Actor Milburn Stone became one of the most important pieces of the Gunsmoke Western television show. Some other instrumental actors came and went over the course of its run, but he stuck around for all 20 seasons. Stone was already an accomplished performer by the time he earned the role of Doc Adams on Gunsmoke, but he already had his first big purchase sorted out when he struck big.
Some cast members of Gunsmoke got their big break thanks to the Western show, but Stone wasn’t part of that list. His performance career started in 1919 in a Kansas tent show, which led him into a vaudeville act through the 1920s. Stone also had Broadway credits with 1934’s Jayhawker and 1936’s Around the Corner.
Stone made his way to Hollywood, starring in a wide assortment of feature films over the years, some of which went uncredited. He impressed the right decision-makers, continuing to get work. Gunsmoke moved from a radio show to its television adaptation, where Stone earned the role of Doc. However, he left his mark on the character by giving him an additional edge with his performance.
In an interview with TV Guide, Stone spoke about his experience transforming Doc for Gunsmoke. The character was originally described as “unpleasant,” but he provided the character with a “lovable” tone that only he could give. CBS’ Western became the biggest television show, making every major cast member a household name.
Stone said that the first purchase he made with his money from Gunsmoke was a boat. “I’ve always loved boats and the water,” the actor said. He had two boats since the first one he purchased. At the time of the TV Guide article in 1968, he had “a 41-footer which sleeps eight and twos a 17-foot fishing boat on Lake Mead, near Las Vegas, Nevada.”
“I go up there every time I can put four days together,” Stone said, but sometimes his work kept him away from his boat. In one instance, it held him up for an entire five weeks, which made him feel like “I’m going nuts.”
Stone took Gunsmoke and Doc extremely seriously. He had a sense of humor, but he always had a professional tone to him. Stone was the only actor other than James Arness, who played U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon, who remained on the show from season 1 all of the way through to the end of season 20. Amanda Blake’s Miss Kitty Russell was close, who remained on the Western for 19 seasons.
Some actors, such as Arness, continued to act after CBS suddenly canceled Gunsmoke without warning in 1975. However, the Western show was the last project that Stone worked on. He died on June 12, 1980 at the age of 75.
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