Gunsmoke

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This article is about the radio and television series. For other uses, see Gun Smoke.

Gunsmoke is an American radio and television Western drama series created by director Norman Macdonnell and writer John Meston. The stories take place in and around Dodge City, Kansas, during the settlement of the American West. The central character is lawman Marshal Matt Dillon, played by William Conrad on radio and James Arness on television. When aired in the UK, the television series was initially titled Gun Law,[1] later reverting to Gunsmoke.[2]

The radio version ran from 1952 to 1961, and John Dunning[3] writes that among radio drama enthusiasts "Gunsmoke is routinely placed among the best shows of any kind and any time." The television version ran for 20 seasons from 1955 to 1975, and was the United States' longest-running prime time, live-action drama with 635 episodes. In 2010, Law & Order tied this record of 20 seasons (but only 456 episodes). At the end of its run in 1975, Los Angeles Times columnist Cecil Smith wrote: "Gunsmoke was the dramatization of the American epic legend of the west. Our own Iliad and Odyssey, created from standard elements of the dime novel and the pulp western as romanticized by Buntline, Harte, and Twain. It was ever the stuff of legend."[4]

Radio version[edit]

Gunsmoke
Genre Western
Running time 30 minutes
Country United States
Language(s) English
TV adaptations Gunsmoke
Starring William Conrad
Parley Baer
Howard McNear
Georgia Ellis
Creator(s) Norman Macdonnell
John Meston
Producer(s) Norman Macdonnell
Air dates April 26, 1952 to June 18, 1961
No. of series 9
No. of episodes 432
Audio format Monaural

In the late 1940s, CBS chairman William S. Paley, a fan of the Philip Marlowe radio serial, asked his programming chief, Hubell Robinson, to develop a hardboiled Western series, a show about a "Philip Marlowe of the Old West." Robinson instructed his West Coast CBS Vice-President, Harry Ackerman, who had developed the Philip Marlowe series, to take on the task.[citation needed]

Ackerman and his scriptwriters, Mort Fine and David Friedkin, created an audition script called "Mark Dillon Goes to Gouge Eye" based on one of their Michael Shayne radio scripts, "The Crooked Wheel". Two auditions were created in 1949. The first was very much like a hardboiled detective series and starred Michael Rye (credited as Rye Billsbury) as Dillon; the second starred Straight Arrow actor Howard Culver in a more Western, lighter version of the same script. CBS liked the Culver version better, and Ackerman was told to proceed.

But there was a complication. Culver's contract as the star of Straight Arrow would not allow him to do another Western series. The project was shelved for three years, when producer Norman Macdonnell and Writer John Meston discovered it creating an adult Western series of their own.[citation needed]

Macdonnell and Meston wanted to create a radio Western for adults, in contrast to the prevailing juvenile fare such as The Lone Ranger and The Cisco Kid. Gunsmoke was set in Dodge City, Kansas, during the thriving cattle days of the 1870s. Dunning[5] notes, "The show drew critical acclaim for unprecedented realism."

Radio cast and character biographies[edit]

The radio series aired from April 26, 1952 ("Billy the Kid," written by Walter Newman), until June 18, 1961, on CBS. It starred William Conrad as Marshal Matt Dillon, Howard McNear as Doc Charles Adams, Georgia Ellis as Kitty Russell, and Parley Baer as Dillon's assistant Chester Wesley Proudfoot.

Very early episodes still in the archives reveal two episodes with Marshall Mark Dillon (sic) as the lead, not yet played by Conrad.

Conrad was one of the last actors who auditioned for the role of Marshal Dillon. With a powerful, distinctive voice, Conrad was already one of radio's busiest actors. Though Meston championed him, Macdonnell thought Conrad might be overexposed. During his audition, however, Conrad won over Macdonnell after reading only a few lines. Dillon as portrayed by Conrad was a lonely, isolated man, toughened by a hard life. Macdonnell later claimed, "Much of Matt Dillon's character grew out of Bill Conrad."[6]

Meston relished the upending of cherished Western fiction clichés and felt that few Westerns gave any inkling of how brutal the Old West was in reality. Many episodes were based on man's cruelty to man and woman, inasmuch as the prairie woman's life and the painful treatment of women as chattel were touched on well ahead of their time in most media. As originally pitched to CBS executives, this was to be an adult Western, not a grown up Hopalong Cassidy.

Dunning writes that Meston was especially disgusted by the archetypal Western hero and set out "to destroy [that type of] character he loathed." In Meston's view, "Dillon was almost as scarred as the homicidal psychopaths who drifted into Dodge from all directions."[7]

Chester's character had no surname until Baer ad libbed "Proudfoot" during an early rehearsal. Initial Gunsmoke scripts gave him no name at all; his lines were simply slugged to be spoken by "Townsman." Again Conrad's sense of what the program would be supervened, and Chester was born. The amiable Waco expatriate was usually described as Dillon's "assistant," but in the December 13, 1952, episode "Post Martin," Dillon described Chester as Dillon's deputy. Whatever his title, Chester was Dillon's foil, friend, partner, and in one episode in which Chester nearly dies, Dillon allows that he was the only person he (Dillon) could trust. The TV series changed Chester's last name to Goode.

