‘Gunsmoke’: Why John Wayne Told James Arness He Would Never Make It in Films


A bit of some harsh criticism, from one Western icon to another.

John Wayne remains one of the most influential and widely known Western and ԝаr action film stars in history. He appeared in a number of movies such as “The Searchers,” “True Grit,” “El Dorado,” “The Alamo,” and “Rooster Cogburn.”

Meanwhile, James Arness made his fame mostly from playing one character in one very long-running TV show. “Gunsmoke” was on TV for a total of 20 seasons from 1955 to 1975. Meanwhile, Arness appeared as U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon for the duration of the series.

He was launched into massive fame and popularity. Even now, fans still tune into the classic CBS television series.

The Gunsmoke cast had no idea John Wayne was going to introduce the first  episode

John Wayne Suggests ‘Gunsmoke’ Star Stick to TV

It’s hard to believe someone would tell him he wouldn’t make it in film, given just how successful he was. According to an interview in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, John Wayne was once offered a role in a weekly Western series. Given his iconic nature, he was offered lots of money for that role too.

He didn’t hesitate in turning that down right away. He instead decided to suggest James Arness for a role in TV instead.

“Try and make your mark in TV, Him, because you’re not going to make it in movies. You’re too tall. Actors like me and Gregory Peck and Gary Cooper don’t want you towering over us,” Wayne had said.

Turns out, keeping Arness away from the big screen just had a lot to do with his bigger frame. In no way is Wayne denying the “Gunsmoke” star’s talent, but rather suggesting something entirely different. It’s a bit of a shallow reason, but that can be Hollywood sometimes.

For reference, Arness is a menacing 6 feet 7. It made his character on “Gunsmoke” all the more convincing, too.

James Arness Pleasure to Work With

Although John Wayne claimed some people wouldn’t want to work with him, Arness’ fellow “Gunsmoke” stars adored working alongside him.

Ken Curtis played Festus on the popular show. He said, according to MeTV, that he had “been on the show 10 years and Jim hasn’t changed one iota.”

He also shared that Arness had a very likable personality and would keep to himself and not cause any drama with others. “I’ve seen many shows go down the drain because the star becomes impossible and disliked by everyone. He’s terrific to work with. When the time comes to buckle down to work, he’s ready,” Curtis said.

It is truly miraculous just how long the show was on and how it stayed popular most of its run.

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