Gunsmoke


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

Tabs

About

Gunsmoke, America's longest running television Western, aired on CBS from 1955-75. In 1956, its second season on the air, the series entered the list of top ten programs on U.S. television and moved quickly to number one. It remained in that position until 1961 and in the top twenty until 1964. Following a shift in its programming time in 1967, Gunsmoke returned to prominence within the top twenty for the next seven years, dropping out only in its final year. From 1987 to the present there have been four Gunsmoke "reunion" programs, presented as two-hour, made-for-television movies.

This exceptionally successful program is often referred to as the medium's first "adult Western." The term is used to indicate differences between the Hollywood "B" Westerns and versions of the genre designed for the small screen in the 1950s and 1960s. Without recourse to panoramic vistas, thundering herds of cattle, and massed charges by "Indians" or the United States Cavalry, the television Western often concentrated on character relationships and tense psychological drama. Gunsmoke set the style and tone for many of these shows.

Set in Dodge City, Kansas in the 1890s, the series focused on the character of United States Marshall, Matt Dillon, played by James Arness. The part was designed for John Wayne, who chose not to complicate his still-successful film career with commitment to a long-term television contract. Wayne, who appeared on air to introduce the first episode of Gunsmoke, suggested the younger actor for the lead role. The tall, rugged-looking Arness, who until this time had played minor film roles, became synonymous with his character during the next twenty years.

Surrounding Dillon were characters who became one of television's best known "work-place families." Kitty Russell (Amanda Blake) owned and managed a local saloon, The Longbranch, and over the years developed a deep friendship with Dillon that always seemed to border on something more intimate. Doc Adams (Milburn Stone) represented science, rationality and crusty wisdom. His medical skills were never questioned and he patched up everyone on the show, often more than once. Dennis Weaver portrayed tender-hearted and gullible Chester Goode, Deputy Marshall. Chester's openness and honesty were often played against frontier villainy, and his loyalty to Dillon was unquestionable. When Weaver left the show in 1964 he was replaced by Ken Curtis as Festus Hagen, a character equally adept at providing humor in the often grim world of Dodge and a foil to the taciturn and sometimes obsessive professionalism of Dillon. Burt Reynolds appeared on Gunsmoke from 1962-65 in the role of Quint Asper.

While Gunsmoke had its share of shoot-outs, bank robberies, cattle rustlings, and the like, the great strength of the program was the ongoing exploration of life in this community, with these people, in this place, at this time. In Gunsmoke, Dodge City stands as an outpost of civilization, the edge of America at the end of a century. It is one of the central images of the Western in any of its media creations--a small town, a group of professionals, perhaps a school and a church, surrounded by the dangers of the frontier, its values of peace, harmony, and justice always under threat from untamed forces. Such a setting becomes a magnified experiment for the exploration of fundamental ideas about American culture and society. Issues faced by the characters and community in Gunsmoke ranged from questions of legitimate violence to the treatment of minority groups, from the meaning of family to the power of religious commitment. Even topics drawn from American life in the 1950s and 1960s were examined in this setting. The historical frame of the Western, and television's reliance on well-known, continuing characters allowed a sense of distance and gave producers the freedom to treat almost any topic.

The dramatic formula for the series, particularly in later years, was simple. Some type of "outsider"--a family separated from a wagon train, an ex-Confederate officer, a wandering theatre troupe--entered the world of the regular characters. With the outsiders came conflict. With the conflict came the need for decision and action. If violence was called for, it was applied reluctantly. If compassion was the answer, it was available. Often, no solution so simple solved the problems. Many sides of the same issue could be presented, especially when moral problems, not action and adventure, were the central concerns. In such cases Gunsmoke often ended in ambiguity, requiring the ideas and issues to be pondered by viewers. As the series progressed into its last seasons, it became highly self-conscious of its own history. Characters explored their own motivations with some frequency, and memories became plot devices.

In the history of American popular culture, Gunsmoke has claimed a position of prominence. Innovative within traditional trappings, it testified to the breadth and resilience of the Western genre and to television's ability to interweave character, idea and action into narratives that could attract and compel audiences for decades.

