Gunsmoke actor Amanda Blake felt a general comfort when playing Miss Kitty Russell. She played the character over the course of 19 seasons and found a direction that worked. However, Blake had initial assumptions about Miss Kitty that many Gunsmoke fans didn’t like very much. As a result, the network, CBS, decided to pivot the character’s career in another direction and transformed her into an “entrepreneur.”
Gunsmoke brought Blake’s Miss Kitty to the first season along with James Arness’ Matt Dillon, Milburn Stone’s Doc Adams, and Dennis Weaver’s Chester Goode. The Western television show already had a built-in audience thanks to the radio show it was based on, along with characters already identified with. However, it took longtime fans some time to adjust to seeing faces associated with those names and new voices.
The radio show initially teased that Miss Kitty was a sex worker, which the Gunsmoke television show also adopted. The character always had an intelligent, gritty edge to her that allowed her to thrive in Dodge City. However, the character went through an array of changes over the course of the 20-season run.
The Legacy of Gunsmoke Facebook page shared the 1989 interview with the Museum of Radio and Television Seminar that included Blake, Arness, and producer John Mantley. A member of the audience asked a question specifically for her, inquiring about how Miss Kitty had changed over the years.
“Well, you know, she started out as just one of the saloon girls, but she was pretty smart,” Blake said. “She saved her money, and she bought interest in the saloon. At one point, she became half-owner and then became full-owner.”
Blake continued: “What happened was being a saloon girl, which in those days, they were (shrugs). They were available. But, because of the relationship between Matt and Kitty, we got a lot of letters early in the series saying that they didn’t want Kitty to be available to everybody.”
So, they had to do a turnaround there and make her an entrepreneur,” Blake recalled. “Give her an income other than being one of the girls. They wanted (motions between her and Arness).”
CBS didn’t always appreciate how Blake spoke about Miss Kitty, who had no issue with openly calling the character a “tramp.”
Blake finally left Gunsmoke after a staggering 19 seasons. Arness and Stone were the only members of the principal cast to stick around until the show’s sudden cancelation after its 20th season in 1975. There was no recasting Blake, but the final season tried to fill the void with Fran Ryan’s Miss Hannah.
Blake and Arness would reclaim their roles as Miss Kitty and Matt in the first made-for-TV movie subtitled Return to Dodge. He continued to play his iconic character for another four installments until the ratings finally started to slip. However, the first film would be the final time Blake returned to the role.
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