Doc Adams was, at first, a grumpy and somewhat dark character, but McNear's performances steadily became more warm-hearted. Doc Adams' backstory is elastic: In some episodes, he had educational ties to Philadelphia, in others he spent time as ship's doctor aboard the gambling boats that plied the Mississippi River, which provided a background for his knowledge of New Orleans (and acquaintance with Mark Twain). In the January 31, 1953, episode "Cavalcade," a fuller history is offered, even though subsequent programs kept close listeners' heads spinning. In "Cavalcade," his real name is Calvin Moore, educated in Boston, and he practiced as a doctor for a year in Richmond, Virginia where he fell in love with a beautiful young woman who was also being courted by a wealthy young man named Roger Beauregard. Beauregard forced Doc into fighting a duel with him, resulting in Beauregard's being shot and killed. Even though it was a fair duel, because Doc was a Yankee and an outsider he was forced to flee. The young woman fled after him and they were married in St. Louis, but two months later she died of typhus. Doc wandered throughout the territories until he settled in Dodge City 17 years later under the name of "Charles Adams". The Adams moniker was another Conrad invention, borrowing the surname from cartoonist Charles Addams as a testament to Doc's occasionally ghoulish comportment.

Georgia Ellis appeared in the first episode "Billy the Kid" (April 26, 1952) as "Francie Richards", a former girlfriend of Matt Dillon and the widow of a criminal. "Miss Kitty" did not appear on the radio series until the May 10, 1952, episode "Jaliscoe". Kitty's profession was hinted at, but never explicit; in a 1953 interview with TIME, Macdonnell declared, "Kitty is just someone Matt has to visit every once in a while. We never say it, but Kitty is a prostitute, plain and simple."[7] An out-take from the program makes this hilariously obvious.[8] The television show first portrayed Kitty as a saloon employee (dance-hall girl/prostitute) then later as the owner of the Long Branch Saloon. Sometime in 1959, Ellis was billed as Georgia Hawkins instead of Georgia Ellis.

Distinction from other radio westerns[edit]

Gunsmoke was often a somber program, particularly in its early years. Dunning writes that Dillon "played his hand and often lost. He arrived too late to prevent a lynching. He amputated a dying man's leg and lost the patient anyway. He saved a girl from brutal rapists then found himself unable to offer her what she needed to stop her from moving into...life as a prostitute." (Dunning, 304) Some listeners, such as Dunning, argue the radio version was more realistic. Episodes were aimed at adults and featured some of the most explicit content of their time, including violent crimes, scalpings, massacres, and opium addicts. Many episodes ended on a somber note, and villains often got away with their crimes. Nonetheless, thanks to the subtle scripts and outstanding ensemble cast, over the years the program evolved into a warm, often humorous celebration of human nature.

Apart from the doleful tone, Gunsmoke was distinct from other radio westerns, as the dialogue was often slow and halting, and due to the outstanding sound effects, listeners had a nearly palpable sense of the prairie where the show was set. The effects were subtle but multilayered, giving the show a spacious feel. John Dunning wrote, "The listener heard extraneous dialogue in the background, just above the muted shouts of kids playing in an alley. He heard noises from the next block, too, where the inevitable dog was barking." (Dunning, 305)

"Gunsmoke" was also unique from other westerns in that it was unsponsored for the first few years of production. The program got its support from CBS for the first two years. Series producers felt that if the show was sponsored they would have to "clean the show up" (Time, 1953). The show wanted to find a sponsor that would allow it to keep the show the way it was[9]

Talk of adapting Gunsmoke to television[edit]

Not long after the radio show began, there was talk of adapting it to television. Privately, Macdonnell had a guarded interest in taking the show to television, but publicly, he declared that "our show is perfect for radio," and he feared that, as Dunning writes, "Gunsmoke confined by a picture could not possibly be as authentic or attentive to detail." (Dunning, 305) "In the end," wrote Dunning, "CBS simply took it away from Macdonnell and began preparing for the television version." (Dunning, 305)

Conrad and the others were given auditions, but they were little more than token efforts—especially in Conrad's case, due to his obesity. However, Meston was kept as the main writer. In the early years, a majority of the TV episodes were adapted from the radio scripts, often using identical scenes and dialogue. Dunning wrote, "That radio fans considered the TV show a sham and its players impostors should surprise no one. That the TV show was not a sham is due in no small part to the continued strength of Meston's scripts." (Dunning, 304)

Macdonnell and Meston continued the radio version of Gunsmoke until 1961, making it one of the most enduring vintage radio dramas.

Conrad directed two television episodes, in 1963 and 1971, while McNear appeared on six, playing characters other than Doc, including three times as storekeeper Howard Rudd.