-Horace Newcomb

CAST

Marshal Matt Dillon................................... James Arness

Dr. Galen (Doc) Adams............................. Milburn Stone

Kitty Russell (1955-1974).......................... Amanda Blake

Chester Goode (1955 1964)...................... Dennis Weaver

Festus Haggen (1964-1975)............................ Ken Curtis

Quint Asper (1962-1965)........................... Burt Reynolds

Sam, the bartender (1962-1974)................ Glenn Strange

Clayton Thaddeus (Thad) Greenwood (1965-1967)..............Roger Ewing

Newly O'Brien (1967-l975)............................. Buck Taylor

Mr. Jones (1955-1960)................................. Dabbs Greer

Louie Pheeters......................................... James Nusser

Barney....................................................... Charles Seel

Howie ......................................................Howard Culver

Ed O'Connor..................................................Tom Brown

Percy Crump............................................... John Harper

Hank (1957-1975)................................... Hank Patterson

Ma Smalley (1962-1975)............................... Sarah Selby

Nathan Burke (1964-1975)............................. Ted Jordan

Mr. Bodkin (1965-1975)............................... Roy Roberts

Mr. Lathrop (1966-1975)........................ Woody Chamblis

Halligan (1967-1975)................... .....Charles Wagenheim

Miss Hannah (1974-1975)............................... Fran Ryan

PRODUCERS

Charles Warren, John Mantley, Phillip Leacock, Norman MacDonald, Joseph Drackow, Leonard Katzman

PROGRAMMING HISTORY

233 Half-hour Episodes; 400 One-hour Episodes

CBS

September 1955-September 1961   Saturday 10:00-10:30

September 1961-September 1967   Saturday l0:00-11:00

October 1961-June 1964   Tuesday 7:30-8:00

September 1967-September 1971   Monday 7:30-8:30

September 1971-September 1975   Monday 8:00-9:00

FURTHER READING

Barabas, SuzAnne and Gabor Barabas. Gunsmoke: A Complete History and Analysis of the Legendary Broadcast Series with a Comprehensive Episode-By-Episode Guide to Both the Radio and Television Programs. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1990.

Gordon, S. "Gunsmoke's Chester." Look (New York), 12 September 1961.

Jackson, Ronald. Classic TV Westerns: A Pictorial History. Seacaucus, New Jersey: Carol, 1994.

MacDonald, J. Fred. Who Shot The Sheriff: The Rise And Fall Of The Television Western. New York: Praeger, 1987.

Marsden, Michael T. and Jack Nachbar. "The Modern Popular Western: Radio, Television, Film and Print." In, A Literary History of the American West. Sponsored by The Western Literature Association. Fort Worth, Texas: Texas Christian University Press, 1987.

Morhaim, Joe. "Why Gunsmoke's Amanda Blake, James Arness Won't Kiss." TV Guide (Radnor, Pennsylvania), 15 March 1958.

Peel, John. Gunsmoke Years: The Behind-The-Scenes Story: Exclusive Interviews with the Writers and Directors: A Complete Guide to Every Episode Aired: The Longest Running Network Television Drama Ever! Las Vegas, Nevada: Pioneer, 1989.

West, Richard. Television Westerns: Major And Minor Series, 1946-1978. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1987.

Whitney, Dwight. "Why Gunsmoke Keeps Blazing." TV Guide (Radnor, Pennsylvania), 6 December 1958.

_______________. "What's Gunsmoke's Secret." TV Guide (Radnor, Pennsylvania), 22 August 1970.

Yoggy, Gary A. Riding the Video Range: The Rise and Fall of the Western on Television. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1994.

Highlights
James Arness on the concept of Gunsmoke as the first TV Western geared more to adults than children, and on the process of filming an episode
03:14
Dennis Weaver on the concept of Gunsmoke; on being cast as Chester; and on developing the character's limp
11:32
John Rich on directing Gunsmoke and James Arness
02:22
Leonard Nimoy on the plot of a Gunsmoke episode he guest-starred in, "Treasure of John Walking Fox"
02:30
Fred Silverman on how CBS Chair William S. Paley insisted on keeping his favorite show, Gunsmoke, on the air
01:00
Arthur Hiller on directing Gunsmoke starring James Arness
07:53
Who talked about this show

James Arness

View Interview
James Arness on the concept of Gunsmoke as the first TV Western geared more to adults than children, and on the process of filming an episode
03:14
James Arness on reprising his role as "Matt Dillon" on Gunsmoke TV movies
01:49
James Arness on actor Milburn Stone, who played "Doc" on Gunsmoke, who was very important in setting the tone of the show, as he had grown up in a western town 
02:35
James Arness on starring in Gunsmoke, and on the cast and crew
30:01

