A lot of people consider Gunsmoke to be one of the best television shows in all of history, and for a very good reason. After all, this very popular Western show proved to be a hit. Every week for 20 years, American viewers tuned in to see how things will go for Marshal Matt Dillon. This TV show was on the air from 1955 to 1975 and also had a radio show that ran from 1952 to 1961. Just so you know, its legacy continues to live on even in this day and age. But how much do you know about this great TV show? You could have been a casual viewer or a huge fan, but we are sure that you are going to learn some things for the very first time as you read on!
It Saw A Lot Of Success
Gunsmoke was on the air from 1955 until 1975. While Western shows were big in the ‘50s, they were less so in the ‘60s and even less popular when the ‘70s rolled in. During the time that the show was on the air, it was the most popular in the genre. It had appointment viewing despite the fact that the Western craze was dying out.
The Show Format Changed More Than Once
Who would have thought that Gunsmoke got its start on the radio? It used to be a half-hour radio show before it got turned into an hour-long black-and-white TV show. After this, it was turned into an hour-long color show. As you can see, it managed to keep up with the times. This was actually one reason it became so big!
Doc Did Not Have A Given Name For 16 Seasons
Doc, also known as Doctor Adams, might have been the second lead of the show, but he did not have a first name for the longest time! It was only after 16 seasons that it was revealed: Galen. Milburn Stone himself chose the name. The writers let him do so since he was the one who knew the character best.
‘Gunsmoke’ Was On The Radio First
We have already told you that Gunsmoke began as a radio drama. Even in that format, it was very big. While the producers decided to adapt it for the television, the radio show stayed on the air for the first six years of the TV show’s run. The radio show was on the airwaves from 1952 to 1961.
John Wayne Turned Down The Lead Role
Did you know that John Wayne was meant to take on the role of Matt Dillon? However, TV schedules tend to be more taxing than movie ones. Wayne could not commit to that much work. However, he did offer the show an endorsement prior to the release of the premiere.
The Show Was Sponsored By A Cigarette Brand
There is one cool fact that shows us how much the times have changed since Gunsmoke was on the small screen. L&M Cigarettes served as the sponsor of the first seven seasons of the show!
Not A Face For The TV Screen
William Conrad got to play Matt Dillion, the lead character of the show, on the radio show. However, the producers decided to change the cast for the TV adaptation. James Arness landed the part of the character over Conrad. The reason was simple… he was the better-looking man!
Gary Busey Played A Historic Role In ‘Gunsmoke’
Gary Busey brought Harve Daley to life in what was the third-to-last episode of Gunsmoke. It meant that with the death of the character, he was officially the last person to be killed on the show.
They Had To Keep Mum About Miss Kitty
On the radio show, Miss Kitty Russell worked as a professional Madame. However, you will not find any mention of this on the TV show. Network producers and executives knew that the TV adaptation had to be more family-friendly, which was the reason they kept mum about this detail.
They Changed The Intro For Political Reasons
From the beginning of the show until the ‘70s, the opening of the show featured the same gunfight between a gunman and Matt Dillon. The intro was only changed at one point. This change came about after the anti-violence politics in the ‘70s. Once more, the show decided to adapt with the times.
‘Gilligan’s Island’ Was Cancelled But It Should Have Been ‘Gunsmoke’
It was in 1967 that CBS decided to pull the plug one of the big shows. Initially, the network decided that Gunsmoke had to go. The fans were not the only ones who threw a fit after hearing about it since the network executives who liked it did so too. Gilligan’s Island got axed instead.
‘Gunsmoke’ Used To Have The Most Episodes In TV History
Did you know that Gunsmoke used to hold the primetime record for the highest number of episodes ever? The show boasts 635 episodes! However, it got dethroned by The Simpsons with its 679 episodes. If we look at the average, Gunsmoke still had more episodes per season. After all, the Western drama only got 20 seasons. The Simpsons is now on its 31st!
The Show Did Not Have A Proper Ending
The creators of the show did not know that Gunsmoke was going to be canceled after the 1975 season. This was the reason they ended the season as they always have. They did not have a final plot or a proper finale for what was, at the time, the longest-running primetime TV show.
James Arness And Milburn Stone Appeared In Nearly Every Episode
James Arness was present in every episode of the show! Milburn Stone was not that far behind him, however. Arness ultimately got to take home the crown because Stone had a heart attack in 1971 and had to skip six episodes during his recovery. Man, can you believe that it only took him six episodes?
