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CBS (ended 1975)

Article from Arness with the Miami Ferald

  • Avatar of randy1022

    randy1022

    [1]Aug 26, 2005
    • member since: 08/21/05
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    Posted on Wed, Aug. 24, 2005
    M O R E N E W S F R O M topix.net
    • Gunsmoke
    • Matt Dillon
    • Hondo
    • John Wayne
    • Gunsmoke: The Long Ride
    • Drama

    Arness recalls favorite `Gunsmoke' episodes on 50th anniversary

    BY GLENN LOVELL

    San Jose Mercury News

    At 6 feet 7, James Arness as Marshal Matt Dillon redefined "tall in the saddle."

    So imposing was the star of CBS's pioneering "Gunsmoke" series that when he told some no-account varmint to get out of Dodge, the skunk seldom needed a second invitation.

    "Matt Dillon was the kind of guy who's low-key but stands for what is right," says Arness, 82, in a rare interview from his Los Angeles home. "And he goes about seeing that things turn out that way - with, of course, a lot of people suffering along the way."

    Expect plenty of shooting and suffering and just darn good storytelling on the Encore Westerns channel starting 9 p.m. EDT Friday. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of TV's longest-running dramatic series, Encore is hosting a 50-hour "Gunsmoke" marathon. The show, often referred to as the first "adult" western series, made its way from radio to a half-hour TV format in 1955. After climbing to No. 1 in the ratings, it was extended to an hour and continued on the air until 1975.

    John Wayne was originally approached about the Marshal Dillon role. He turned it down but recommended buddy Arness, his co-star in "Hondo" and a real-life hero who had received the Purple Heart for injuries sustained in Anzio, Italy, in 1944.

    "It was ridiculous that they even went to Wayne," Arness says now. "He was the biggest western movie star of all time, and they must have known he couldn't take it."

    Arness earned $1,200 an episode at first, but after the show won Emmys and topped the ratings, he renegotiated for $20,000 an episode and said, flat-out, "No press!" (TV Guide dubbed him the "recluse on horseback.")

    "Once we got going," he recalls, "my agents were able to rewrite my contract and get me a really good salary that matched the popularity of the show. But when you think of what those kids get today on shows - phew! - it's unbelievable. But what I got was great for that time."

    Since leaving prime time, "Gunsmoke" has been periodically reprised with Arness as producer-star of five made-for-TV movies, including "Gunsmoke: The Long Ride" (1993). It has always been a cash cow in syndication. (Together, Encore and TV Land devote six hours daily to the show.) To what does Arness attribute its staying power?

    "The only thing I can say is that we had great writers like Sam Peckinpah and we always tried for realism," replies the actor who, though "retired from public life," still drives, and fields questions from fans at http://jamesarness.com. (He will be honored in absentia at Dodge City Days in Kansas, Sept. 9-11.)

    "We sort of pioneered the adult approach, which I think accounts to a great extent for our longevity," continues the actor-producer. "These were stories that dealt with universal issues, like betrayal and redemption."

    The series also benefited from Arness' acting style. He would shoulder his way into a scene and let his physique do the talking.

    "Yes, Dillon was a no-nonsense but multidimensional character," he agrees. "I just pretty much played the lines. I always said, `I didn't play the character as much as the character played me.'"

    In the show's pre-credit sequence, Marshal Dillon and an anonymous gunfighter would square off at high noon. The other guy always drew first, but Dillon's bullet found its mark.

    "They sort of made a point of that, which I thought was right," Arness says. "As any policeman today will tell you, it's not the idea of getting the first shot off, it's hitting your target. Often the first guy that shoots misses."

    Even after logging 600-plus episodes, Arness has no troubling ID'ing his favorites. Among these: "Chato" (1970), with Ricardo Montalban as a renegade Apache, and the two-parters "Snow Train" (1970) and "The River" (1972).

    "The episode `Chato' is probably my all-time favorite show," he says. "Matt is sent out of his territory to stop the Apache, whose family was killed by U.S. cavalry, and we wind up having a certain understanding and friendship as the story evolves.

