From 1955 to 1975, our televisions were graced with the hugely popular Western show, Gunsmoke. And while this show first debuted as a radio show, its stint on the small screen pushed it to the forefront of everyone's attention. Fans fell in love with the impressive cast, the dramatic storylines, and the history of the American West. Actors James Arness, Amanda Blake, and Burt Reynolds soon became everyone's favorite actors on the small screen. But it turns out that this show wasn't as perfect as it seemed, and this may have contributed to its sudden cancelation. Read on to find out exactly what happened behind the scenes of this western classic!
Amanda Blake Took Her Pet Lion to Work
Miss Kitty was a huge hit on-screen, but it's fair to say that actress Amanda Blake was also incredibly popular on the set of Gunsmoke. And while her co-stars loved her beauty and talent, she was prone to making some bizarre decisions - like taking her pet lion to work! Yes, Amanda was a huge animal lover, and she even devoted much of her time to breeding cheetahs with her husband.
But it was her decision to take her pet lion, Kemo, onto the set of the TV show that left many cast and crew confused. Thankfully, he was just a cub and just wanted cuddles.
James Arness Was an Army Veteran
James Arness brought the character of Matt Dillon to life in such an incredible way, it seemed as though he was made to play the part. But before he became an actor, James was actually in the army - and he was even injured in battle. He was drafted in 1943, and after some initial training in the United States he was then shipped abroad to fight during the Battle of Anzio.
However, 10 days after the invasion, James was caught in the crossfire and ended up losing some of his foot. This meant that the army had no choice but to medically discharge him.
The Show Created a Famous Phrase
The world is full of famous phrases and sayings, and "Get the hell out of Dodge" is one of them. And while many people have assumed that this phrase simply came from nowhere, it actually came from the TV show Gunsmoke. The phrase was first coined on the show, with Matt Dillon using this phrase on many of the show's villains. Of course, "Dodge" refers to Dodge City, Kansas where Gunsmoke is set.
Although the phrase was first created on the show, it quickly took on a new meaning when the show came to an end. Even today, some people still use this phrase as a way to say that they need to leave somewhere quickly.
Chester Had a Limp for a Reason
Dennis Weaver stole the show in his role as Chester Goode in Gunsmoke, and one of his defining characteristics was his limp. And while many fans assumed that Weaver chose to give his character a limp to make him stand out from the rest of the cast, the real reason is slightly different. In fact, it wasn't meant to make him stand out... it was meant to make him stand apart from Matt Dillon.
The actor revealed in the DVD commentary that as Dennis was the sidekick, he didn't want him to be on the same level as Matt Dillon. He also made sure that Dennis never carried a gun.
The Show Was Originally on the Radio
Today, most people remember Gunsmoke as a television show - but it wasn't always that way. A few years before it was adapted to be on the small screen, it was actually a radio show. It found its way onto the airwaves in 1952, and it ran until 1961 over the course of 400 episodes. And even though it didn't last as long as the TV show, the premise, the characters, and the stories still captivated listeners.
This might have had something to do with the fact that, before Gunsmoke, the only Westerns on the radio were based solely toward children. Gunsmoke offered something new and different, as it was for adults.
James Arness Appeared in Every Episode
All in all, fans of Gunsmoke were graced with the show for an incredible two decades. And while many fans tuned in to watch all 635 episodes, the same couldn't be said for the actors on the show. In fact, only one actor on the show appeared in every single episode - and that was James Arness as Matt Dillon. But this makes sense, considering he was the main character.
Coming in second, though, was Milburn Stone (who played Doc Adams). And the only reason he missed six episodes of the show was because he sadly had a heart attack.
26 Actors Auditioned to Be Matt Dillon
Fans of Gunsmoke couldn't imagine the character of Matt Dillon being played by anyone other than James Arness. And while we were all glad he starred on our screens for 20 years, this almost wasn't the case. All in all, 26 different actors auditioned for the part of Matt Dillon - including William Conrad, who played Matt Dillon in the hugely popular radio show of the same name for nine years.
Alongside Conrad, actors such as John Pickard, Denver Pyle, and Raymond Burr all auditioned for this role. However, they weren't quite right. And in the end, James Arness was chosen as the main man.
