“Gunsmoke; starring James Arness as Matt Dillon”.
These words heralded the beginning of the Gunsmoke Television series in 1955, the first of 635 shows over 20 seasons. The show holds the record for the longest running show with the most episodes in all of US television history.
John Wayne opened the first episode of the first series telling us to watch and wishing he was in the show. I don’t blame, I wish I starred in a show with that many episodes, consistent high ratings and even mentioned in Congress.
Gunsmoke is one of those Old West Stories that appears in books, on radio, television and as a movie. It was created by Director Norman MacDonnell and writer John Meston. The stories all take place in Dodge City Kansas or the country nearby. Many of the television shows start with Marshall Matt Dillon wandering through Boot Hill grave yard talking about how men got themselves there including the fact that he was responsible for a good many of them. He said the job of Marshall was a lonely one but in this show, the lawman never seemed to be lonely at all.
The radio show ran 1952 until 1961. Sadly, as a man born in 1961, I have never actually heard any of the radio episodes but I do plan to try to rectify that. I have watched many of the episodes and find them most enjoyable. The plots are simplistic but fun. If you would like to check a few out, I found a Youtube Channel for Gunsmoke that has many of the episodes online.
I also found an interesting comment by the star, James Arness about getting on the show and being a cast member.
The radio series first aired from April 26, 1952 with an episode called “Billy the Kid”. It starred William Conrad as Marshall Dillon, Howard McNear as Doc Adams and Georgia Ellis as the intriguing Kitty Russell. Parley Baer played the role of the Marshall’s assistant, Chester.
Gunsmoke was possibly the first (I am not aware of any previous, let me know in comments if you do) that allowed the hero to be vulnerable or fail. Marshall Dillon was not the lawman who never missed, never failed and never got it wrong. He played and often lost but; he always came back.
The television shows began on September 10, 1955 and run until March 31, 1975 and was aired on the CBS network to reach that record 635 episodes. All of the lead characters were recast for television with non of the lead actors from the radio series making the transition.
I have listed many of the main actors appearing on the show at the bottom of this page.
There were many changes in how the characters were portrayed in the change from radio to television. One of these is that there was nothing in the radio series to suggest that Chester Goode was disabled in any way. His limp and stiff leg was a visual cue added to the character on television to accentuate Chester role of the follower and to detract from the actor’s strong physical appearance.
From 1955 to 1961 Gunsmoke was a half an hour show and later went to one hour episodes. Gunsmoke rated as television’s number one show from 1957 through to 1961. The change to an hour format may have contributed to the decline until CBS made plans to end the series in 1967. Viewer outrage followed and the subject even rated a mention in Congress. Gunsmoke continued and it is rumoured that Gilligan’s Island was canned instead. From start to finish, Gunsmoke outlasted some 30 other western shows.
James Arness, Amanda Black, Buck Taylor and Fran Ryan teamed up in 1987 for the Gunsmoke movie,, “Gunsmoke; Return to Dodge”. It was filmed in Canada. Marshall Dillon is a retired fur trapper and is shot by thieves. He is returned to Dodge and Kitty nurses him health before she is held captive before Dillon is forced into one more classic old west show down. It was a massive success and four more movies followed.
The second movie was “Gunsmoke; The Last Apache”.
The third movie was “Gunsmoke; To the Last Man”.
The fourth movie was “Gunsmoke; The Long Ride”.
The fifth and final movie was “Gunsmoke; One Man’s Justice” filmed in 1994.
Television Series Cast
Amanda Blake as Kitty Russell
Buck Tayler as N000000ewley Obrian the gunsmith
Burt Reynolds as Quint Asper the blacksmith
Charles Seel as Barney Danches the telegraph agent
Charles Wagenheim as Halligan the rancher
Chips Rafferty as Angus McTabbott
Clem Fuller as Clem the Bartender
Dabbs Greer as Wilbur Jonas the storekeeper
Dennis Weaver as Chester Goode
Fran Ryan as Miss Hannah the saloon owner
George Selk as Moss Grimmick the stable man
Glenn Strange as Sam the Bartender
Herb Vigran as Judge Brooker
Hank Peterson as Hank Miller the banker
Howie Uzzell the hotel clerk
James Nusser as Louie Pheeters the town drunk
James Arness as Marshall Matt Dillon
Judson Pratt as Bill Pence the Long Branch Owner
Justin McGreary as Percy Crump the undertaker
Ken Curtis as Festus Haggen
Milburn Stone as Doc Adams
Pat Hingle as Dr Chapman
Roy Barcroft as Roy, a town resident
Robert Brubaker as Jim Buck the stagecoach driver; also appeared as Floyd the Bartender
Robert Ewing as Deputy Marshall Clayton Greenwood
Roy Roberts as Mr Bodkin the banker
Rudy Sooter as Rudy the Bartender
Sarah Selby as Ma Smalley the boarding house owner
Ted Jordan as Nathan Burke the freight agent
Tom Brown as Ed O’Connor the rancher
Woody Chambliss as Mr Lanthrop the store keeper