Thomas Azzari

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Thomas Azzari on doing set design for Gunsmoke
04:50

Eric Braeden

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Eric Braeden on guest-starring on Gunsmoke
02:18

Robert Butler

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Robert Butler on directing episodes of Gunsmoke
02:24

David Canary

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David Canary on his guest appearance on Gunsmoke
00:42

Leo Chaloukian

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Leo Chaloukian on the challenges of doing sound for Gunsmoke
02:28

Richard Chamberlain

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Richard Chamberlain on his first role in Gunsmoke
00:41

Barbara Eden

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Barbara Eden on one of her first TV jobs on Gunsmoke
00:58

William Froug

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William Froug on seeing the first radio script for Gunsmoke
01:20

Melissa Gilbert

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Melissa Gilbert on her first TV role - on Gunsmoke
02:25

Katherine Helmond

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Katherine Helmond on appearing on Gunsmoke, her first acting role

Arthur Hiller

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Arthur Hiller on directing Gunsmoke
03:51
Arthur Hiller on directing Gunsmoke starring James Arness
07:53

Roy Huggins

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Roy Huggins on the Maverick episode "Guy-Shy," which was a spoof of Gunsmoke
07:09

Michael Learned

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Michael Learned on guest starring on television shows, including Gunsmoke

Rose Marie

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Rose Marie on her first dramatic role, playing a 60-year-old woman on Gunsmoke in the episode "Twelfth Night" (airdate: December, 1957)
02:14

Harry Morgan

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Harry Morgan on guest appearances on Gunsmoke
01:21

Diana Muldaur

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Diana Muldaur on working on Gunsmoke
02:05

Hal Needham

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Hal Needham on being under contract to Warner Brothers Television
07:34
Hal Needham on doing stunts for Gunsmoke
02:13
Hal Needham on working with actors and the challenge of seeming the right weight or height
02:53

Leonard Nimoy

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Leonard Nimoy on the plot of a Gunsmoke episode he guest-starred in, "Treasure of John Walking Fox"
02:30
Leonard Nimoy on fellow actor James Arness mentioning that he'd been cast on Gunsmoke
01:15
Leonard Nimoy on Marc Daniels directing him in his last TV guest role (on Gunsmoke) before they collaborated on Star Trek
00:31

Hugh O'Brian

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Hugh O'Brian on appearing in a Gunsmoke TV movie
01:35

John Rich

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John Rich on directing Gunsmoke and James Arness
02:22
John Rich on directing Gunsmoke when he wanted to switch to drama from comedy directing
16:09
John Rich on the actors of Gunsmoke
01:39

Joseph Sargent

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Joseph Sargent on acting on and later directing Gunsmoke
01:17
Joseph Sargent on directing Gunsmoke
02:50
Joseph Sargent on directing James Arness on Gunsmoke
03:27
Joseph Sargent on the cast of Gunsmoke
00:59
Joseph Sargent on the editing of Gunsmoke and staging actors
04:50
Joseph Sargent on casting black extras on Gunsmoke
01:49

William Schallert

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William Schallert on his work in the TV western Gunsmoke
03:16

Fred Silverman

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Fred Silverman on how CBS Chair William S. Paley insisted on keeping his favorite show, Gunsmoke, on the air
01:00

Abby Singer

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Abby Singer on being production manager on Gunsmoke
01:11

Doris Singleton

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Doris Singleton on working on Gunsmoke
01:23

Lynn Stalmaster

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Lynn Stalmaster on casting Gunsmoke
Lynn Stalmaster on the process of casting Gunsmoke; there were not many Native Americans in the series

Fred Steiner

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Fred Steiner on his long association with Gunsmoke
05:20

Daniel J. Travanti

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Actor Daniel J. Travanti on his guest appearances on Gunsmoke
03:58

Robert Vaughn

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Robert Vaughn on his work in television westerns
01:54

Dennis Weaver

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Dennis Weaver on the concept of Gunsmoke; on being cast as Chester; and on developing the character's limp
11:32
Dennis Weaver on working with cast and crew of Gunsmoke; the production details; on leaving the series and its legacy
16:17

Joseph M. Wilcots

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Joseph M. Wilcots on working on The FBI, and Gunsmoke, and on joining the union
08:05

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