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CBS (ended 1975)

Festus vs. Chester

  • Avatar of Tascosa

    Tascosa

    [21]Sep 13, 2005
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    Yes, I think that whole anti violence, family friendly movement was responsible for making Festus almost the co-star of gunsmoke along with Matt. That and of course James Arness taking more and more time off in the later years.
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  • Avatar of Trampas24

    Trampas24

    [22]Sep 14, 2005
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    gunsmokefan wrote:
    In the earlier appearances of Festus he was, (for him) more down to earth. Later with the color ep he seemed to change. As once was put by someone on this forum "a buffoon". As I remember, my family and friends grew tired of him fast, he became very irritating. As I look again at some of the ep today, and see how Matt, Kitty and Doc react to some of his actions, and "yarns", I wonder how much of those disgusted facial expressions from the other three were real, rather than acting, especially Matt and Doc. There was a period where it almost became the "Festus Show", where he was in ep 80-90% of the time. I understand there are many out there who liked his character, if not, I'm sure he would have faded from sight.


    This was my general impression too, although nothing was going to keep me away from Dodge City each week. I thought Festus was a better character when he first arrived in the black and white days and then gradually became more of a clown than anything else.

    Tascosa has a good point -- during the color years there were various movements to curtail TV violence and Gunsmoke had to deal with that a lot (it's why they got rid of the opening gunfight sequence and replaced it with that stupid shot of Matt racing his horse across the screen). During one of the CBS retrospective shows back in the 80s (when they still acknowledged the importance of Gunsmoke)they showed a sequence of shots with Matt actually firing his gun in several episodes; the narrator (Mary Tyler Moore, I believe) then mentioned how the campaign to end TV violence had affeced the show; this was followed by a sequence of later shots (all in color, I belive) with Matt drawing his gun and shouting "Hold it!" rather than actually shooting. That pretty much captured it.

    The anti-violence forces could never quite make up their minds what it is they wanted. Sometimes they said there should just be an end of violence on TV; other times they said the violence was too "sanitized" and didn't show what bullets really do to the human body, thus somehow encouraging potentially violent people to "try this at home." So, they either wanted no violence or more graphic violence - I'm not sure they were ever sure.

    I once took a class in classical drama (Greek, Shakespeare, et al), much of which included heinous violence. The teacher insisted this was all very different from the violence on Gunsmoke (he actually mentioned the show several times), which did not relate its acts of violence to serious plot elements and was thus "gratuitous." I don't think he ever saw Gunsmoke. While his accusations were true of many other shows during that period, Gunsmoke went quite far in plot and character development (thanks to the many talented writers who scripted the shows) and the violence was always intricately tied to the plots. Gunsmoke never really had to rely on violence to build its audience. However, it was (as John Wayne told us on day one) a "realistic" western; violence was part of the west and the setting of Gunsmoke. Matt referred to it many times in those early opening shots of him walking on Boot Hill. Often he expressed his disgust with violence and how easily the people he dealt with resorted to it. He saw it as an unpleasant but inevitable part of his job -- "a job that has to be done," as he once put it.

    Al
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  • Avatar of fhfan

    fhfan

    [23]Sep 15, 2005
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    There was a bit of a disconnect between the early Festus, the middle Festus, and the latter Festus. In Aunt Thede, Festus offers to break every bone in Matt's body. He's definitely doesn't Kow tow to Matt. Matt may be acting as a mentor, but he seems to show a great respect for Festus' independence and knowledge of things not "citified", so to speak, such as his tracking and knowledge of how wolves kill and leave carcasses.

    By the middle, the writers seemed to be using Festus more as Matt's side kick in the most traditional sense of the word: Festus, take care of the horses, lock up the prisoners, make the coffee, etc. There was less of the intimate respectful friendship shown between the two men. Matt seemed to be constantly rolling his eyes because of Festus' tall tales, yet in Snap Decision, not only does he strongly encourage his replacement to keep Festus on because he is a man who can be trusted on when needed, he even decides to take Festus with him on a trip to the mountains when he finally seriously considers getting away from it all. I suspect a man of Matt's personality would take a real friend, not a kow towing serf.