Television version[edit]

Gunsmoke
Gunsmoke.jpg
Gunsmoke title card
Created by Norman Macdonnell
John Meston
Starring
Theme music composer Rex Koury
Glenn Spencer
Country of origin United States
No. of seasons 6 ('Marshal Dillon', syndication re-titling of half-hour episodes)
14 ('Gunsmoke'),
20 (total seasons)
No. of episodes 233 ('Marshal Dillon', syndication re-titling of half-hour episodes), 402 ('Gunsmoke')
635 (total episodes) (List of episodes)
Production
Running time 26 minutes (1955–1961),
50 minutes (1961–1975)
Production company(s) CBS Productions
Filmaster Productions
Arness and Company (1959-1961)
The Arness Production Company (1961–'64)
Distributor CBS Films (before 1971)
Viacom Enterprises (1971–95)
Paramount Domestic Television (1995–2006)
CBS Paramount Domestic Television (2006–07)
CBS Television Distribution (2007–present)
Broadcast
Original channel CBS
Picture format Black and white (1955–1966)
Color (1966–1975)
Original run September 10, 1955  – March 31, 1975

Good evening. My name's Wayne. Some of you may have seen me before; I hope so. I've been kicking around Hollywood a long time. I've made a lot of pictures out here, all kinds, and some of them have been Westerns. And that's what I'm here to tell you about tonight: a Western—a new TV show called Gunsmoke. No, I'm not in it. I wish I were, though, because I think it's the best thing of its kind that's come along, and I hope you'll agree with me; it's honest, it's adult, it's realistic. When I first heard about the show Gunsmoke, I knew there was only one man to play in it: James Arness who is actually my friend. He's a young fellow, and maybe 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! And now I'm proud to present my friend Jim Arness in Gunsmoke.

John Wayne - first Gunsmoke TV episode
"Matt Gets It."[10]

The TV series ran from September 10, 1955, to March 31, 1975, on CBS with 635 total episodes. The first 12 seasons aired Saturdays at 10 p.m., seasons 13 through 16 aired Mondays at 7:30 p.m. and the last four seasons aired Mondays at 8 p.m. Its longevity has runners-up questioning its primacy as longest run. It is the longest running, prime time series of the 20th century. Today, it still has the highest number of scripted episodes for any, U.S. primetime, commercial live-action television series. Some rival programs in contention are foreign-made with U.S. airing.[11] As of 2010, it is the fifth globally, after Doctor Who (1963–89, 2005– ), Taggart (1983–2010),[12] The Bill (1984–2010). James Arness and Milburn Stone portrayed their Gunsmoke characters for 20 consecutive years, as did Kelsey Grammer as the character Frasier Crane, but over two half-hour sitcoms (Cheers and Frasier).[13] George Walsh, the announcer for Gunsmoke, began in 1952 on radio's Gunsmoke and continued until television's Gunsmoke was canceled in 1975.[14] The first seven seasons were jointly sponsored by L&M cigarettes and Remington shaving products.

When Gunsmoke was adapted for television in 1955, the network did not appear interested in bringing either Conrad or his radio costars to the medium (his weight was rumored to be a deciding factor) despite a campaign to convince the network. Denver Pyle was also considered for the role, as was Raymond Burr, who was ultimately also seen as too heavyset for the part. Charles Warren, television Gunsmoke's first director, said "His voice was fine but he was too big. When he stood up, his chair stood with him."[15] According to Dennis Weaver's comments on the 50th Anniversary DVD, Disc One, Episode "Hack Prine", John Wayne was never considered for the role; to have done so would have been preposterous since Wayne was a top movie leading man. The belief Wayne was asked to pin on the badge is disputed by Warren. Although he agrees Wayne encouraged Arness to take the role, Warren says, "I hired Jim Arness on the strength of a picture he's done for me... I never thought for a moment of offering it to Wayne."[14]

In the end, the primary roles were all recast, with Arness taking the lead role of Marshal Matt Dillon (on the recommendation of Wayne, who also introduced the pilot); Dennis Weaver playing Chester Goode; Milburn Stone being cast as Dr. G. "Doc" Adams (later Galen "Doc" Adams); and Amanda Blake taking on the role of Miss Kitty Russell. Macdonnell became the associate producer of the TV show and later the producer. Meston was named head writer.

Chester and Festus Haggen are perhaps Dillon's most recognizable sidekicks, though there were others who would become acting-deputies for two and a half to seven and a half year stints: Quint Asper (Burt Reynolds) (1962–65), Thad Greenwood (Roger Ewing) (1966–68), and Newly O'Brian (Buck Taylor) (1967–75), who served as both back-up deputy and doctor-in-training, having some studies in medicine via his uncle which then continued under Doc Adams.

In 1962, Burt Reynolds was added to the show's lineup, as the "halfbreed" blacksmith Quint Asper and elipsed the span during characters Chester Goode and Festus Haggen. Three of the actors, who played Dodge deputies, Ken Curtis, Roger Ewing and Buck Taylor, had previous guest roles. Curtis, a big band and western singer (Tommy Dorsey Band, Shep Fields Band, Sons of the Pioneers), had five previous guest roles including one in 1963 as a shady ladies' man named Kyle ("Lover Boy", season 9, show 2 [Episode #307]). Curtis first appeared in the 1959 episode "Jayhawkers" (season 4, episode 21 [Episode#138]), where he played Phil Jacks, a Texas cowboy with Jack Elam as his boss during a cattle drive from Texas. The second was another 1959 episode entitled "Change of Heart" (season 4, episode 32 [Episode #149]), where he played Brisco, which also starred James Drury as Jerry Cass. The third appearance is the 1960 episode "The Ex-Urbanites" (season 5, episode 30 [Episode #186]), where he plays Jesse with Robert Wilke as Pitt. He also had a small role as an Indian named Scout in the episode "Speak Me Fair" (season 5, episode 34 [Episode #190]) in 1960. Curtis, was reared in Las Animas, Colorado, and for a time a son-in-law of director John Ford. In 1963, Weaver left the series to pursue a broader acting career in TV series and films. In 1964 Curtis was signed as a regular to play the stubbornly illiterate hillbilly Festus Haggen. The character, heretofore a comic feature, came to town in a 1962 episode titled "Us Haggens", to avenge the death of his twin brother Fergus, and decided to stay in Dodge when the deed was done. Initially on the fringes of Dodge society, Festus was slowly phased-in as a reliable sidekick/ part-time deputy to Matt Dillon when Reynolds left in 1965. In the episode "Alias Festus Haggen", he is mistaken for a robber and killer whom he has to expose to free himself (both parts played by Curtis). In a comic relief episode ("Mad Dog"), another case of mistaken identity forces Festus to fight three sons of a man killed by his cousin. As a side note, there is only one episode that has all three actors in it playing their respective roles. It is the 1964 episode entitled "Prairie Wolfer" (season 9, episode 16 [Episode #321]), with Dennis Weaver as Chester, Burt Reynolds as Quint, and Ken Curtis as Festus.[16]

