Gunsmoke, which mind you was formerly as Gun Law when it made its spiritual debut as a popular radio program in 1952, is one of the most beloved western series in the history of television. For 20 action-packed, gun-slinging seasons views tuned in to see Marshall Dillon vanquish the marauding forcers of evil in Dodge City, Kansas. From edge-of-your seat close-call showdowns with outlaws to cowboys equipped with boots and spurs riding their trusty steeds, this legendary show had it all.
When Gunsmoke first premiered on television, it started off as a half-hour affair, but because of popular demand, it was expanded to fill an hour time slot. You’ll probably also be impressed to find that it is the second-longest airing television program of all time – can you guess who has the number one claim to fame?. The cherry on top showing off the shows prowess was the 5 Emmy awards that it won in its 2-decade run.
Let’s see what made this show the unstoppable powerhouse of a series that it was.
Countless A-list Guest Stars
Star Trek’s Captain Kirk, Scotty, Spock the Vulcan, and Bones all paid the show a visit. Oh yeah and quite a few of the Brady’s made an appearance as well. Peter, Cindy, and Jan all stopped by to say hi. John Astin from the Addams Family, Angelina Jolie’s father Jon Voight, and Ron Howard also found time to guest-star on the series.
James Arness Is The Only Actor To Star In Every Single Episode
The runner-up was Milburn Stone but because of having a heart attack in 1971, he missed out on six episodes. You got to give it to the guy, missing only half a dozen episodes after almost dying is pretty hardcore.
Amanda Blake Almost Didn’t Play Miss Kitty Russell
Polly Bond was first offered the part but after she turned it down, producers turned to Blake who was eager as can be to play the ginger saloon proprietress.
The Show Was Highly Rated
For almost half a decade from 1957 to 1961, Gunsmoke was the number one most-watched show on American television.
The Beginning Sequence Wasn’t Original
When Marshal Matt Dillon is walking through the graveyard up on Boot Hill and narrating the opening scene, that bit was derived directly from the original radio series. Producers wanted to make a connection between the radio show and the TV series to draw in fans already familiar with the story.
Gunsmoke Started An Era Of Popular Westerns
Along with The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Gunsmoke helped start a golden era of TV westerns. By the end of the 1950s, there were as many as 40 westerns on the air in primetime slots. As such, a whole generation of kids grew up with Cowboys and Outlaws as being their archetypal heroes and villains.
Marshal Matt Dillon Was Hard To Cast
It was quite difficult to fill the role. William Conrad, who voiced the iconic character on the radio program wasn’t even considered for the part, because let’s just say, he had a face destined for radio.
The network was really eager to get John Wayne but scheduling conflicts prevented Wayne from taking the role. He would have had to give up his thriving film career to make it work – and that wasn’t happening.
Arness and Wayne happened to be friends, however, and Wayne insisted that they give him a try. But even after auditioning for the role, producers still weren’t fully convinced. After 26 actors were screen-tested for the role, eventually James managed to convince the hard-to-please Hollywood types that he was their guy.
The Radio Show Ran Concurrently With The TV Series
It first hit the airwaves in 1952, and by the time that the radio show finally wrapped up in 1961, well over 400 episodes had aired.
Gilligan’s Island Was Canceled Because Of The Show
When CBS was considering canceling Gunsmoke after season 6, they instead swapped it out for a different time slot hoping to boost its falling ratings. In the process, Gilligan’s Island was sacrificed, but to be fair, it was only ever supposed to be a three-hour tour in the first place.
Gunsmoke Coined A Catchphrase
Whenever Marshall Dillon would kick bad guys out of Dodge, City, he would admonish them to ‘Get The Hell Outta’ Dodge’. The phrase went on to take on its more contemporary usage after teens from the 60s and 70s began using it in their daily speech.
Chester’s Last Name Was Originally A Tolkien Reference
On the radio show, Chester’s last name wasn’t Goode but in fact, it was Proudfoot. This was a clear nod to the clan of Hobbit Tolkien Characters.
Doc Adams Remained Nameless For 16 Seasons
Stone was given the chance to name his own character and he decided to go with Galen because he thought it had a nice ring to it.
