Gunsmoke actor James Arness had to prove to the audience that he had many skills under his belt to play U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon. The character worked hard to serve justice in Dodge City, willing to do whatever it took to keep his loved ones safe. Arness had to learn how to duel for Gunsmoke, which is a talent that he brought to The Johnny Carson Show.
Before Arness landed the iconic Gunsmoke role, he initially wanted to achieve a successful career in Hollywood making movies. However, his height of 6’7″ made it difficult to earn parts. No leading men wanted to stand alongside such a tall actor who would make them look small in comparison. John Wayne was a good friend of Arness’, who ultimately convinced him to accept the part.
Many actors tried out for the role of Matt, but Arness easily won it. Some of his fellow cast members went through more difficult steps, such as Amanda Blake. She knew that she was the perfect fit for Miss Kitty Russell, refusing to leave the casting office until they gave her a shot to show CBS’ decision-makers what she could do.
Arness joined The Johnny Carson Show ahead of the 1955 Gunsmoke series premiere. He had a small segment where host Johnny Carson introduced the show, the character of Matt, and when audiences could watch it from home.
Carson called Arness a “hero,” but he explained that the children watching from home need to see it for themselves. The variety show host suggested that he could do this by showcasing just how fast he really was at drawing his gun during a duel. Arness agreed, but he wasn’t sure how he would show this without a scene partner.
Carson saw Gunsmoke ahead of time and said that he knew that the only person who could draw as fast as Matt was Matt himself. So, he showed the actor a mirror that they have brought on to see if he could outdraw himself, which earned laughs from the audience.
Arness walked around the mirror and put his hand on his gun in his holster. He slowly walked toward the mirror, pulled out his gun, and shot at the mirror, shooting his reflection. The mirrored version of himself took the bullet, falling over, earning a round of applause from the audience.
He concluded his segment by telling the young kids watching at home to go to bed.
Arness had an incredibly stable gig starring on Gunsmoke as Matt. He starred alongside Blake, Milburn Stone, and Dennis Weaver in the first season. However, Arness was the only actor to star in every episode of the 20 seasons that it aired through 1975. Meanwhile, Blake quit after 19 seasons, and Stone stuck around for all 20 seasons, but he wasn’t in every episode for medical reasons.
PROC. BY MOVIES