Actor James Arness, who played U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon, 6-foot, 7-inches of don’t-mess-with-Miss-Kitty on Gunsmoke, passed away this week at 88.
Based on a popular, earlier radio program of the same name, Gunsmoke is the longest running dramatic TV series in history, and it’s still broadcast and online at TVLand. Arness has the distinction of playing Marshal Dillon during each of five different decades, including made-for-TV movies after the series cancellation in 1975. Additionally, Arness accumulated a tremendous filmography of Western movies, also starring as Zeb Macahan in How the West Was Won, which began as a mini-series, became a TV series, and earned Arness huge cult creds in Europe, where HTWWW was an even bigger sensation.
For many people, Arness came to embody their image of the Western lawman, and below is a chunk from the first episode of Gunsmoke, “Matt Gets It,” gorgeous with wide expanses in black-and-white, and complete with intro to the series debut by “The Duke” himself, John Wayne. Add, too, the fantastically addictive music, young Dennis Weaver as Chester Goode (who would later star as another famous U.S. Marshal in TV’s McCloud), and bonus commercials of the day from 1955.
Dodge City, Kansas was the “Gomorrah of the Plains,” and only one man proved big and brave enough to tame it with the wisdom and rough justice it demanded, week after week. Thanks kindly, Marshal Dillon.
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