Gary Busey Was The Final Character To Be Killed Off Of The Series
Mr. Busey’s character, Harve Daley, died from brain cancer in one of the last episodes of the program.
The Gunsmoke TV Show Evaded Mentioning Miss Kitty’s Professional
On the radio program it was pretty clearly stated that she was the madame of the saloon, but to take a tamer, toned-down, family-friendly approach they chose to leave that part out of her backstory – although it’s still fairly obvious what role she was playing.
The Opening Credits Sequence Was Changed In The 70s
During those days, it became politically incorrect to focus too heavily on violence. The show not only toned down Miss Kitty’s sexually suggestive career choice to appease societal standards, but they also felt it necessary to dial down the weekly gunfights and brawls to meet the changing socio-political expectations of the times.
The gunfight scene that was originally used however was filmed on the same main street as the one in the 1952 film High Noon. During one of the filmings of the gunfight, Arness decided he was going to play a little joke on the crew and let the gunman win.
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Also, there are a lot more Gunsmoke fast-facts to come. Stay tuned to find out just how James Arness was dedicated to his role. Despite ailing health, he pressed on like the true cowboy that he was.
Gunsmoke Was The Former Record Holder For Most Primetime Episodes
635 episodes are nothing to shake your rifle at. The Simpson’s however beat Gunsmoke’s record on April 29, 2018. As of this video, The Simpsons have aired 689 episodes.
Gunsmoke Abruptly Ended With No Finale
Who needs closure anyways? The cast and crew didn’t expect the network to suddenly cancel the show. Arness thought that there surely must have been several seasons left before he’d have to start looking for another job. A show that ran for as long as Gunsmoke did should have had a proper finale to tie up all the loose ends but instead, it ended its 20 season run with a very typical episode.
There Are 5 Gunsmoke TV Movies
Even though there was no fitting finale for the series, at least there was some post-cancellation fanfare. In 1987, Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge aired was followed up with 1990s The Last Apache, 1992s To The Last Man, and 1993s The Long Ride. The last film in the made-for-TV saga was One Man’s Justice in 1994. James Arness reprised his role as Marshal for each movie.
Matt Dillon Only Ever Had One On-Screen Kiss
Oliva Walton from The Waltons was played by Michael Learned – or Miss Michael Learned, as she was sometimes credited to clarify her gender given the fact that she possessed a typically masculine name. In the Gunsmoke episode “Matt’s Love Story’, she got her chance to lay one on Mr. Dillon.
Dennis Waver Improvised Chester’s Limp
When he was commissioned by producers to come up with something to differentiate his character from Matt’s he came with the idea to feign a limp. Can you imagine how he must have eventually come to regret that decision after having to put on the fake limp episode after episode for years on end?
Ken Curtis Played Several Characters
Festus Haggen first comes to mind, but Curtis also played a Texan Cowboy who was murdered after becoming buddies with Chester. Buck Taylor who later became Newly O’Brien also played a seperate character before stepping into his deputized gunsmith role.
Sponsored By Big-Tobacco
Nowadays, cigarette ads are banned on television and it’s controversial to even see fictional characters taking a puff but the first seven seasons of Gunsmoke were brought to you by L&M cigarettes. Smoke em’ if you got em boys.
James Arness Pressed On Despite Ailing Health
Talk about being committed to a role. Arness pushed through the last ten seasons of the show suffering from severe arthritis. He’d film the scenes of each episode in one day so he could take a week off between each episode to recuperate.
Glen Strange’s Final Performance
Glen was well known in the world of film and television. You might even remember him for his role in Frankenstein. In total, he appeared in over 500 television shows. On Gunsmoke, he played Sam Noonan – the towering bartender. Strange died at the age of 74 in 1973 following a battle with lung cancer. Buck Taylor would later pay him tribute by naming his third son Cooper Glenn.
Well, it’s about time for us to get the hell out of Dodge. We hope you’ve enjoyed this behind the scenes look at arguably the greatest western series to even hit the airwaves. Although some Bonanza fans might take offense to that generalization. So why not give you, our lovely viewers, be the judge of that one.
Between Bonanza and Gunsmoke, which program do you prefer? Let us know what you think in the comments section.
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