Gunsmoke actor Dennis Weaver was one of the original members of the cast that stole the hearts of television audiences around the world. He played one of the show’s biggest fan favorites, but he didn’t last quite as long on the show as the remainder of the original principal cast. Weaver once said that he considered mechanically freezing his right knee to commit fully to the role of Chester Goode.
The role of Chester was originally played by Parley Baer on the radio iteration. However, Weaver took over the character when Gunsmoke made its way to television screens. Additionally, the last name changed from Proudfoot to Goode. Baer’s voice gave the role a more mature spin, but the producers didn’t want to cast an older actor. Therefore, Weaver ultimately gave Chester a limp to give the character a weakness.
Chester fulfilled the critical role of being the loyal assistant to U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness). They worked together to clean Dodge City of crime and suspicious fresh faces, but the character offered more than that. He was also a confidant to the marshal and interacted with Doc Adams (Milburn Stone).
According to an interview with TV Guide, Weaver talked about Gunsmoke and how he fooled many folks with his limp which became remarkably convincing. In fact, it attracted the attention of a cancer researcher from the University of California medical center, who wanted to visit the set. The doctor was a Gunsmoke fan and he always assumed that the limp was a part of the performance. However, a close-up of Chester’s footprints gave him some serious doubts.
“He bet one of the doctors I was lame,” Weaver said. “He bet another I was wearing a device to make me limp, if I weren’t. Had to roll up my pants leg to prove I wasn’t.”
Weaver initially considered mechanically freezing his right knee with “wrappings or a brace,” but he ultimately had good reasoning when deciding against it. The actor imagined a situation where he would need to “get out of a horse’s way on the set.” He thought that if he got trampled, he could incur a real injury to his leg. As a result, he explained that he just “perfected the limp at home.”
Weaver lasted on Gunsmoke from the first season through season 9. He had a few reasons for why he decided to leave the show, but part of it was due to the fact that the faked limp was giving him real pain. Additionally, Weaver thought that he took the character of Chester as far as he could go. The actor wanted to flex his creative muscles elsewhere. He ultimately succeeded, getting roles in Steven Spielberg’s Duel and the role of Deputy Marshal Sam McCloud in the police drama McCloud.
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