Friday, 10 June 2011


My obit of James Arness, Marshal Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke, is in today's Indy; you can link to it here. It's pretty much as I wrote it, except the bit about the show being retitled 'Gun Law' when it ran in the UK. I had written 'imaginatively retitled', but maybe we're not as self-deprecating as we like to think here in Britain!

Arness was very much like the character he played, low key and modest, and the fact he was content to stay in the same role for 20 years was one of the keys to the show's success and its long run (Law & Order tied it with 20 seasons, but far fewer episodes, and of course a changing cast). I was never a fan, but I'd be curious to go back and see some of the shows now; perhaps the early black and white half-hours, often based on the radio scripts, were harder-hitting. Oddly enough, I am old enough to remember hearing, if not listening, to Gunsmoke on the radio--I'd have to guess I was 3 and my mother was listening.

The Wayne friendship was real, and it must have been a treat for Arness to play Tom Dunson in the TV remake of Red River; though I doubt Bruce Boxleitner carried the impact of Montgomery Clift as Matt.

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