The Show Made Westerns Famous
Today, Westerns seem to have gone out of style - but that wasn't the case a few decades ago. During the 1950s and the 1960s, Westerns were considered to be the most popular movie and television genre of the time, and fans couldn't get enough of gunslinging and saloons. And what you might be interested to know is that Gunsmoke helped to make this genre as popular as it once was.
While Gunsmoke was on our screens, 30 other Westerns popped up. But something about this particular TV show stood out from the crowd, and it was arguably the only one to last quite so long.
James Arness Only Kissed One Woman
Although many fans of Gunsmoke hoped to see more romance on the screen, it was clear to see that the producers didn't want romance to be at the forefront of their show. In fact, over the course of 20 seasons and a whopping 635 episodes, we rarely saw Marshall Matt Dillion involved in any romantic encounters. He was a lone wolf for the most part, and actor James Arness Dillon only kissed one woman throughout its run.
In the end, the lucky woman was the one and only Michael Learned - most famous for her role in The Waltons. The kiss came in the episode "Matt's Love Story."
Dennis Weaver Regrets His Limp Decision
We already know that Dennis Weaver decided to give his character Chester a limp in order to showcase himself as the sidekick rather than the main character, but it seems as though Dennis made this decision a little too quickly - even for his own liking. Later on in the show's run, he began to regret his decision to give his character such a prominent and physical trait that required extra work on his part.
During the DVD commentary of the show, Dennis noted that he didn't realize how difficult it would be to maintain the limp for twenty years. And if he could have gone back and changed his decision, he would have!
The Opening Credits Were Changed
Although every episode of Gunsmoke was different, there was one thing that stayed the same for almost the entire 20-year run. Yes, we're talking about the opening credits. For many years, the opening credits featured a scene from the pilot episode, where the character Matt Dillon was seen standing up to a villain with his gun in hand. This opening scene seemed perfect until it was promptly changed during the 1970s.
As the anti-violence movement reigned during this time, producers decided that it was time to remove the gunslinging opening credits. So, they decided to make the credits more PG with Dillon simply riding his horse.
The Cast Didn't Know It Was Ending
When Gunsmoke was canceled in 1975, fans were upset and confused. The show seemed to have been doing well, and they couldn't understand why it would be taken off their screens. To make matters even more confusing, the final episode seemed to leave a huge number of loose ends - as though it wasn't a finale episode at all. However, it seems as though fans weren't the only ones confused, as the cast didn't know it was ending, either.
When the cast filmed the 20th season, they had no idea it would be their last. In fact, they learned about it like everyone else in trade publications, and it came as an almighty shock.
Dennis Weaver Almost Didn't Get the Part
Today, Dennis Weaver is remembered for his impressive role as Chester in Gunsmoke, and many fans believe him to have been the perfect man for the job. But if you would have asked Dennis Weaver himself, he would have said the opposite. In fact, he believed that he absolutely bombed his audition for the show and that he wouldn't have given himself the part if he was the one in charge.
In the end, Dennis begged the producers for a second audition so that he could give the role another shot. The second time around, he did so much better - and even brought his country accent out of his locker!
Miss Kitty Was Actually a Madame
When the radio show Gunsmoke was adapted into a television show, the show's premise and characters were largely kept the same. However, there were a few changes here and there. And perhaps one of the biggest changes revolved around Amanda Blake's Miss Kitty. That's because Miss Kitty had a pretty controversial job on the radio show, and producers thought it would be too much to bring that job over to the screen.
Yes, Miss Kitty originally worked as a madame in a brothel. But in an effort to make the show more family-friendly, producers decided to hint towards this vocation rather than explicitly mention it!
James Arness' Foot Troubles Halted Filming
A few years before he landed the role of Matt Dillon, James Arness suffered a war injury that left him permanently damaged. He had been severely wounded, and his chronic leg pain followed him for the rest of his life. Because of this, his foot and leg troubles also halted the filming of Gunsmoke on many occasions - especially if a scene required a lot of walking or horseback riding.
If James needed to film a scene where either of these two things was required, production needed to do so in the morning before his legs grew tired and upset him even more.