    "Like a lot of the later shows, `The River' was shot on location, up in Oregon. The whole story takes place coming down this river and these bad guys, played by Jack Elam and Slim Pickens, are after me, trying to kill me."

    Each week, Marshal Dillon was joined by his worrywart deputy, Chester (Dennis Weaver), who walked with a pronounced limp, and the phlegmatic Doc (Milburn Stone) and hard-bitten Miss Kitty (Amanda Blake), who ran the Long Branch saloon. Burt Reynolds and Ken Curtis, who replaced Weaver, would later join the ensemble.

    Given the show's often grim tone - and its fearless tackling of such issues as rape and revenge - it's not surprising that CBS' front office had to battle the censors.

    The censors, he recalls, "limited us down to so many shootings per show and so many fistfights, but it didn't seem to affect the show. We kept on ticking; the producers wrote around this new set of rules."

    There was also much conjecture about Miss Kitty. Was she a madam who ran a brothel, or just the proprietress of a hotel-saloon?

    "That all started on the radio show, that premise of her running a house," Arness replies, laughing. "But when you get it on the small screen, it just doesn't work that well. So they transitioned that off quickly and just made her the owner of the Long Branch."

    Apart from HBO's "Deadwood," there isn't much on the dial for an old western junkie. Has this curtained his viewing habits?

    "Oh, I should say not," he replies. "I watch television all the time, mostly PBS and old movies like `The Quiet Man,' my favorite Wayne movie. It's marvelous. I just loved the man and still do."

    And reality-TV shows like "Fear Factor"?

    "Oh, no, I don't like any of that stuff! It's not for me."

    As for his health: "I've got a little arthritis that I have to deal with. I was 6 feet 7 when I started and I've shrunk up a little bit. I'm probably 6-5 or so now. But up here at 82 I feel pretty good. I'm sticking in there."
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  • Avatar of fhfan

    fhfan

    [2]Aug 26, 2005
    • member since: 06/06/05
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    Chicago Tribune
    Friday, August 26, 2005
    TEMPO Section 5; pg. 3

    Another interview was published with James Arness. It has some of the same things as the Miami Herald, but there are a few things different.

    It's titled:

    'Gunsmoke' still riding tall in the saddle
    by Glenn Lovell
    Knight Ridder/Tribune news
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  • Avatar of 1875x

    1875x

    [3]Aug 26, 2005
    • member since: 06/24/05
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    Thanks, Randy, for the Miami Herald article. It was refreshing to read real Arness quotes rather than the sort of stuff that's put out under his name but most likely written by someone else on his behalf.
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  • Avatar of randy1022

    randy1022

    [4]Aug 26, 2005
    • member since: 08/21/05
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    No problem.
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  • Avatar of port5170

    port5170

    [5]Mar 5, 2006
    • member since: 11/23/05
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    thanks for the article, James Arness is a great actor, and one of my very first crushes
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  • Avatar of gilliganfanatic

    gilliganfanatic

    [6]Jul 22, 2006
    • member since: 06/15/05
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    yes, thanks for posting that. Very nice
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  • Avatar of CommandoNES

    CommandoNES

    [7]Mar 31, 2007
    • member since: 12/02/04
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    Thanks for the great read.

     

    I need to get around to making a Gunsmoke profile banner and add it to my others.

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  • Avatar of katinacup

    katinacup

    [8]Feb 25, 2008
    • member since: 02/23/08
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    • rank: Sweat Hog
    • posts: 37
    I have just ordered my set of Gunsmoke DVD's thanks for your post. Kat....
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  • Avatar of Codeguru

    Codeguru

    [9]May 20, 2009
    • member since: 07/17/05
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    And reality-TV shows like "Fear Factor"?

    "Oh, no, I don't like any of that stuff! It's not for me."

    That's the best part. Real people don't like reality shows, there you have it. And yet the same channel that airs Gunsmoke every single day, TV Land, produces nothing but that reality crap at least 6 times a year. They truly make me sick on that aspect...

    Codeguru

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