Sonntag, 5. Juni 2011

James Arness, Iconic 'Gunsmoke' Lawman, Dead at 88

James Arness, a bigger-than-life actor who kept the peace as Marshal Matt Dillon on 'Gunsmoke' for its 20-year run, died Friday of natural causes at his home in Brentwood, Calif., his family told the Los Angeles Times. He was 88.

'Gunsmoke' debuted on CBS in 1955 and ran until 1975, in the process making Arness one of the more enduring stars on television and the Matt Dillon character one of its most beloved and trusted.

The 6 foot 7 Arness towered over the cast, including Dillon's deputy, Chester, played by Dennis Weaver. Other supporting stars included Amanda Blake as Kitty and Milburn Stone as Doc Adams.

By the time Arness got the part of Dillon, he had been a WWII combat veteran and appeared in several films, most notably the science-fiction classics 'Them!' and 'The Thing From Another World,' in which he played an alien.

The Minneapolis native's younger brother, actor Peter Graves, who died last October, encouraged him to get into acting. He cut his Western teeth in four John Wayne film, including 'Hondo' and 'Big Jim McLain.'

It was Wayne that recommended Arness for 'Gunsmoke' and an on-air endorsement from the film great himself. "I knew there was only one man to play in it, James Arness," Wayne told viewers (watch video below). "He's a young fella and may be new to some of you. But I've worked with him, and I predict he'll be a big star. So you might as well get used to him, like you've had to get used to me."

The role of Marshal Dillon proved a complex one and became a focus of the show, but Arness is said to have pushed producers to move the focus off him and onto the large ensemble cast.

When 'Gunsmoke' ended in 1975, appeared a string of TV shows including the miniseries 'How The West Was Won' and in the early 1980s, turned leading man again in cop drama 'McClain's Law.'

He brought Matt Dillon back for five 'Gunsmoke' movies starting in 1987's 'Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge.'

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