The Show Was Meant to Be Canceled Earlier
When Gunsmoke was canceled after twenty years, fans were arguably extremely shocked - but mostly because it seemed to come out of the blue. The show seemed to be on a great run, especially as it had meant to have been canceled much earlier. Yes, the show was meant to be canceled back in 1967, after low ratings caused CBS executives to pull the plug. One man changed all that, though.
The president of CBS, William Paley, was a huge lover of the show on a personal level - and he didn't want the show to leave his network. So, he decided to simply move the show to another night, instead of canceling it completely.
Amanda Blake Hid Her Health Issues
On our screens, Amanda Blake was a vision. She was stunning, she was extremely talented, and she was the perfect Western woman. But what many fans didn't realize was that she was really suffering with her health while filming Gunsmoke. Throughout much of her life, she was an extremely heavy smoker and she was later diagnosed with oral cancer. However, her death in 1989 was contributed to another horrific disease.
Today, Amanda Blake is known as one of the first Hollywood actresses to die of complications from AIDS. She hid this disease from fans, but many of those closest to her knew of her struggles.
Doc Adams Didn't Have a First Name
Milburn Stone stole the show in his role as Doc Adams, and Gunsmoke was largely considered to be his most famous role. And while fans loved his character, there was something about Doc that was a little confusing. After all, nobody knew his first name! He was simply called Doc Adams for the first 16 seasons of the show, and it wasn't until the 17th season that the showrunners decided to give him one.
Amazingly, they decided to let Milburn choose his own character's first name, and he decided to go for the name Galen - based on the Greek medical researcher. So, his real name was Doctor Galen Adams!
Polly Bond Was up for Miss Kitty
Anyone that watched Gunsmoke will tell you that Amanda Blake was meant to play the role of Miss Kitty. It was almost as though she was born to play the role, and the character seemed to come to her naturally. However, things could have turned out very differently. That's because Amanda was never meant to be Miss Kitty. The role was originally given to actress Polly Bond - but she ultimately declined the role.
Polly had just gotten married when she was offered the part, and so she turned down the opportunity to focus more on her family. This worked out in Amanda's favor, though.
The Show Won Countless Awards
In today's day and age, it's rare to find a show that captivates audiences the way Gunsmoke did. This show was a trailblazer and one that paved the way for a whole genre of Western TV shows and movies, and this was widely accepted by fans and critics alike. In fact, that's why the show won so many awards over the course of its run! All in all, it was nominated for 15 Primetime Emmy Awards.
Not only did the show win awards for its scripts and sound editing, but many of the individual cast members on the show were celebrated, too. Most notably, Milburn Stone and Dennis Weaver both won Primetime Emmys.
John Wayne Was Almost Matt Dillon
During the 1950s, John Wayne was a hugely popular actor. He was a Western regular, and he became so revered in the acting world that he was nicknamed "The Duke." But did you know that John Wayne was actually considered for the role of Matt Dillon? In fact, the iconic actor was the producer's number one choice for Matt, and they loved the idea of having Wayne as their leading man.
But while Wayne was offered the chance to play the character, he ultimately decided to pass on the role as he didn't want to star in a weekly television show. He then encouraged his friend James Arness to audition instead!
Famous Faces Appeared on the Show
While Gunsmoke largely featured the same bunch of regular characters and actors, there's no doubt about the fact that the producers brought in other people every so often. But what's unusual about this situation is that many of the actors booked for cameos on this show later went on to score success in the 1966 classic Star Trek. Yes, some of the biggest faces of Star Trek starred in Gunsmoke.
Leonard Nimoy himself starred in four episodes of Gunsmoke before his career really took off, and he was joined by the likes of DeForest Kelley, William Shatner, and James Doohan.
Writers Were Constantly Replaced
While there was no doubt about the fact that the casting of Gunsmoke helped in the popularity department, many fans believed that the writing made it stand out from the crowd. Because of this, the writers were celebrated - but they were also fired regularly. In order to keep the show fresh and to avoid rehashing the same storylines and ideas, the producers decided to switch out the writers every so often with new ones.
There was a lot of pressure on the writers to come up with new and fresh ideas, and when they didn't, they knew it was their time to get the chop.
