Gunsmoke: Matt Gets It
Matt is critically wounded while attempting to arrest super-fast gunman Dan Grat. Grat runs rampant in Dodge while Matt recovers, but is unpleasantly surprised when the recovered marshal challenges him again.
Gunsmoke was an American radio and television Western drama series created by director Norman MacDonnell and writer John Meston. The stories take place in and around Dodge City, Kansas, during the settlement of the American West.
The radio version ran from 1952 to 1961, and John Dunning writes that among radio drama enthusiasts “Gunsmoke is routinely placed among the best shows of any kind and any time.” The television version ran for 20 seasons from 1955 to 1975, and was the United States’ longest-running prime time, live-action drama with 635 episodes. In 2010, Law & Order tied this record of 20 seasons (but only 456 episodes). At the end of its run in 1975, Los Angeles Times columnist Cecil Smith wrote “Gunsmoke was the dramatization of the American epic legend of the west. Our own Iliad and Odyssey, created from standard elements of the dime novel and the pulp western as romanticized by Buntline, Harte, and Twain. It was ever the stuff of legend.”
Good evening. My name’s Wayne. Some of you may have seen me before; I hope so. I’ve been kicking around Hollywood a long time. I’ve made a lot of pictures out here, all kinds, and some of them have been Westerns. And that’s what I’m here to tell you about tonight: a Western—a new TV show calledGunsmoke. No, I’m not in it. I wish I were, though, because I think it’s the best thing of its kind that’s come along, and I hope you’ll agree with me; it’s honest, it’s adult, it’s realistic. When I first heard about the show Gunsmoke, I knew there was only one man to play in it: James Arness. He’s a young fellow, and maybe new to some of you, but I’ve worked with him and I predict he’ll be a big star. So you might as well get used to him, like you’ve had to get used to me! And now I’m proud to present my friend Jim Arness in Gunsmoke.
— John Wayne– Gunsmoke TV episode one
“Matt Gets It.”
The TV series ran from September 10, 1955, to March 31, 1975, on CBS with 635 total episodes. The first 12 seasons aired Saturdays at 10 p.m., seasons 13 through 16 aired Mondays at 7:30 p.m.and the last four seasons aired Mondays at 8 p.m.. Its longevity has runners-up questioning its primacy as longest run. It is the longest running, prime time series of the 20th century. Today, it still has the highest number of scripted episodes for any, U.S. primetime, commercial live-action television series. Some rival programs in contention are foreign-made with U.S. airing. As of 2010, it is the fifth globally, after Doctor Who (1963–1989, 2005– ), Taggart (1983–), The Bill (1984–2010). James Arness and Milburn Stone portrayed their Gunsmoke characters for 20 consecutive years, as did Kelsey Grammer as the character Frasier Crane, but over two half-hour sitcoms. George Walsh, the announcer for Gunsmoke, began in 1952 on radio’s Gunsmoke and continued until television’s Gunsmoke was canceled in 1975.
When Gunsmoke was adapted for television in 1955, the network did not appear interested in bringing either Conrad or his radio costars to the medium (his weight was rumored to be a deciding factor) despite a campaign to convince the network. Denver Pyle was also considered for the role, as was Raymond Burr, who was ultimately also seen as too heavyset for the part. Charles Warren, television Gunsmoke’s first director, said “His voice was fine but he was too big. When he stood up, his chair stood with him.” According to a James Arness interview, CBS felt John Wayne was ideal for the role, but he, as most big screen stars, saw the fledging medium as a step down; The belief Wayne was asked to pin on the badge is disputed by Warren. Although he agrees Wayne encouraged Arness to take the role, Warren says, “I hired Jim Arness on the strength of a picture he’s done for me… I never thought for a moment of offering it to Wayne.”
In the end, the primary roles were all recast, with Arness taking the lead role of Marshal Matt Dillon (on the recommendation of Wayne, who also introduced the pilot); Dennis Weaver playing Chester Goode; Milburn Stone being cast as Dr. G. “Doc” Adams (later Galen “Doc” Adams); and Amanda Blake taking on the role of Miss Kitty Russell. MacDonnell became the associate producer of the TV show and later the producer. Meston was named head writer.
Chester and Festus Haggen are perhaps Dillon’s most recognizable sidekicks, though there were others who would become acting-deputies for two and a half to seven and a half year stints: Quint Asper (Burt Reynolds) (1962–1965), Thad Greenwood (Roger Ewing) (1966–1968), and Newly O’Brian (Buck Taylor) (1967–1975), who served as both back-up deputy and doctor-in-training, having some studies in medicine via his uncle which then continued under Doc Adams.