When Milburn Stone left the series for health reasons for several episodes in 1971, Pat Hingle played his temporary replacement, Dr. John Chapman, whose presence was at first roundly resisted by Festus, a bickersome but close friend of Doc Adams.

Clockwise from top: Ken Curtis (Festus), James Arness (Matt), Amanda Blake (Kitty), and Milburn Stone (Doc) in 1968

The back stories of some of the main characters were largely left to the imagination of the viewer. Matt Dillon spent his early years in foster care, knew the Bible, was a wayward, brawling cowboy, and later mentored by a caring lawman. Kitty Russell, born in New Orleans and reared by a flashy foster mother (who once visited Dodge), apparently had no living family. (See "Miss Kitty" in the following section "Differences between the characters on the radio & TV versions.") Barkeep Sam was said to be married but no sightings of a wife were made (In the episode "Tafton", he is seen side-by-side with a woman in a church singing). Quint Asper's white father was killed by white scavengers. Thad Greenwood's father, a storekeeper, was harassed to death by a trio of loathsome ne'er-do-well thieves. Chester Goode was known to be one of many brothers raised by an aunt and uncle, and he mentions his mother on one occasion; he referred to past service in the cavalry, and years as a cattle driver in Texas. The cause of Chester's stiff right leg was never given, but it was shown as his own leg and not a prosthesis. No direct reference was ever made to his disability in the script, although some oblique moments painted the free spirited, comic deputy with a darker tone. Newly O'Brien was named after a physician uncle, who ignited his interest in medicine.

While Dillon and Miss Kitty clearly had a close personal relationship, the two never married. In a July 2, 2002, Associated Press interview with Bob Thomas, Arness explained, "If they were man and wife, it would make a lot of difference. The people upstairs decided it was better to leave the show as it was, which I totally agreed with." In the episode "Waste", featuring Johnny Whitaker as a boy with a prostitute mother, her madam questions Dillon as to why the law overlooks Miss Kitty's enterprise. It appears that bordellos could exist "at the law's discretion" (meaning the marshal's). Miss Kitty was written out in 1974. The actress sought more free time and reportedly missed her late co-star, Glenn Strange, who played her Long Branch barkeep, Sam. When Blake decided not to return for the show's 20th (and final) season, the character was said to have returned to New Orleans. She was replaced by the hoarse-voiced, matronly actress Fran Ryan (known to many as the second Doris Ziffel on CBS' "Green Acres").

For over a decade on television, a sign hung over Doc's office that read "Dr. G. Adams". Milburn Stone was given free-rein to choose the character's first name. The actor chose the surname of an ancient Greek physician and medical researcher named Galen.[17] He is first referred to in this manner by Theodore Bikel in the season 10 episode, "Song for Dying", aired February 13, 1965.[18]

Differences between the characters on the radio and television versions[edit]

There were differences between the characters on the radio and TV versions of Gunsmoke. In the radio series, Doc was acerbic, somewhat mercenary, and borderline alcoholic – at least in the program's early years. On radio's Gunsmoke, Doc Adams's real name was Dr. Calvin Moore.[19] He came west and changed his name to escape a charge of murder. The television Doc, though still crusty, was in many ways softer and warmer.

There was nothing in the radio series to suggest that Chester Proudfoot was disabled, a merely visual feature added to the Chester Goode character on television because of actor Dennis Weaver's athletic build, to emphasize Chester's role as a follower and not an independent agent.

Miss Kitty, who, after the radio series ended, was said by some to have engaged in prostitution, began in that role in the television series, working in the Long Branch Saloon. In an earlier 1956 episode, the owner of the Long Branch was named Bill Pence. A later 1956 episode begins with Chester pointing out to Matt (who had been out of town) a new sign under the Long Branch Saloon sign stating "Russell & Pence, Proprietors." In that same episode, John Dehner portrayed a dubious New Orleans businessman claiming to be Kitty's father, who tried to talk her into selling her half interest in the Long Branch and returning to New Orleans with him as a partner in his alleged freight business. In another 1956 episode (involving a new saloon girl named "Rena Decker" who causes four deaths by provoking men into fighting over her), Miss Kitty identifies herself as half-owner of the Long Branch with Mr. Pence (played by Judson Pratt). Subsequently, Miss Kitty transitioned to sole owner. Although early film episodes showed her descending from her second-floor rooms in the saloon with Matt, or showed her or one of her girls leading a cowboy up to those same rooms, these scenes disappeared later on, and viewers were guided to see Miss Kitty just as a kindhearted businesswoman.

