janet to post on our website in the event I was no longer here.

I had a wonderful life and was blessed with some many loving people and great friends. The best part of my life was my family, especially my wife Janet. Many of you met her at Dodge City so you understand what a special person she is.

I wanted to take this time to thank all of you for the many years of being a fan of Gunsmoke, The Thing, How the West Was Won and all the other fun projects I was lucky enough to have been allowed to be a part of. I had the privilege of working with so many great actors over the years.

I was honored to have served in the army for my country. I was at Anzio during WWII and it makes you realize how very precious life is.

Thank you again for all the many letters, cards, emails and gifts we received from you over the years. You are and always have been truly appreciated.

Jim Arness


  1. My parents never missed GUNSMOKE and it was mostly because of James Arness. It's easy to underestimate his contributions to that classic Western--but he was the glue. He made Matt Dillon a realistic hero, flawed at times, but a good man dedicated to making Dodge City a place where families could grow and feel safe. It may sound sappy, but Arness made his character believable and that's a key reason that GUNSMOKE ran for so long.

  2. Everything I have read, or heard in the case of the commentaries on the anniversary dvd's, indicates that everyone involved in "Gunsmoke" throughout the entire 20 year run cared deeply about the show, its fans and its legacy.

    Yes, Rick, James Arness made Matt Dillon real for us, and we will always have him.

  3. Thanks Jim, for all those wonderful westerns. Adios Amigo.



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