    By the latter years, this was brought out again. One of two of my favorite episodes which illustrates this is Episode 616. Thirty a Month and Found. The relationship between the two men, Will and Quincy, who are being pursued, is mirrored by Festus' and Matt's close friendship, which is born of years of working closely together to the point of having to trust, respect and rely each other for survival. There is an intimacy which is rarely spoke of between these two men, but is evident in other episodes. (It made me think that Festus had in a way found a partial replacement for his lost twin.) The other one is the Episode 615. The Guns of Cibola Blanca (2). It's nice how Matt, naturally trusts Festus' talents so well that he sits back and lets Festus take the lead with the Commancheros to keep them off-kilter. Festus can be quite sly when he chooses to. He was back to being stronger and more independent in the end of the series like he was at the beginning.

    I think the change came from several aspects. One was that the writing and producing shifted from the B&W's to the Colors. There was a definite change in the way the target audience was being approached. Possibly it was a shift to a newer, potentially younger audience. It can be seen in the significant change in just how the town looked and the lands outside of town. It was evident in the way the writing styles, focus, presentation of topics, and treatment of characters was done. There was less realism in the prairie look. (Well, what do you expect when you film in hilly California? But still, the plains in Kansas are not known for trees. The Joshua Tree grows only in the Mojave Desert in the extreme southwest California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona, at elevations from 2,000 to 6,000 feet. Humm, not near Kansas or the plains.)

    The fact that the writers obvious didn't bother to do their homework and the producers didn't seem to mind is evident in many of the fans discussions of discrepancies from name spelling changes (e.g., O'Brian vs. O'Brien, Haggen vs. Haggin. etc.) to obvious concepts in stories, such as a big scene in Arizona Midnight where Festus claims never to have seen a person as small as a midget. In Circus Trick, with April, he watches and avoids a much smaller man at the carnival while he's looking for April.) That could be frustrating for an actor to deal with ignorant writing mistakes.

    The other was the age of the actors coupled with the time disconnect of when the series was supposed to be squeezed into. Actors do put part of their own life perspective in how they present their characters. Each actor changed, as all people do, as their life experiences impacted them. I suspect their own maturity changed how they interpreted the characters they performed. In Dirty Sally, when Doc is talking with her, his reference to impotence and old age is a topic I doubt would ever have been in the early B&Ws when M. Stone was obviously younger and more romantically viable to the viewing audience then.

    The fact that KC was in his late forties when he took on the Festus character I think made a difference. In the early introduction of him, I couldn't help but get the impression that Matt tended to treat Festus as if he was lot younger than Dillon was, especially in the episode Us Haggens. Pairing him with much younger Quint and April supported this notion. The more serious episodes which Festus did shine in worked better for a more mature person than the young impulsive person Festus was being portray as in some of the earlier B&W's. Still, the innate love of fun, which the Festus character displayed was, well, just fun.

    Ultimately, I think the disconnect came mainly from the lack of understanding of the Festus character from the writers and producers, especially after the switch to Colors. I believe they kind of short-changed a good 3-D character and didn't take advantage of being able to consistently flesh out the character as well as they could have. For example, here and there were some very good tidbits dealing with the difficulty of being illiterate. (Many people in the US today suffer similar issues.) More could be done with that.
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  • Avatar of Tascosa

    Tascosa

    [24]Sep 15, 2005
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    fhfan, very interesting analysis. Don't you wish ken curtis was still around to give us his take on all this ? It's always struck me that as the years rolled by and james arness became less involved in many of the stories, that maybe the producers told the writers to make the very charasmatic festus the star of those episodes and to make sure they featured his serious, responsible side. I think it made for a bit of awkwardness in festus character in the later years when arness made the occasional full appearance. The writers had a difficult task of returning festus to his more familiar humorous self so that matt could handle the serious business and as you say roll his eyes at the comical philosophy and tall tales told by festus.
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  • Avatar of Trampas24

    Trampas24

    [25]Sep 15, 2005
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    I think it is true that Festus's character did change over time and noticeably between the black & white and color episodes. As a peripheral character, when Matt carried most of an episode, Festus was pretty much relegated to the comic lines and scenes that seem to have been specifically written for him as either filler or to give him some camera time and keep him in the show on a regular basis. A lot of those scenes were between him and Doc and were pretty much a comedy routine that they had honed over the years, including many live performances at rodeos and other venues.