Format[edit]

From 1955 to 1961, Gunsmoke was a half-hour show (re-titled Marshal Dillon in syndication). It then went to an hour-long format. The series was re-titled Gun Law in the UK. The Marshal Dillon syndicated rerun lasted from 1961 until 1964 on CBS, originally on Tuesday nights within its time in reruns.

Broadcast history[edit]

NOTE: The most frequent time slot for the series is in bold text.

  • Saturday at 10:00–10:30 PM on CBS: September 10, 1955 – June 17, 1961
  • Saturday at 10:00–11:00 PM on CBS: September 30, 1961 – April 15, 1967
  • Monday at 7:30–8:30 PM on CBS: September 11, 1967 – March 8, 1971
  • Monday at 8:00–9:00 PM on CBS: September 13, 1971 – March 31, 1975

Popularity[edit]

Gunsmoke was TV's No. 1 ranked show from 1957 to 1961 before slipping into a decline after expanding to an hour. In 1967, the show's 12th season, CBS planned to cancel the series, but widespread viewer reaction (including a mention in Congress and the behind-the-scenes pressure from the wife of CBS's president) prevented its demise. On the Biography Channel's Behind The Scenes: Gilligan's Island (2002); Gilligan's Island producer Sherwood Schwartz states that the wife of CBS's president pressured her husband not to cancel Gunsmoke in 1967, and so the network cut Gilligan's Island instead. The show continued in its new time slot at 8 pm on Mondays. This scheduling move led to a spike in ratings that saw it once again rally to the top 10 in the Nielsen ratings until the 1973–74 television season.[20] In September 1975, despite still ranking among the Top 30 programs in the ratings, Gunsmoke was canceled after a 20-year run; it was replaced by Mary Tyler Moore spin-offs Rhoda and Phyllis. Thirty TV Westerns came and went during its 20-year tenure, and Gunsmoke was the sole survivor, with Alias Smith and Jones and Bonanza both leaving the airwaves in January 1973.

For many seasons, Gunsmoke ran its ending credits with a photograph of a coffeepot on the stove in the Dodge City jail. This coffeepot at the Cracker Barrel restaurant in Lubbock, Texas resembles the one used on the series.

Arness and Stone remained with the show for its entire run, though Stone missed seven episodes in 1971.

The entire cast was stunned by the cancellation, as they were unaware that CBS was considering it. According to Arness, "We didn't do a final, wrap-up show. We finished the 20th year, we all expected to go on for another season, or two or three. The (network) never told anybody they were thinking of canceling." The cast and crew read the news in the trade papers.[21]

TV movies[edit]

In 1987, some actors from the original series (James Arness, Amanda Blake, Buck Taylor, Fran Ryan) reunited for the TV movie, Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge, which was filmed with the mountainous ranges of Alberta, Canada as a backdrop. Retired US Marshal Matt Dillon, now a fur trapper, is knifed by a rogue, brought back to Dodge, and nursed by Kitty Russell. He is hunted by vengeful, past nemesis Mannon, who holds a battered Kitty hostage in exchange for a showdown. Ken Curtis declined to return, citing a contract dispute: "As Dillon's right hand man, I felt the offer would approximate Miss Blake's." Instead, Buck Taylor's Newly O'Brien became Dodge's new marshal, though private citizen Matt Dillon remains the hero. A huge ratings success, it led to four more TV films being made in the U.S.

After Amanda Blake's death, the writers built on the 1973 two-part episodic romance of "Matt's Love Story", which was noted for the marshal's first overnight visit to a female's lodgings. In the episode, Matt loses his memory and his heart during a brief liaison with "Mike" Yardner (Michael Learned of The Waltons). In preserving the ethics of the era and the heretofore flawless hero's character, the healed Dillon returns to Dodge City.

Movie number two, Gunsmoke: The Last Apache (1990), had Learned reprising the role of "Mike Yardner" to divulge that Matt sired her daughter, who is now a young woman named Beth. Other films (which all featured daughter Beth) included Gunsmoke: To the Last Man (1992), Gunsmoke: The Long Ride (1993), and Gunsmoke: One Man's Justice (1994).

