James Arness, the 6’7” Minnesotan who played the title role in 1951’s “The Thing From Another World” before he starred in CBS’ “Gunsmoke” from 1955 to 1975, passed away Friday, about 15 months after the death of his younger brother, “Mission: Impossible” icon Peter Graves.
While “Law & Order” recently tied “Gunsmoke’s” long-held record as longest-running primetime drama, no single “Law” actor appeared in all 20 seasons.
Regulars came and went on “Gunsmoke” too (Burt Reynolds and Dennis Weaver, who went on to star in their own series, among them), but Arness always stood at the center of the franchise in the role of Marshal Matt Dillon.
He continued as Dillon in five TV movies airing between 1987 and 1993.
The Dillon role was written for John Wayne, who declined the invitation to star in a weekly series but recommended “Hondo” co-star Arness for the role. Wayne’s face was the first we saw on the first episode:
Arness was severely wounded at Anzio, Italy, in 1944 as a rifleman with the U.S. Third Infrantry; it was a leg injury that plagued him the rest of his life.
He made his feature debut playing Loretta Young’s brother in the 1947 Joseph Cotton political drama “The Farmer’s Daughter.”
His first of many westerns was John Ford’s “Wagon Master.”
The year before “Gunsmoke” made him a household name, he scored a starring role in the 1954 giant-bug sci-fi thriller “Them!”
Between the “Gunsmoke” series and the “Gunsmoke” TV movies, NBC tried Arness out as a contemporary cop in 1981’s “McClain’s Law”:
Find USA Today’s obituary for Arness here.