James Arness once encountered Gunsmoke fans who “fractured” his sense of peace after a long day on the set
Gunsmoke actor James Arness became a massive star thanks to his leading role as U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon. However, it also brought its own share of challenges. The actor was a relatively private person who didn’t like publicity or letting strangers in too close. Arness once encountered Gunsmoke fans who “fractured” his sense of peace after a long day on the set.
Movie star John Wayne first convinced Arness to take on the role to play Matt on Gunsmoke. He was initially upset that his friend recommended him for the part without his permission. However, it was ultimately the opportunity of a lifetime. Arness earned the most fan mail out of the principal cast members for quite some time until Burt Reynolds joined the cast as Quint Asper.
However, that didn’t diminish how audiences looked up to Arness’ Matt on Gunsmoke. The character represented a fair sense of law and order within Dodge City. He only used heavy force when absolutely necessary. Otherwise, Matt always tried to employ other tactics to handle situations.
In a 1957 interview with TV Guide, Arness talked about his career leading up to Gunsmoke and beyond. He was plenty happy to have the full-time job and didn’t necessarily have ambitions to pursue other projects past it. Rather, Arness enjoyed spending his spare time with his children.
However, there was an event that Arness talked about involving Gunsmoke fans that stuck with him to the point of “fracturing” his peace. He worked a long day on the set “filled with gunshots” in Dodge City. The actor was finally getting home to his property in the Pacific Palisades, but all of a sudden, he heard a group of voices shout, “Hands up!”
Arness initially thought his life was in danger and that his life could be over. But, then he realized that those voices were from the neighborhood kids. They endearingly waited around for multiple hours until he got home for the opportunity to “get the drop” on Matt.
Arness had a profound impact on Gunsmoke fans and beyond. He played the character for a staggering 20 seasons and five made-for-TV movies. The only other actor to last the entire run was Milburn Stone, who played Doc Adams. However, Miss Kitty actor Amanda Blake got close with 19 seasons.
Gunsmoke went down in the history for its astounding run, remaining one of the longest-running scripted television shows of all time. However, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit surpassed it with its 21 season that aired in 2019. Nevertheless, the Western television show continues to have one of the most impressive longevity records in television history.
After the show ended, Arness took his career to How the West Was Won and McClain’s Law. These other shows allowed him to extend his stardom past Gunsmoke and into other demographic areas.