Ratings[edit]

  • 1955–56: N/A
  • 1956–57: No. 8 – 12,720,300 viewers (32.7 rating)
  • 1957–58: No. 1 – 18,067,520 viewers (43.1 rating)
  • 1958–59: No. 1 – 17,404,200 viewers (39.6 rating)
  • 1959–60: No. 1 – 18,437,250 viewers (40.3 rating)
  • 1960–61: No. 1 – 17,605,600 viewers (37.3 rating)
  • 1961–62: No. 3 – 13,741,065 viewers (28.3 rating)
  • 1962–63: No. 10 – 13,581,000 viewers (27 rating)
  • 1963–64: No. 20 – 12,126,000 viewers (23.5 rating)
  • 1964–65: No. 27 – 11,910,200 viewers (22.6 rating)
  • 1965–66: No. 30 – 11,470,050 viewers (21.3 rating)
  • 1966–67: No. 34[22]
  • 1967–68: No. 4 – 14,450,850 viewers (25.5 rating)
  • 1968–69: No. 6 – 14,504,250 viewers (24.9 rating)
  • 1969–70: No. 2 – 15,151,500 viewers (25.9 rating)
  • 1970–71: No. 5 – 15,325,500 viewers (25.5 rating)
  • 1971–72: No. 4 – 16,146,000 viewers (26 rating)
  • 1972–73: No. 8 – 15,292,800 viewers (23.6 rating)
  • 1973–74: No. 15 – 14,630,200 viewers (22.1 rating)
  • 1974–75: No. 28 – 14,042,500 viewers (20.5 rating)[23]

As a Top 30 series, Gunsmoke has an average rating of 28.3.

Syndication[edit]

All 635 episodes of the television series, and almost all 480 episodes of the radio show, still exist.

In syndication, the entire 20-year run of Gunsmoke is separated into three packages by CBS Television Distribution:

  • 1955–61 half-hour episodes: These episodes are sometimes seen in their original format and sometimes in the Marshal Dillon format. When first-run prime-time episodes of Gunsmoke expanded to an hour in Fall 1961, CBS-TV reran the half-hour episodes as Marshal Dillon on the network on Tuesday nights from 1961 through 1964. These were later rerun in syndication. General syndication ended in the 1980s, but they do air occasionally on cable TV. Local stations would show the re-titled Marshal Dillon version of the series, while the series under the original Gunsmoke title (with some episodes under the Marshal Dillon retitling) were seen in the late 1990s on TV Land and later Me-TV. Encore Westerns currently airs this version under the Marshal Dillon title.
  • 1961–66 one-hour black-and-white episodes: These episodes have not been widely seen in regular syndication since the 1980s, although selected episodes did air from the mid-1980s through the early 1990s on CBN Cable/The Family Channel, and later on Encore Westerns on a three-year contract that ended circa 2006. As of January 2010, Encore Westerns is again airing the episodes.
  • 1966–75 one-hour color episodes: The last nine seasons of the Western, these are the most widely syndicated episodes of the entire series' run and are still aired on some local stations, as well as nationally on TV Land and Me-TV.

DVD releases[edit]

In 2006, as part of Gunsmoke's 50th anniversary on TV, certain selected episodes were released on DVD in three different box sets. Twelve episodes, from 1955 to 1964, were selected for the Gunsmoke: Volume I box set, and another twelve episodes, from 1964 to 1975, were selected for the Gunsmoke: Volume II box set. Both volume box sets are also available as a combined single "Gift Box Set". A third unique DVD box set, known as Gunsmoke: The Directors Collection, was also released with ten selected episodes from certain seasons throughout the series' 20-year history. All of these box sets are available on Region 1 DVD from Paramount Home Entertainment and CBS DVD.

Additionally, Paramount Home Entertainment and CBS DVD have released the first ten seasons (seasons 1-6 are known as the "half-hour years") on DVD in Region 1. Season 11, volumes 1 & 2 will be released on December 2, 2014.[24]

DVD Name Ep # Release Date
The First Season 39 July 17, 2007
The Second Season, Volume 1 20 January 8, 2008
The Second Season, Volume 2 19 May 27, 2008
The Third Season, Volume 1 20 December 9, 2008
The Third Season, Volume 2 19 May 26, 2009
The Fourth Season, Volume 1 20 October 5, 2010
The Fourth Season, Volume 2 19 December 14, 2010
The Fifth Season, Volume 1 20 October 11, 2011
The Fifth Season, Volume 2 19 December 13, 2011
The Sixth Season, Volume 1 19 August 7, 2012
The Sixth Season, Volume 2 19 October 16, 2012
The Seventh Season, Volume 1 17 December 11, 2012
The Seventh Season, Volume 2 17 February 5, 2013
The Eighth Season, Volume 1 19 May 7, 2013
The Eighth Season, Volume 2 19 May 7, 2013
The Ninth Season, Volume 1 18 August 6, 2013
The Ninth Season, Volume 2 18 August 6, 2013
The Tenth Season, Volume 1 18 August 12, 2014
The Tenth Season, Volume 2 18 August 12, 2014
DVD Name Ep # Release Date
The Eleventh Season, Volume 1 16 December 2, 2014
The Eleventh Season, Volume 2 16 December 2, 2014

Regular cast; major characters[edit]

Cast[edit]

