In the first season of Gunsmoke, a Christmas episode called “Magnus” reunited Chester Goode with his brother Magnus Goode.
After that, Gunsmoke remained on air for longer than any other TV show in its time, stretching 20 years before the show ended in 1975. It would take two years before the cast would reunite unexpectedly, right around the holidays, just like the Goode brothers.
When Gunsmoke ended, Doc actor Milburn Stone retired from acting. He had three heart attacks while shooting the show, and in 1971, he underwent open-heart surgery. For his health, the TV doctor decided it would be better if he spent his time taking walks and fishing in the Colorado River, not acting.
And that’s what Stone was doing, but then Christmas came around in 1977, two years into his retirement, and CBS called him up.
That year, CBS was celebrating its 50th anniversary, and they wanted Stone to join 120 actors for a series of two-hour shows celebrating the network.
Stone accepted the invitation. He was eager to get out of his routine, and he was, frankly, bored with being retired.
When Stone got to Hollywood the week of Christmas 1977, he didn’t realize that the CBS anniversary would become a reunion for him with his Gunsmoke costars Jim Arness (Matt Dillon) and Dennis Weaver (Chester Goode). That was a special surprise.
But once he had a taste of being back together, he only wanted more togetherness. Blame the holiday cheer! He found himself wishing the whole cast was there.
“I felt bad because Ken Curtis — who played Festus — wasn’t included,” Stone told United Press International in 1977. “Amanda Blake was invited but she couldn’t make it. But Jim and Dennis and I spent the whole day talking about the good times we had together.”
At one point, Arness told Stone, “I guess we didn’t know how lucky we were.”
Stone disagreed on this point with the TV cowboy.
“Maybe you didn’t, but I sure as hell did,” Stone said.
Being back with his Gunsmoke castmates stirred all kinds of feelings for Stone, but before he got there, he wasn’t sure what to expect or what would be expected of him. He’d been out of acting for a few years, and he wanted to be prepared.
“When CBS called me to take part in the anniversary show, I asked them what I had to do,” Stone said. “They told me I just had to walk through a door. I wanted to know what was on the other side of the door.”
Once he got to the party, Stone’s nerves went out the door, and he started thinking about coming out of retirement to act again.
“I really miss Gunsmoke and I’d dearly love to go back to work,” Stone said. “I’m getting really bored with retirement. I haven’t worked since we finished shooting the series in 1974, except to take part in a Dean Martin roast of Dennis two years ago.”
As seriously as he might’ve considered returning to acting after hanging with his old friends, Stone never acted again.
At least for a flicker of a moment that Christmas in 1977, though, he started entertaining second thoughts, ignited by the excitement of being around Arness and Weaver and considering a second act in his career.
“Damn, it was good to see those guys again,” Stone said.