‘Gunsmoke’ Star James Arness Once Expressed Concern for Doing a Long-Lasting Series
Few western shows survived on the air as long as CBS’s “Gunsmoke,” which ran for 20 seasons from 1955 to 1975.
But James Arness, the actor who starred as Marshall Matt Dillon, worried about the long-running nature of the show. Back in 1957, Arness completed an interview with TV Magazine, where he mentioned the “danger” of acting in a series.
“There’s danger in a series. After a while, you start winging it — doing this week just what you did last week,” Arness said in the old newspaper clipping.
While “Gunsmoke” didn’t end up suffering from this problem, several other shows do today. Many television fans say that the first few seasons of a hit show are the best, with the writing slowly deteriorating over time. It can be difficult for writers to match the standard they’ve already set, especially for a show with a vocal and devoted fanbase.
But back in the 1950s through 70s, most of that fanbase expressed themselves through ratings. And “Gunsmoke” always performed well with the ratings, though Arness never worried about them.
“It’s nice to bob in and out of the top ten occasionally,” Arness told the outlet. “But I don’t want to be Number One. When you’re up there, there’s only one way to go — down.”
Another insightful observation. Clearly, Arness understands that nothing can or should last forever. But the least you can do is have that series go out with a bang that leaves fans thinking of it fondly.
‘Gunsmoke’ Star James Arness ‘Couldn’t Complain’ About Life While Filming Show
In that same 1957 interview, “Gunsmoke” star James Arness talked about several things that don’t really bother him — from income taxes to critics to being unhappy in his job.
“I couldn’t possibly complain about anything,” Arness said. “I know that actors have a reputation of being perpetually dissatisfied, and to a certain extent that’s probably a good thing. After all, they’re supposed to be creative people, always working for something better. But I think you have to temper that with some practical thinking.”
He added, “There’s really not much more I could ask for now. Except more money, of course, and everyone wants that.”
Eventually, Arness would help produce the show and work more behind the scenes. Even if he didn’t know it at the time in 1957, there would be more for him to want from the job, and he got it.
But based on his reaction above, it sounds like Arness was a relatively straightforward, humble actor. He clearly loved what he did, having worked on “Gunsmoke” for 20 seasons and the spin-off series. But hopefully, other actors pay attention to his philosophies about being a TV star and working in the industry.