The Gunsmoke cast loved Amanda Blake for her talent, but also for the energy that she brought to the group. She played an excellent Miss Kitty Russell over the course of her 19 seasons on the show. However, the production had to ban Blake’s pet lion when she brought it to the Gunsmoke set. The animal wouldn’t stop interrupting James Arness every time he spoke.
When Gunsmoke transitioned from a half-hour Western show to an hour-long one, some creative decisions were made. One was to focus not only on the principal cast members, opening the stories of Dodge City up to grander narratives. The decision-makers brought in regular guest stars to play weekly characters such as antagonists. Some of them even returned more than once. This also allowed Blake and other Gunsmoke regulars to have more to interact with.
Oscar-winning actor Jon Voight starred on the Western television show on three separate occasions. He once wrote in the book Gunsmoke: An American Institution, Celebrating 50 Years of Television’s Best Western what it was like to work on the set. He said there was a lot of “humor” on the set and that “no one took him-or herself too seriously, and I think a lot of that had to do with James Arness.”
The Toledo Blade reported that Blake once took that to heart and brought a lion named Kemo to the Gunsmoke set. Understandably, some of the cast and crew felt uncomfortable with having the animal there. Nevertheless, the actor thought it was silly that they would be afraid of it, especially since it was on a leash.
“It was really very funny,” Blake said. “People were scattering like mad and just going bananas. He was only a cub and so cute and playful that I couldn’t imagine anyone being afraid of him.”
Blake continued: “I could still lift Kemo … and we got him up on the bar of the Longbranch Saloon and he posed for the still photographer like a true ham. But we had to ban him from the set when Jim Arness and I started shooting our scenes because every time Jim would say his lines, Kemo would start to roar.”
The actor kept Kemo in her “luxurious compound” located near Phoenix. She described his living conditions when she said that “he has a den box where he sleeps, trees, huge truck tires to play with, and even a sunken tub to splash around in.”
Off the Gunsmoke set, Blake had a passion for wildlife conservation. She was a member of several organizations with the goal of fighting for the care and preservation of animals. The actor loved Kemo, but he wasn’t the only pet that she took care of on her Arizona property.
“We also have two Southeast Asian leopard cats, two raccoons, six dogs, seven cats, two horses, a rabbit, some pheasants, and a toucan,” Blake recalled to The Toledo Blade. “But I don’t keep any of these animals just to be chic or to show off exotic pets. I happen to love all animals.”
Additionally, Blake helped nurse many animals back to health. She emphasized that wild animals shouldn’t be owned by people who don’t have the knowledge and time to dedicate to caring for them properly.
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