There Was a Gunsmoke Spin-Off
It should come as no surprise to learn that Gunsmoke was extremely popular. Not many shows get the chance to stay on our screens for twenty years, and so it's no wonder that CBS decided to reap the rewards of their success. In order to keep viewers on their network, they decided to create a spinoff show called Dirty Sally. This show saw Jeannette Nolan take on the lead role.
Dirty Sally first came onto our screens in 1974, but it didn't take off as the network had expected. In the end, it was actually canceled after the first season flopped.
Amanda Blake Left for This Reason
Amanda Blake's portrayal of Miss Kitty brought in a whole range of fans from across the world, and many tuned in to watch the show each week purely for her. So, they were devastated when they learned that Amanda would be leaving the show in 1974 after appearing in a whopping 425 episodes. Many speculated why she was leaving, with some wondering whether it had something to do with the death of her friend and co-star Glenn Strange.
However, it was later reported that Amanda got sick and tired of traveling from her home in Phoenix to the TV studios in Hollywood each week. So, that's why she called it quits.
Ken Curtis Played Numerous Characters
Most of the actors in Gunsmoke were cast with one character in mind. They stuck to those characters, and they played those characters alone for years. But this wasn't the case for esteemed actor Ken Curtis. Although he was originally cast as Fertus in the show and ultimately starred in an incredible 307 episodes of the show overall - he didn't play Fertus in all of these episodes. He was playing many other characters, too!
Over the years, this versatile actor also took on the roles of a Texas cattleman, and Indian, and even another cowboy called Kyle Kelly. Did you notice this at the time?
There Was a Brady Bunch Cameo
Anyone who has watched Gunsmoke back will know that the show was full of cameos from actors who were relatively unknown at the time of filming. However, they later went on to become some of the most famous people in Hollywood - and this was the case in seasons 14 and 15 of the show. In fact, eagle-eyed fans of both The Brady Bunch may have recognized some familiar young faces.
In a few episodes of the show during these seasons, Christopher Knight and Eve Plumb starred in the show. They later went on to star as the children in The Brady Bunch.
Dennis Weaver Was First on the Payroll
When it comes to casting a TV show, have you ever wondered how the producers do it? Logic would suggest that they cast their main character first, but it seems as though that doesn't always happen. Not with Gunsmoke, anyway. When the producers were casting this show, they decided to focus on Dennis Weaver first. He was the first to get his name officially on the payroll, but only because James Arness was busy.
Yes, Arness was actually filming in the Bahamas when he was offered the chance to take on the lead, which meant that it took a little while for the contracts to be signed.
It Held a Prestigious Title
When Gunsmoke first made its way onto our screens, CBS hoped for a successful show. However, nobody could have imagined just how successful it would become - or how long it would be on our screens. All in all, the show was on our screens for almost two decades, and this meant that it was once the longest-running scripted primetime TV show in history. And it kept this title until 2009.
Gunsmoke was eventually overtaken by The Simpsons, but that's not to say that fans have forgotten about the original Western show. In fact, even today it's considered to be legendary.
Roger Ewing Decided to Retire Afterward
Some characters in Gunsmoke stayed for the majority of the show's run, while others came and went pretty quickly. This was the case for Roger Ewing, who played the character of Clayton Thaddeus "Thad" Greenwood for two seasons of the show. And while his character seemed to strike a chord with fans at home, it seems as though acting wasn't his thing. So, in 1972, he decided to retire from acting for good.
After retiring, he was replaced by the actor Buck Taylor - but Roger didn't seem to mind. He decided to focus his time and attention on his passion for photography instead.
It Forced Gilligan's Island off Our Screens
The president of CBS decided to put his foot down when he learned that Gunsmoke was potentially being canceled in 1967, which is why he decided to move the show to a better Monday night slot. However, in doing so, Gunsmoke caused the demise of another show. When it was moved to the slot that once housed Gilligan's Island, the show struggled to maintain its place in the limelight and was ultimately canceled.
Gilligan's Island had only been on the air for three years when it was abruptly canceled, which came as a huge shock to the cast and producers who were gearing up for a fourth season.
Gary Busey Made a Surprise Appearance
Although Gary Busey isn't seen on our screens that much anymore, he was in his prime during the 1970s and '80s. He was the name on everyone's lips, which is why fans are surprised to hear that he made a cameo appearance on Gunsmoke in 1975. And while he only actually appeared in one episode of the show, this episode was certainly one to remember for all kinds of reasons.
