Do you remember Chester Goode from the classic Western TV series Gunsmoke? He plays by the late Dennis Weaver who was one of the most prominent Western actors and had a prolific career that spanned 5 decades!
But how did he starts in life? How did Dennis Weaver become a successful actor? And why did he eventually write off the show that made him a star?
Dennis Weaver’s life is one of inspiration. He came from humble beginnings and became an icon of Westerns. He was a master of his craft and his work ethic and dedication can serve as motivation for anyone.
Let’s look back at Dennis Weaver’s life and career and the sad reason why he writes off Gunsmoke…
DENNIS WEAVER’S EARLY LIFE AND CAREER
William Dennis Weaver was born on June 4th, 1924, in Joplin, Missouri. He came from humble beginnings – as his father worked for a local electric company. Show business was not part of Dennis Weaver’s background – yet, from an early age, he dreamt of becoming an actor.
He also, however, was a talented athlete and as a young man, he pursued drama and athletics – unsure of which was the ideal path for him. He was a track star in his youth and considered trying for the Olympics. However, he failed the trials for the decathlon in the 1948 Olympics and that’s when he realized that his true destiny was to become an actor.
A mention shall make of Dennis Weaver’s military service during the Second World War. He served as a pilot in the US Navy. Following his military service, he married his childhood friend Gerry Stowell and had 3 children with her. They remained married until his death in 2006.
After deciding to pursue his career in acting, he relocated to New York to start working in theater. He began his acting career as the understudy for actor Lonny Chapman – working on the play Come Back, Little Sheba.
Eventually, Lonny Chapman stood aside, and Dennis Weaver took on the role and toured with the play around the country. He loved the experience and decided to continue improving his acting skills. He eventually joined the prestigious Actor’s Studio to learn more about acting and to network with other talented actors.
During his time at The Actor’s Studio, Dennis Weaver met Shelley Winters. She would help him launch his film career.
As the 1950s began, Dennis Weaver was about to become a huge star…
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DENNIS WEAVER’S FILM CAREER
Dennis Weaver’s first film role was a supporting role as “Dandy Taylor” in the 1952 film Horizons West. This was a Western film that took place shortly after the Civil War. It featured a huge star cast such as Robert Ryan, Rock Hudson, Raymond Burr, and James Arness.
Yet, Dennis Weaver isn’t overshadowed by these acting legends. His work notices, and it seems early on that this Missouri boy was perfect for stories that took place in the Old West!
Dennis continued to act regularly in films throughout the 1950s – mostly appearing in Westerns. He played the supporting role of Jim Clements in the film The Lawless Breed – directed by Raoul Walsh. He had another supporting role as Matt Jessup in The Redhead from Wyoming. In the same year, 1953, he also had supporting roles in Law and Order and War Arrow.
He also ventured into other genres. In 1954, he had a supporting role in the film-noir mystery film Dangerous Mission. He also acted in the crime film Dragnet – which became the inspiration for the popular TV series.
He also showed his serious side in a few drama films. In 1955, he had a supporting role as John Brown Jr., in the film Seven Angry Men. This was a biographical film about the notorious abolitionist John Brown. Dennis also had a major role in the 1955 film-noir Storm Fear. This film is a huge hit and helps Dennis get more lead roles or supporting roles in major productions.
Perhaps one of his most famous films was the Orson Welles masterpiece, Touch of Evil. He played the night manager of the Mirador Motel. This was an exciting murder mystery that starred Charlton Heston, Orson Welles, and Janet Leigh. By acting alongside these legends, Dennis Weaver was now an A-list actor.
For much of his career after the 1950s, Dennis Weaver focused mainly on TV shows and TV movies. However, he continued to act in occasional films – a few of which became huge hits.
He stares in the family film Escape from Wildcat Canyon which releases in 1998. In the year 2000, he had a major role in the action film Submerged. His final film is a voice role in 2004 animated film Home on the Range.
DENNIS WEAVER’S TELEVISION CAREER
Dennis Weaver’s first TV gig was in a 1954 episode of the drama series Cavalcade of America. A year later, he appeared in one episode of the anthology series Schlitz Playhouse.
But his big break in TV came with the police drama series Dragnet. He first appeared in the show in 1952 and acted in 7 episodes till 1954 – when he also appeared in the feature film.In the 1954 film, he played Police Captain R.A. Lohrman – whereas he played a variety of characters in the show.
But the TV show that made him a star was, of course, Gunsmoke. He played the role of Chester Goode in 290 episodes from 1955 to 1964.
Gunsmoke was a Western series that followed Marshall Matt Dillon who aimed to keep the peace in the otherwise chaotic and violent Dodge City. The character of Chester Goode assisted Matt Dillon and the other deputies in keeping the peace.
Dennis Weaver is eager to be Chester Goode as he is a fan of the original radio series to which the TV series relate. He initially didn’t give a good impression with his first audition and worry he looks over for the part. He convinced the producers to give him a second chance. This second time around, he put on a strong country accent and managed to win them over!
He also decided to give Chester a limp – though he later regretted this as he often felt exhausted having to limp in every scene! He also decided that Chester shouldn’t carry a gun and should be a non-violent character. As one can see, Dennis Weaver truly loved Chester and had a blast playing the role.
Gunsmoke is what made Dennis Weaver a household name. He is cast in the lead role in the momentary Western series Kentucky Jones. His other major TV roles included work on the series Gentle Ben, McCloud, Centennial, Stone, Emerald Point N.A.S., Buck James, Lonesome Dove, and Wildfire.
He also appeared in a slew of TV movies and even made guest appearances on popular shows such as Family Law, Magnum PI, and The Simpsons. Dennis Weaver’s films were brilliant. But it was television where he found his home. Gunsmoke is what made him a star and he never slowed down after that.
Wildfire is released in 2005 and his role as ‘Henry’ is to be his last.
DENNIS WEAVER’S LEGACY
Dennis Weaver died on February 24, 2006, due to complications from cancer at the age of 81. He’s remembered as one of the most iconic actors in the Western genre and has also received praise for his work in many now-classic film noir films.
But one burning question that many fans have is why Dennis Weaver eventually left Gunsmoke. The show ran until 1975 however we saw the last of Chester Goode in 1964.
We now finally know the sad reason Dennis Weaver was written off Gunsmoke.
Just as Dennis Weaver had a role in shaping Chester’s demeanor, he had a role in letting go of Chester forever. Dennis Weaver loved playing Chester – but he also realized the danger of being stuck in one role.
He knew he could get typecast and that this would prevent him from getting better roles in the future. While he was happy to continue his association with Westerns, he also wanted to play a variety of characters – regardless of the genre.
It was a difficult decision but, ultimately, it was a wise decision. Chester was written off the show because Dennis Weaver realized the sad truth that he could get typecast if he stayed in such a role for too long. Many TV stars get defined by their characters and are never able to find decent work after the show comes to an end.
Dennis Weaver wanted to avoid this. He managed to continue acting in a variety of genres in TV shows, TV movies, and a few feature films. Even when he appeared in a Western, his characters were always different – never echoing his portrayal of Chester Goode.
As a young man, Dennis Weaver was determined to become an actor. He went beyond his wildest dreams and became one of the most prolific and versatile actors of his generation. His life and career truly are an inspiration for any aspiring actor. He secured 100 acting credits in a span of 5 decades.
Now, let’s hear from you:
Are you a fan of Dennis Weaver?
In fact, here’s what we’d like to know:
Do you think that his best work was in Gunsmoke?
Or are there other roles of his that deserve more attention – and does his legacy overall need more attention?
Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.
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