    Where Festus was able to shine, and Curtis able to flesh the character out and show his acting chops, were those rare episodes that were not comic in nature, and where he was the main character ("Island in the Desert" is the very best of these and my favorite Festus episode. I always loved Strother Martin and he and Curtis definitely had great chemistry).

    I think the writing assignments became more challenging with the years, as Gunsmoke and CBS had to cope with anti-violence campaigns, current social issues that were not around when Gunsmoke started, and the fact that Matt could not be the central character in every episode anymore. All in all, I think they did a great job and Gunsmoke's longevity proves that. Everyone involved kept the show fresh and it never really became dated, despite its permanent setting in the far past. Quite an achievement.

    If the show's overseers had their way (I'm just guessing here, or maybe showing my personal preference) they probably would have preferred that Weaver stay with the show.

    Al
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  • Avatar of Tascosa

    Tascosa

    [26]Sep 15, 2005
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    Yes, I think you are showing your personal preference there, Al. lol. But, I also think you're right that at the time dennis weaver left the show, the producers, and cast for that matter would have preferred that he stay with the show rather than threaten to break up the chemistry that had proven so successfull.
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  • Avatar of Trampas24

    Trampas24

    [27]Sep 16, 2005
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    Tascosa wrote:
    Yes, I think you are showing your personal preference there, Al. lol. But, I also think you're right that at the time dennis weaver left the show, the producers, and cast for that matter would have preferred that he stay with the show rather than threaten to break up the chemistry that had proven so successfull.


    I plead guilty - I am prujudiced toward Chester and at times I'm a bit too tough on old Festus, but I also liked him for the most part (although his comic shtick got tiresome after a while, but we've discussed that problem and his general role in the series).

    I think my preference comes from the fact that I was so devoted to the show from day one and refused ever to miss it. They were like a little family and Chester was part of that original chemestry, both on the radio show and then TV. It was a bit of a mind-bender when Chester left, although, in truth, he had been missing from quite a few episodes at various times, with no explanation by the other characters as to where he was or why he wasn't in Dodge. I think this is because Weaver actually contemplated leaving several times before he finally did leave, and even told the others he planned to do it. I recall one quote from Milburn Stone saying "We had about 5 funerals for him," meaning they had been told he was leaving several times over the years.

    Thus, Ken Curtis had a pretty tough spot to fill when he arrived as Festus. On the one hand, he had to replace Chester, but on the other he had to create his own character and not appear to be a Chester clone or mimic. All in all, I think he did very well. If there were weaknesses in the character they came largely from the scripts and the way the character was used, not from Ken's work.

    There are a lot of episodes where he really shines as that character. I've mentioned "Island in the Dessert," but I'd add "The Well" to the list. There's a wonderful scene toward the end, when the town has pretty much run out of water, where Festus volunteers to travel very far west in a last-ditch effort to find water and bring some barrels of it back to Dodge. Both Matt and Kitty strongly resist the idea and urge him not to try it, but Festus is determined and quietly explains that they have no other choice and that it doesn't "really matter where a fella is if he ain't got no water." If he was going to die of thirst, he'd rather do it trying to prevent it any way he can to the end. I always thought that was Festus at his best.

    Al
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  • Avatar of fhfan

    fhfan

    [28]Sep 16, 2005
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    Unfortunately, that was one episode I missed and is on my get list. Now you make me more interested in seeing it. Thanks.
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    CommandoNES

    [29]Oct 7, 2005
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    I have to say I like Festus more :

    I don't know why but I just find him a little better then chester. Both of them are good but I just like Festus a little more.
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  • Avatar of fhfan

    fhfan

    [30]Oct 7, 2005
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    I haven't seen all of the hour B&W (missed about 45 of them) and haven't seen the 1/2 hours.

