Gunsmoke actor Ken Curtis joined the cast as Festus Haggen after initially beginning his career as a singer. Next, he moved into film, starring in John Ford movies, such as The Searchers, Rio Grande, and The Quiet Man. Curtis later found a home in the Gunsmoke cast, where he remained until the show was canceled after season 20. He fit nicely into the overall atmosphere of the set. However, he had one episode that beat them all and further strengthened his bond with co-star Milburn Stone.
Curtis didn’t join Gunsmoke as Festus until season 8 episode 13 – “Us Haggens.” James Arness’ U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon and the audience didn’t initially know what to make of Festus. He came to Dodge City to avenge the death of his twin brother at the hands of his uncle. Nevertheless, Festus became close friends with Matt to the point of becoming deputy marshal.
Curtis gave the stubborn Festus character additional depth. He was intended to fill the void of Chester Goode after Dennis Weaver left the show, but he proved to be a character all his own. In fact, he had his reasons for believing that Festus was always a better character than Chester. Curtis went all in with the role, continuing to play him through to the very end of the show’s run in 1975.
Curtis starred in 306 Gunsmoke episodes between the years 1959 and 1975. He played other one-time characters in previous seasons, such as Phil Jacks in season 4 and Scout in season 5. David R. Greenland’s book, The Gunsmoke Chronicles: A New History of Television’s Greatest Western, revealed that the actor had a favorite episode of all time.
He revealed that season 11 episode 22 – “Wishbone” – took the title of his most beloved episode in the Western show’s history. The story follows Festus’ reliance on using the wishbone from a dead chicken to make wishes. One day, he discovers a snake-bitten Doc Adams (Stone), who’s all alone and needs help. Therefore, Festus decides to use his wish to help him. Meanwhile, a trio of outlaws kills a driver and a guard, setting Matt on a search for them.
Curtis and Stone became very close friends within the first season the Festus actor joined Gunsmoke. They even decided to make public appearances together in character to interact with the show’s dedicated fans. Additionally, they interacted with one another on a personal level by attending each other’s family gatherings.
“Mil is one of the most entertaining fellows I’ve ever been around in my life,” Curtis said. “He’s one of the most honest guys I’ve ever met.”
Curtis and Stone were the only Gunsmoke cast members to return in character for the ABC special called When the West Was Fun. It was an entertaining return to form for the actors who had a clear passion for their Gunsmoke characters.
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