A Western Hero: James Arness

Chester, Miss Kitty, Matt and Doc

James Arness, who played US Marshal Matt Dillon for 20 years on Gunsmoke, passed to his rest on Friday, June 3, 2011.  He died in his sleep at his home.

Chester and Matt

He was born May 26, 1923 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  His younger brother was actor Peter Graves who died March 14, 2010.

Mr. Arness was a World War II veteran who was wounded at Anzio, Italy.  He received several medals—Purple Heart, Bronze Star, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal and Combat Infantryman Badge. His right leg and foot injury did not completely heal, and it gave him trouble acting as the rugged frontier marshal.

Probably, his most memorable film role was as an alien in The Thing From Another World, 1951.  In 1954 he played a FBI agent in THEM. He starred with John Wayne in four films—Hondo, The Sea Chase, Big Jim McLain and Island In The Sky.

John Wayne recommended James Arness for the role of US Marshal Matt Dillon on a new television series from CBS—Gunsmoke which was set in Dodge City, Kansas after the Civil War. Mr. Arness was not too sure about taking the role, but John Wayne knew a thing or two about roles and encouraged his young friend to take it, and as they say, the rest is television history.

Matt and Festus

After his last Gunsmoke film in 1993, he retired from acting. His stamina was the reason given.  He continued his various charitable endeavors with his wife Janet.  He was a private man with a great heart.

Did he enjoy his life on this planet traversing the cosmos?  He was an avid surfer (California and surfing go hand in hand), sailboat enthusiast, skier, poetry reader and had a sense of humour which would manifest itself on the set without warning.

If I may close with some words from his letter which was just released by his wife, Janet:

“I had a wonderful life and was blessed with some many loving people and great friends… I was honored to have served in the army for my country. I was at Anzio during WWII and it makes you realize how very precious life is…”

Sam, Matt, Festus, Miss Kitty, Thad, and Doc

If you would like to give a tribute to this man, donations to the United Cerebral Palsy would be appreciated by his family:


G. D. Williams       © 2011


John Wayne’s Introduction To Gunsmoke



Get Out Of Dodge


What Women Are Like


Exodus 21:22 Frank Reardon



A Tribute Gunsmoke


Forever Matt and Kitty


Oldtime Radio Drama Gunsmoke: The Stage Holdup 1/2/54


James Arness Obituary



Letter From James Arness