Gunsmoke actor James Arness made his big break into fame thanks to the Western television show playing U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon. However, he gained more than a stable job with joining the cast; he joined a family. The Gunsmoke cast grew incredibly close, but they were shocked to discover a major surprise on the premiere episode that shocked them all when they watched it together.
Gunsmoke originated on the radio, first airing on April 26, 1952, but it was destined to find another medium. The Western story in Dodge City moved from radio to television on Sept. 10, 1955, although it required the decision-makers to recast the vibrant characters. The original cast perfectly portrayed their roles, but there was an immediate search to find actors who could capture this story on television.
The original principal Gunsmoke cast included Arness, Amanda Blake as Miss Kitty Russell, Milburn Stone as Doc Adams, and Dennis Weaver as Chester Goode. Radio fans were initially upset that the cast they were familiar with wasn’t returning for the adaptation. Nevertheless, they grew to love these actors rather quickly.
Arness and the rest of the Gunsmoke cast was shocked to discover that Western movie star legend John Wayne introduced the show for the world. The lead actor was once working under him on a contract, which resulted in them becoming quick friends.
Wayne let Arness out of the contract and encouraged him to play Matt on Gunsmoke. Nevertheless, the television actor had no idea that he would show up. In an interview with the Archive of American Television, Arness recalled the special moment he saw the introduction at his house along with the cast.
“I didn’t ask him,” Arness said. “Not at all. In fact, I was really surprised when they said that he had done that. He [filmed] that, we didn’t know about it at all. They did that intro somewhere else on some picture he was doing, and I don’t think, actually, that we knew about it until it came on the air that night. I think they were kinda holding it as a surprise.”
Wayne’s special appearance on Gunsmoke wasn’t only a surprise for Arness and the cast. Audiences across the country instantly recognized his face, giving a strong boost to the show’s buzz. Here’s a look at Wayne’s introduction praising Arness and the show:
“Good evening, my name is Wayne. Some of you may have seen me before, or I hope so. I have been kicking around Hollywood for a long time. I made a lot of pictures out here. All kinds. Some of them have been Westerns. That is what I’m here to tell you about tonight: a Western.A new television show called Gunsmoke. No, I’m not in it. I wish I were, though, because I think it’s the best thing of its kind to come along and I hope you’ll agree with me. It’s honest, it’s adult, it’s realistic. When I first heard about the show, Gunsmoke, I knew there was only one man to play in it – James Arness. He’s a young fella and may be new to some of you, but I’ve worked with him and I predict that he’ll be a big star. So, you might as well get used to him like you’ve had to get used to me. Now, I’m proud to present my friend, Jim Arness, in Gunsmoke.”
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