Friday, June 3, 2011


Like a lot of baby boomers I grew up glued to the television every Monday night watching the exploits of Marshall Matt Dillon.  James Arness played the larger than life western hero and was the small screen counterpart to John Wayne.  Gunsmoke is the best television western ever made, period.  And it is certainly one of the best television dramas to boot and that's saying a lot.

Ken Curtis and James Arness
Arness was blessed with a great supporting cast starting the first few years with a limping deputy named Chester played by the talented Dennis Weaver.  Ken Curtis ably slid into the role of Dillon's sidekick as Festus and Dodge City was never better.  It wasn't Shakespeare but some of the episodes were damn close to it.  Amanda Blake as Miss Kitty and Milburn Stone as Doc were tremendous actors in their own right.

Over 20 years and 635 episodes James Arness created a television legacy that I believe is only matched by Alan Alda's role as Hawkeye Pierce on MASH.  But I digress.  What helped make Gunsmoke such a great television series was the amazing number of up and coming actors soon to become stars that cut their teeth on the show.  Look at the names and some impressive ones pop up... Burt Reynolds, Warren Oates, Buddy Ebsen, Ellen Burstyn, Jon Voight, Jodie Foster, need I go on?

What makes me chuckle is I was born and grew up in Kansas. Yet I never have set foot in Dodge City.  I've been to every major city in the state of Kansas save for two, Great Bend and Dodge City.  It's kind of embarrassing as much as I worshiped the show.  I even grew up grew up in a small town, Abilene, that was a rough and tumble cattle town much as Dodge City was in the 1860's and 70's. 

You can still see Gunsmoke on TVLand.  I catch it once and a while I feel the nostalgia for my youth.  RIP James Arness, you were a true star, unlike the reality show buffoons that now provide so much of the fare that passes for television these days.

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