Gunsmoke was the longest-running prime-time TV western in history, running for 20 seasons from 1955 to 1975. It was highly rated and beloved by fans both during and long after the show stopped airing. Part of what made Gunsmoke so special was the characters that made up Dodge City. Characters like Caleb the farmer. Here’s a look back at Caleb and the actor who played him, John Dehner.
Caleb on ‘Gunsmoke’
Caleb is a 43 year-old-farmer whose wife loves to remind him that he’s a failure. In a seemingly loveless marriage, Caleb and his wife wed after they learned she was pregnant. But the child died early on, setting the tone for Caleb’s sad life.
At a crossroads, yearning for a better life, Caleb ventures into Dodge to visit Marshal Dillon. But when Caleb gets into town, he learns that Matt is away escorting a prisoner. So Caleb decides to wait for him in the saloon. While drinking a beer, Caleb runs into a man who was the brother of a man who was hanged after being arrested for murder by Matt. Things get heated between the two but Caleb is able to get away after the brother of the murderer forces him to back down.
After, Caleb sees his dog, his one true friend, who’s come into town searching for him. As he passes the time with his furry best friend, Matt arrives back in town. Finally, Caleb has the opportunity to tell Matt how much he admires him and wishes he could be more like him. But at the same time, the murderer’s brother appears from a nearby alley with a gun. He tells Matt he’s going to kill him to avenge his brother’s death. Caught off guard, Matt doesn’t have time to grab his gun to defend himself. As the man fires his gun at Matt, Caleb steps in front of the Marshal to save him, sacrificing himself. As Caleb lies on the ground dying, his dog is by his side. The sad farmer’s last words are “Dog, dog, dog.” The scene ends with a woman from the saloon telling Matt why Caleb had come into town — to tell him that he looked up to him.
The “Caleb” episode was the 26th episode of Season 9. It aired on March 28, 1964. It was directed by Harry Harris, written by Paul Savage, Norman MacDonnel, and John Meston, and starred James Arness, Milburn Stone, Amanda Blake, and John Dehner.
John Dehner was known largely for his work in Westerns during the 1950s and 1960s. During that time, he was cast in over 40 Western series, including The Adventures of Kit Carson, Bonanza, The Rebel, The Restless Gun, The Rifleman, The Wild Wild West, and, of course, Gunsmoke.
As he did on Gunsmoke, Dehner often played multiple characters in the Westerns he appeared in. In Gunsmoke, he wasn’t just Caleb. He appeared in 12 different episodes of the series throughout the show’s time on air. Some of his characters include Nip Cullers the gold miner, Kitty Russell’s estranged father, a town drunk, and Sam Wall, a ruthless businessman.
Though Dehner appeared as several memorable characters in Gunsmoke, some fans feel Caleb was his best part on the show due to his heartbreaking performance.
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