James Arness Suffered From Terrible Arthritis
In the last decade of shooting, James Arness suffered from such bad arthritis that the show had to film all of his scenes for an episode in just one day. This way, he was able to recover before the next shoot.
‘Gunsmoke’ Was The Last Project Of Glenn Strange
Gunsmoke was the last project of film and TV actor Glenn Strange. He kicked off his Hollywood career in the ‘30s, but it only really took off during the ‘40s. The star replaced Boris Karloff in the role of Frankenstein and brought the monster to life in a few films. Haha, get it? He started to work on Gunsmoke in the ‘60s and di so until he passed away in 1973.
Amanda Blake Was Not The First Choice For Miss Kitty Russell
If the producers had a say in the matter, Amanda Blake would not have played Kathleen “Kitty” Russell in the TV show. Polly Bond was the first choice for the role. She came from a show business clan and started starring in Western projects at the age of 11. She chose to turn down the Gunsmoke role that would have turned her into a big star, however. This was how Blake got the part instead.
The Cast Did Not Get A Heads Up About The Cancellation
We know that all TV shows will come to an end. Even so, things ended badly for Gunsmoke. The members of the cast did not get not informed that it was canceled. Years after this, James Arness revealed that the producers only let him know since trade publications already reported on it.
The Producers Wanted The Best Person To Play Matt Dillon
Before the part of Matt Dillon went to James Arness, the producers were not sold on him nor anyone for the role. Yes, they felt this way even though actors like Denver Pyle and Raymond Burr tried out for this part. In the end, however, they decided to give Arness a chance. They made the right call!
The Show Was On The Top For Four Years
Gunsmoke had been the highest-rated show on the small screen from 1957 to 1961. The producers then had to make a huge change. They changed the runtime of the show from a half-hour to an entire hour. This led to a decline in the ratings of the show. It started to get more popular in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, but this format change had a significant impact.
‘Gunsmoke’ Had Five TV Films
A few years after the end of the show, the cast members reunited for five TV films. They are as follows: Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge (1987), Gunsmoke: The Last Apache (1990), Gunsmoke: To the Last Man (1992), Gunsmoke: The Long Ride (1993), and Gunsmoke: One Man’s Justice (1994). James Arness starred in all of them, but they were not particularly critically-acclaimed films.
Coining ‘Get The Hell Out Of Dodge’
If you have ever watched Gunsmoke, we are sure that you remember how the stars told the villains to “get the hell out of Dodge.” It was a reference to the setting of the show, which was Dodge City, Kansas. This phrase became very famous. Teens started to say it during the ‘60s and ‘70s when they wanted to shoo away somebody. As a matter of fact, some people still use the phrase to this day!
A Fighter And Not Much Of A Lover
Here is something interesting about the TV show. Even though it was on the air for 20 years with 635 episodes, Matt Dillon was only shown kissing one woman. It took a very long time for this to happen as well. It was only in Matt’s Love Story, the third episode of season 19, that he got to lock lips with Mike Yardner, who was played by Michael Learned. The character showed up in a second episode in the same season. After 17 years, the actress reprised the character in Gunsmoke: The Last Apache as well. This photo was taken in 1973 and shows Learned posing with her The Waltons co-star Richard Thomas.
How Chester Got His Limp
Dennis Weaver, who brought Chester to life, told us why his character did not have a gun on him in the DVD commentary. The star revealed that Gunsmoke execs wanted to portray him as a non-violent man. Not only that, but he was also given a characteristic that would distinguish him from Matt Dillon and the rest of the crew. In the end, the actor decided to give Chester a limp. The rest is history!
It Was Hard To Act It Out
Let us talk some more about that limp, shall we? Dennis Weaver said that he ended up regretting his decision to give the character a limp. When he first came up with this idea, he failed to realize that it was going to be hard to act out a limp when he was doing it in each and every episode. He was in 290 episodes overall! This ended up having a negative impact on his experience on the set.
Ken Curtis Was A Versatile And Willing Actor
Ken Curtis was in 307 episodes of the TV show. He primarily portrayed Festus, although he did play other characters over the course of Gunsmoke as well. During one of the original half-hour episodes, he brought an Indian to life. Later on, he also got to play a Texas cattleman who got killed after befriending Chester. Talk about talent and versatility!