What made his appearance special was that Gary was the very last character to be killed on the Gunsmoke show as a whole. No, no other character was killed before the show was axed.
The Show Moved With the Times
One of the reasons why many people believe Gunsmoke managed to outsmart the competition and the many other Westerns on TV at the time was the fact that the show moved with the times. As technology advanced, as cultural thought changed, and a new generation loomed, the producers decided to let their show move along with this motion. This meant that they were able to keep up with their audience.
This could be seen through the show's progression as a whole. After all, it started as a radio show, then a black and white TV show, then a color TV show, and then full-feature movies.
Chester's Name Changed
Many fans of the Gunsmoke radio show decided to then turn on their televisions and watch the TV adaptation. But these people soon realized that there were a few differences - including the fact that Chester's name had changed. While he was still called Chester, he was no longer Chester Proudfoot. In the TV show, he became Chester Goode, and fans wanted to know why. However, the answer is still unknown.
It's not known exactly why producers decided to change his name, but reports suggest that it might have had something to do with the fact that the name Proudfoot was taken from the works of J.R.R Tolkien.
The Running Time Ruined It
When Gunsmoke first came onto our screens in 1955, each episode was originally developed to be 30 minutes long. During this time, the show became extremely popular, and it seemed as though fans couldn't get enough of the Western genre. However, in an attempt to squeeze out even more from the show, the episodes were then lengthened to become an hour long each. Sadly, this seemed to have the opposite effect on its success.
As fans struggled with the new length of the show, ratings began to drop and the network considered canceling it entirely. However, this all changed when the show was moved to a different network slot.
Dennis Weaver Quit Three Times
Although Dennis Weaver was a constant presence for fans of Gunsmoke, you might remember that he was absent every so often. That's not just because he wasn't needed in these episodes. It's actually because he quit the show three times over the course of its 20-year run! Every time he wanted to explore new possibilities, something about the show kept calling him back. So, he was never gone too long.
All in all, he left during the seventh season and the ninth season. The third time seemed to be the charm in the end, as Dennis left and never returned after quitting for the third time.
Two Men Lasted Twenty Years
Although Gunsmoke was on our screens for 20 years, many of our favorite actors from the show quit or were fired long before the show came to an end. They were ultimately replaced with new actors here and there, but there were two actors who lasted the whole hog. Yes, James Arness and Milburn Stone were the only two Gunsmoke actors to appear in all 20 seasons - and it seems as though they were pretty proud of that.
The only other actor to appear in so many episodes of a television show was Kelsey Grammer in his Frasier role. So, this puts James and Milburn in the realm of TV legends.
William Conrad Was Rejected
Although William Conrad might not be a name you associate with Gunsmoke the television show, there's no doubt about the fact that he was closer to the show than you might have thought. That's because this actor actually voiced the character of Matt Dillon in the radio show that came before the TV show, and he even auditioned to continue his role in the TV show. Many thought he was the ultimate shoo-in.
However, Gunsmoke producer Charles Marquis Warren ultimately decided to go in a different direction for Matt Dillon. And Conrad was rejected because he didn't look like how he imagined Matt Dillon to look.
Ken Curtis Was Inspired by His Childhood
Ken Curtis blew fans away with his appearance as Festus Haggen in Gunsmoke. And while it's easy to assume that he simply read from a script and did as he was told, this actor took his talent to a whole new level for this show. That's because he decided to use inspiration from his own life to bring this character to the screen - and he based his character on someone from his childhood.
Curtis based his character on a man from his childhood that those in his town called "Cedar Jack." He grew fond of the man who made cedar posts for fences during his youth, and so he decided to use him as inspiration.
Harrison Ford Had a Cameo
As Gunsmoke was one of the most popular TV shows across two different decades, it was the dream of many aspiring actors to one day appear on the show. This was no different for the likes of Harrison Ford and Jodie Foster, who were both starting out in the acting world. They were lucky enough to score minor roles on the show, but now they're even more famous their cameos are incredibly iconic.
These two actors only had tiny roles, but fans who watch the show back will be able to spot these two actors from a mile away. After all, you can't ignore a young Harrison Ford.