    I know that it won't change my mind about liking Festus more, but I think it would be fun to get to know Chester and the other characters better by watching them.
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    gilliganfanatic

    [31]Jul 22, 2006
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    hmmm, very hard question. I will have to think about it
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  • Avatar of fhfan

    fhfan

    [32]Sep 5, 2006
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    Now that you've had a bit of time to think about it, what do you think?
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    ZoSo_HEMI

    [33]Mar 28, 2007
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    Festus  by far was the better of the two deputys , Festus had chacter ,humor , and most of all funny .  But being from TN.   im partial ...

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    BartSimpson01

    [34]Apr 9, 2007
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    festus big time,i think we was the best one on the show
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  • Avatar of bravelaw

    bravelaw

    [35]Apr 15, 2007
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    fhfan, Take the time to view the b&w episodes and the half hour episodes with Chester. To me it is clear that Chester is the better character, due in large part to the talent of Dennis Weaver. When the show began Chester was cast as kind of an anti-hero, not allowed to carry a gun and basically forced to be the crippled side kick who was denied the opportunity to grab the glory. Despite these limitations, Chester was able to maintain law and order in Dodge when Dillon was gone (which included arresting people when needed without a gun) and traveled with Matt on many occasions when they were in hot pursuit of the bad guys. Weaver was able to to vividly convey Chester's emotions to the audience and make them feel what Chester was feeling whether that was joy, embarrassment, anger or sadness. The character of Festus was extremely limited when compared to Chester. I would also submit that out of all of the Gunsmoke characters, Chester more than anyone else was Matt's true friend (See episodes Never pester chester, gun for chester and tell chester ).  Festus was more of a friend to Doc Adams than he was to Matt.   The two characters obviously had a stronger bond with each other which was evident in any situation where one of the two was somehow injured.  If Festus was hurt Doc showed much more concern for him than Matt did and if Doc were injured the same could be said of Festus.  Conversely Matt showed much more concern when Chester was injured than he did for either Doc or Festus. 
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    Shiloh_62

    [36]Oct 29, 2007
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    I've watched Gunsmoke from the beginning and think the addition of Ken Curtis was a stroke of brilliance. The character ofChester wore thin in short order.He tended to whine too much and the 'limp' got annoying too. Chester was Dodge City's Beaver Cleaver. (Gee Mr. Dillon) No offense to Jerry Mathers. Chester wasa one dimensionalcharacter whereas Festus had a dark side, a mysterious side if you will. His was morerounded thanthat of Chester.

    Ken Curtis fashioned his character of Festus afterhis part in The Searchers. His father in law, John Ford insisted he use the accent he'd overheard Curtisusing while kidding around with Harry Carey Jr. Curtis objected, however,no one has ever won an argument with John Ford; not Henry Fonda or Ben Johnson to name a few of Ford's combatants.

    The bottom line is Festus was a welcomed addition to the cast of Gunsmoke.

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    bfuller07

    [37]Dec 17, 2007
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    I liked Festus better too, he and Doc kill me the way they carry on. Chester was cool though.
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    millerem99

    [38]Feb 21, 2008
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    I've never watched the Chester episodes, but can't imagine anyone in the place of loveable Festus. The dynamic with Doc I wouldn't trade for anything!

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    tvking1

    [39]Feb 22, 2008
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    I hate to sound like I'm taking the easy way out, but, well, I liked them both. Festus and Doc provided much of the comic relief, but so did Chester and Doc. "Chesterland", from season 7 (the first season of the hour-long episodes) was great (scroll down on my review page for my review). And the series was most popular during seasons 3-6, during which it was the top-rated show each season, each with Chester.
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    katinacup

    [40]Feb 25, 2008
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    I have always loved Festus. His charater is so loving, kind and honest. Festus is the man everyone wants as a best friend. Kat....
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