Gunsmoke actor Amanda Blake was an original cast member who was born to play Miss Kitty Russell. She perfectly captured the essence of the character and her place within Dodge City, but she didn’t get the part so easily. Blake refused to leave the casting office until they gave her a shot, which ultimately resulted in her earning the role. However, the truth about why she left Gunsmoke didn’t come out until years later.
Much like her co-stars, Blake initially played her character pretty close to the Gunsmoke radio show iteration. However, she fell into some hot water when she described Miss Kitty Russell as a “tramp” because it was initially hinted that she was a sex worker. However, CBS made it clear that she was an entrepreneur of the Long Branch Saloon, investing in it herself.
Blake remained on Gunsmoke as Miss Kitty for a total of 19 seasons. Only James Arness and Milburn Stone remained on the show for its entire 20-season run. Meanwhile, Dennis Weaver left the Western show after only 9 seasons. Blake had the opportunity to see other stars come and go, such as Burt Reynolds and Roger Ewing.
Blake concluded her Gunsmoke television show career with season 19 episode 24 – “The Disciple.” Miss Kitty was replaced by Fran Ryan’s Miss Hannah for season 20. According to David R. Greenland’s book, The Gunsmoke Chronicles: A New History of Television’s Greatest Western, Blake initially told the press that she left because of her long commute. She lived in Phoenix, Arizona, but had to travel to Los Angeles for filming.
The long commute definitely posed an issue, but it wasn’t the real reason why Blake quit Gunsmoke. Producer John Mantley later admitted that “she was always complaining about something.” The two didn’t have a great relationship. “Her departure was a classic case of the employee who quits before they are fired,” Greenland wrote.
Blake and Mantley came to an agreement that they wouldn’t cause negative press because they didn’t want it to reflect poorly on Gunsmoke. Rather, she stuck with the story that she left “voluntarily.” Even 10 years later, Blake stuck with her story. “I was tired and it was time to go,” Blake said. “It was the end of the trail. The show only lasted one year without me.”
Before Gunsmoke, Blake made the move to be a major Hollywood star. However, she found a much more successful niche for herself in television. She preferred steady work as opposed to the life of moving from one film to another, so even after the Western show ended, she continued to work with the medium. But, none of her other projects would compare to the massive success that Gunsmoke became.
Blake was able to return back to Dodge City alongside Arness one last time in the 1987 made-for-TV movie, Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge. There were another four to follow it, but she didn’t return for any of the sequels. She continued to stay in touch with some of her co-stars, even after she quit the show.
PROC. BY MOVIES