In 1962, Burt Reynolds was added to the show’s lineup, as the “halfbreed” blacksmith Quint Asper and elipsed the span during characters Chester Goode and Festus Haggen. Three of the actors, who played Dodge deputies, Ken Curtis, Roger Ewing and Buck Taylor, had previous guest roles. In 1963, Curtis, a big band and western singer (Tommy Dorsey Band, Shep Fields Band, Sons of the Pioneers), had a guest shot as a shady ladies’ man. He previously had a small role as an Indian in one of the late 1950s episodes. Curtis, was reared in Las Animas, Colorado, and for a time a son-in-law of director John Ford. In 1963, Weaver left the series to pursue a broader acting career in TV series and films. In 1964 Curtis was signed as a regular to play the stubbornly illiterate hillbilly Festus Haggen. The character, heretofore a comic feature, came to town in a 1962 episode titled “Us Haggens”, to avenge the death of his twin brother Fergus, and decided to stay in Dodge when the deed was done. Initially on the fringes of Dodge society, Festus was slowly phased-in as a reliable sidekick/ part-time deputy to Matt Dillon when Reynolds left in 1965. In the episode “Alias Festus Haggen”, he is mistaken for a robber and killer whom he has to expose to free himself (both parts played by Curtis). In a comic relief episode (“Mad Dog”), another case of mistaken identity forces Festus to fight three sons of a man killed by his cousin.
When Milburn Stone left the series for health reasons for several episodes in 1971, Pat Hingle played his temporary replacement physician, Dr. John Chapman, whose presence was at first roundly resisted by Festus, a bickersome but close friend of Doc Adams.
The back stories of some of the main characters were largely left to the imagination of the viewer. Matt Dillon spent his early years in foster care, knew the Bible, was a wayward, brawling cowboy, and later mentored by a caring lawman. Kitty Russell, born in New Orleans and reared by a flashy foster mother (who once visited Dodge), apparently had no living family. (See “Miss Kitty” in the following section “Differences between the characters on the radio & TV versions.”) Barkeep Sam was said to be married but no sightings of a wife were made (In the episode “Tafton”, he is seen side-by-side with a woman in a church singing). Quint Asper’s white father was killed by white scavengers. Thad Greenwood’s father, a storekeeper, was harassed to death by a trio of loathsome ne’er-do-well thieves. Chester Goode was known to be one of many brothers raised by an aunt and uncle, and he mentions his mother on one occasion; he referred to past service in the cavalry, and years as a cattle driver in Texas. The cause of Chester’s stiff right leg was never given, but it was shown as his own leg and not a prosthesis. No direct reference was ever made to his disability in the script, although some oblique moments painted the free spirited, comic deputy with a darker tone. Newly O’Brien was named after a physician uncle, who ignited his interest in medicine.
While Dillon and Miss Kitty clearly had a close personal relationship, the two never married. In a July 2, 2002, Associated Press interview with Bob Thomas, Arness explained, “If they were man and wife, it would make a lot of difference. The people upstairs decided it was better to leave the show as it was, which I totally agreed with.” In the episode “Waste”, featuring Johnny Whitaker as a boy with a prostitute mother, her madam questions Dillon as to why the law overlooks Miss Kitty’s enterprise. It appears that bordellos could exist “at the law’s discretion” (meaning the marshal’s). Miss Kitty was written out in 1974. The actress sought more free time and reportedly missed her late co-star, Glenn Strange, who played her Long Branch barkeep, Sam. When Blake decided not to return for the show’s 20th (and final) season, the character was said to have returned to New Orleans. She was replaced by the hoarse-voiced, matronly actress Fran Ryan (known to many as the second Doris Ziffel on CBS’ “Green Acres”).
For over a decade on television, a sign hung over Doc’s office that read “Dr. G. Adams”. Milburn Stone was given free-rein to choose the character’s first name. The actor chose the surname of an ancient Greek physician and medical researcher named Galen. He is first referred to in this manner by Theodore Bikel in the season 10 episode, “Song for Dying”, aired February 13, 1965.
Differences between the characters on the radio and television versions
There were differences between the characters on the radio and TV versions ofGunsmoke. In the radio series, Doc was acerbic, somewhat mercenary, and borderline alcoholic – at least in the program’s early years. On radio’s Gunsmoke, Doc Adams’s real name was Dr. Calvin Moore. He came west and changed his name to escape a charge of murder. The television Doc, though still crusty, was in many ways softer and warmer.
There was nothing in the radio series to suggest that Chester Proudfoot was disabled, a merely visual feature added to the Chester Goode character on television because of actor Dennis Weaver’s athletic build, to emphasize Chester’s role as a follower and not an independent agent.
Miss Kitty, who, after the radio series ended, was said by some to have engaged in prostitution, began in that role in the television series, working in the Long Branch Saloon. In an earlier 1956 episode, the owner of the Long Branch was named Bill Pence. A later 1956 episode begins with Chester pointing out to Matt (who had been out of town) a new sign under the Long Branch Saloon sign stating “Russell & Pence, Proprietors.” In that same episode, John Dehner portrayed a dubious New Orleans businessman claiming to be Kitty’s father, who tried to talk her into selling her half interest in the Long Branch and returning to New Orleans with him as a partner in his alleged freight business. In another 1956 episode (involving a new saloon girl named “Rena Decker” who causes four deaths by provoking men into fighting over her), Miss Kitty identifies herself as half-owner of the Long Branch with Mr. Pence (played by Judson Pratt). Subsequently, Miss Kitty transitioned to sole owner. Although early film episodes showed her descending from her second-floor rooms in the saloon with Matt, or showed her or one of her girls leading a cowboy up to those same rooms, these scenes disappeared later on, and viewers were guided to see Miss Kitty just as a kindhearted businesswoman.