1963 cast with Burt Reynolds
  • Sam (bartender; 1955–59): (Bert Rumsey)
  • Clem (bartender; 1959–61): Clem Fuller
  • Sam (bartender; 1961–73): Glenn Strange
  • Rudy (bartender; 1965–67): Jeff McCann
  • Floyd (bartender; 1974–75): Robert Brubaker
  • Quint Asper (blacksmith; 1962–65): Burt Reynolds
  • Deputy Marshal Clayton Thaddeus "Thad" Greenwood (1965–67): Roger Ewing
  • Newly O'Brian (gunsmith/Deputy Marshal; 1967–75): Buck Taylor
  • Wilbur Jonas (storekeeper, 1955–63): Dabbs Greer
  • Howie Uzzell (hotel clerk, 1955–75): Howard Culver
  • Moss Grimmick (stableman; 1955–63): George Selk
  • Bill Pence (Long Branch owner/co-owner 1955?–56-?): Judson Pratt
  • Big Ray (Bordello owner 1972–75) : Matt Stroia
  • Jim Buck (stagecoach driver; 1957–62): Robert Brubaker
  • Louie Pheeters (town drunk; 1961–70): James Nusser
  • Ma Smalley (boardinghouse owner; 1961–72): Sarah Selby
  • Hank Miller (stableman; 1963–75): Hank Patterson
  • Mr. Bodkin (banker; 1963–70): Roy Roberts
  • Barney Danches (telegraph agent; 1965–74): Charles Seel
  • Roy (townsperson; 1965–69): Roy Barcroft
  • Halligan (rancher; 1966–75): Charles Wagenheim
  • Mr. Lathrop (storekeeper; 1966–75): Woody Chambliss
  • Bob La Mar (Backup gunslinger 1959)
  • Nathan Burke (freight agent; 1966–75): Ted Jordan
  • Percy Crump (undertaker; 1968–72): Justin McGeary
  • Ed O'Connor (rancher; 1968–72): Tom Brown
  • Judge Brooker (1970–75): Herb Vigran
  • Dr. John Chapman (1971): Pat Hingle
  • Miss Hannah (saloon owner; 1974–75): Fran Ryan
  • Angus McTabbott (1966): Chips Rafferty Australian actor
  • Dr. Rutherford B. Scraggleton (1972–73) : David Cogan

Awards[edit]

  • In TV Guide′s April 17, 1993 issue celebrating 40 years of television, the all-time-best-TV programs were chosen. "No contest, this [Gunsmoke] was THE TV western."[25]
  • Entertainment Weekly (February 19, 1999 issue) ranked the premiere of Gunsmoke as No. 47 in the "100 Greatest Moments in Television."[26]
  • Entertainment Weekly, in 1998, ranked Gunsmoke as No. 16 in The 100 Greatest TV Shows of all time.[27]
  • In a 1998 TV Guide poll of 50,000, Gunsmoke was ranked as CBS's best western and James Arness was ranked as CBS's best "Gunslinger."[28]
  • James Arness (Matt), Milburn Stone (Doc), Ken Curtis (Festus), Dennis Weaver (Chester), and Amanda Blake (Kitty) are all inductees of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.[29]
  • In 1997, the episode "The Jailer" was ranked No. 28 on TV Guide's 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time.[30]
  • In 2002, TV Guide ranked Gunsmoke as No. 40 in the 50 greatest television shows of all time.[31]

Miscellaneous[edit]

  • Dodge City's Boot Hill Museum has a tribute to Gunsmoke, including furniture from the 1960s and an old television tuned to the show. Signed photographs from the show's actors and other memorabilia are on display including a vest worn by Sam the Bartender (actor Glenn Strange) and a dress worn by Miss Kitty, (actress Amanda Blake).[32]

Notable guest stars[edit]

(partial list, alphabetical):
Amanda Blake and Jack Albertson, 1969.
Guest star Bette Davis, 1966.
Guest stars Anne Helm and John Drew Barrymore, 1964.
James Arness as Dillon, 1956
Marshall Kent and Ben Gage in famous Maverick spoof "Gun-Shy" (1958)

Gunsmoke had one spin-off series, Dirty Sally, a semi-comedy starring Jeanette Nolan as an old woman and Dack Rambo as a young gunfighter, leaving Dodge City for California in order to pan for gold. The program lasted only thirteen weeks and aired in the first half of 1974, a year before Gunsmoke ended.

Notable directors[edit]

Music[edit]

The Gunsmoke radio theme song and later TV theme was titled "Old Trails", also known as "Boothill." The Gunsmoke theme was composed by Rex Koury.[34] The original radio version was conducted by Koury. The TV version was thought to have been first conducted by CBS west coast music director Lud Gluskin. The lyrics of the theme, never aired on the radio or television show, were recorded and released by Tex Ritter in 1955. Ritter was backed on that Capitol record by Rex Koury and the radio Gunsmoke orchestra.[35]

Other notable composers included:

Products[edit]

The Gunsmoke brand was used to endorse numerous products, from cottage cheese[36] to cigarettes.

Lowell Toy Manufacturing Corporation ("It's a Lowell Game") issued Gunsmoke as their game No. 822.[37] Other products include Gunsmoke puzzles,[38]

In 1985, Capcom released a video game for the arcade (and its corresponding game for the NES in 1988) with a western theme, called Gun.Smoke. Other than the western theme, the show and game have no relationship whatsoever.[citation needed]

Comics[edit]

  • Dell Comics published numerous issues of their Four Color Comics series on Gunsmoke[39] (including issues #679, 720, 769, 797, 844 and, in 1958–62, #6–27).[40]
  • Gold Key Comics continued with issues #1–6 in 1969–70.[39][41]
  • A comic strip version of the series ran in British newspapers for several years under the show's UK title, Gun Law.
  • Hard cover comic "BBC Gunsmoke Annuals" were marketed in Great Britain under the authority of the BBC who had broadcasting rights there.[42]
  • Gunsmoke comics in Spanish were published under the title "Aventura la ley del revolver"[43] ("Gun-Law Adventures").

