James Arness: Blake had one Gunsmoke guest star that scared her down to the bone to work with, which was Bette Davis


Gunsmoke actor Amanda Blake was a very versatile performer who had a strong understanding of how to generate chemistry for the screen. She had experience working along with the remainder of the principal cast, such as James Arness and Dennis Weaver. However, Gunsmoke started to bring in guest stars, and one of them instilled so much anxiety into Blake that she felt like she practically had to be carried out on a gurney.

Arness and Blake were among the original Gunsmoke working on the show since its inception in 1955. The show ran for a staggering 20 seasons, but the series certainly went through some evolutions of its own. The episodes only ran for a half-hour, allowing the stories to focus on their lead characters and their hardships. However, the decision to start making hour-long episodes brought about a new era for the show.

Gunsmoke had no choice but to focus on Blake and her colleagues a bit less over the course of its run. As a result, they decided to bring in more guest actors that would allow the show to explore anthological concepts from one episode to the next. Gunsmoke drew many big names over the years, including Ron Howard, Ellen Burstyn, Bruce Dern, and Harrison Ford.

According to James Arness: An Autobiography, Blake had one Gunsmoke guest star that scared her down to the bone to work with, which was Bette Davis. Arness also claimed her to be “one of the finest performances by a guest star.”

Arness wrote that Blake thought the producers were about to fire her when they called her to their offices. However, they surprised her with the news that season 12 episode 3 called “The Jailer” would feature her alongside Davis. This news struck an immense amount of fear into the actor.

Blake recalled that she “must have turned purple” when they told her that Davis would act opposite her in the episode. She said that she practically had to be “carried out on a gurney” and she could barely walk because she was so scared.

It turned out that Blake had nothing to worry about working with Davis on Gunsmoke. Arness said that they got along great and “they produced a memorable show.”

Blake wasn’t the only actor to notice Davis’ talent on the Gunsmoke set. TV Guide called the episode one of the top 100 greatest episodes in television history. They specifically pointed out that the guest star took on a whole lot more work than a typical guest star would.

“Guest stars on TV shows are usually window dressing,” TV Guide wrote, according to James Arness: An Autobiography. “Only once in a very great while do they put their indelible stamp on an episode and make it theirs, and almost never does their one appearance elevate the entire series to a whole new level of excellence … Davis takes a simple role and plays it like Medea, turning an ordinary horse opera into something akin to a Greek tragedy.”


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