Books[edit]

  • In 1957, Ballantine Books published a collection of short stories.[44] Each story is based on a half-hour Gunsmoke episode. Although a photo of James Arness and the CBS TV logo are on the book cover, in at least one story Matt introduces Chester as "Chester Proudfoot," an indication that the stories are actually adapted from radio scripts.
  • Whitman Books published
    • Gunsmoke by Robert Turner in 1958, and
    • Gunsmoke: "Showdown on Front Street"[45] by Paul S. Newman in 1969.
  • In 1974, Award Books published the following paperback books written by Jackson Flynn based on the TV series:
    • Gunsmoke #1: "Renegades"[46]
    • Gunsmoke #2: "Shootout"
    • Gunsmoke #3: "Duel at Dodge City"
    • Gunsmoke #4: "Cheyenne Vengeance"
  • In 1998, Boulevard Books published the following paperbacks written by Gary McCarthy based on the TV series:
    • #1: Gunsmoke
    • #2: Gunsmoke: "Dead Man's Witness"
    • #3: Gunsmoke: "Marshal Festus"
  • A series of novels based upon the television series written by Joseph A. West with forewords by James Arness was published by Signet:

Episodes[edit]

Reruns and syndication[edit]

The program currently airs on three major venues: TV Land, which has carried the show since coming to the air in 1996, Encore Westerns, and Weigel Broadcasting's Me-TV digital subchannel network. Individual stations such as KFWD in Dallas also carry the series in their markets.

The show is also currently being shown on satellite channel CBS Action in the UK, Ireland and Poland.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Nicholaus Mills (June 8, 2011). "James Arness, symbol of power with restraint". The Guardian. 
  2. ^ "Gunsmoke (1955–1975) Release Info". Retrieved 17 March 2014. 
  3. ^ See Dunning, 1998
  4. ^ Cecil Smith, "Gunsmoke," Los Angeles Times, September 1975.
  5. ^ Dunning, 1998
  6. ^ "Matt Dillon's character grew out of Bill Conrad", GunsmokeNet.com.
  7. ^ a b Dunning, 304.
  8. ^ https://archive.org/details/GunsmokeRehearsals
  9. ^ "Weeks of Prestige". TIme Magazine. 1953-03-23. p. 106. 
  10. ^ John Wayne's introduction of television's first Gunsmoke, September 10, 1955. YouTube.com
  11. ^ . The litany of adjectives is now necessary, as television has a much broader canvass, than in years past. The term "primetime" eliminates such icons as Captain Kangaroo (1955–84), and many daytime serials. The term "commercial" eliminates such PBS show as Mister Rogers' Neighborhood (1966–2001), etc. "Live-action" eliminates such adult animatations as The Simpsons (1989–), whose voice-over actors have the distinct advantage of aging off-screen. And while some countries have had series with longer durations, they have used an array of actors as principal lead Doctor Who. Gunsmoke – Museum of Broadcast Communications
  12. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-13374238
  13. ^ "What do Frasier (Kelsey Grammer), Matt Dillon (James Arness) and Doc Adams (Milburn Stone) have in common?" GunsmokeNet.com.
  14. ^ a b Bill O'Hallaren, "When Chester Forgot to Limp and other fond recollections of 20 years on Gunsmoke", TV Guide, August 23, 1975.
  15. ^ "Raymond Burr auditioned for the role of television's Matt Dillon", GunsmokeNet.com.
  16. ^ IMDb.
  17. ^ Galen
  18. ^ List of Gunsmoke television episodes
  19. ^ "On radio's Gunsmoke, Doc Adams' real name was Dr. Calvin Moore", GunsmokeNet.com.
  20. ^ ClassicTVHits.com: TV Ratings > 1970's
  21. ^ Associated Press, July 2, 2002, Bob Thomas.
  22. ^ James W. Roman, From Daytime to Primetime: The History of American Television Programs, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, Inc., 2005, p. 34. Retrieved June 4, 2010.
  23. ^ ClassicTVHits.com: TV Ratings
  24. ^ CBS/Paramount Announces a Street Date for 'The 11th Season'
  25. ^ April 17–23, 1993 issue of TV Guide that celebrated the 40th anniversary of television and the best television programs of all time.
  26. ^ "100 Greatest Moments in Television", GunsmokeNet.com
  27. ^ "The 100 Greatest TV Shows of All Time", GunsmokeNet.com.
  28. ^ "CBS's best western", GunsmokeNet.com.
  29. ^ "The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum", www.nationalcowboymuseum.org.
  30. ^ "Special Collector's Issue: 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time". TV Guide (June 28 – July 4). 1997. 
  31. ^ "TV Guide Names Top 50 Shows", TV Guide, May 4, 2002.
  32. ^ "Today's Dodge City", GunsmokeNet.com.
  33. ^ "James Arness' first wife, Virginia", GunsmokeNet.com.
  34. ^ "The Gunsmoke Theme", GunsmokeNet.com.
  35. ^ "Tex Ritter sings Gunsmoke", GunsmokeNet.com.
  36. ^ "Gunsmoke was used to sell cottage cheese", GunsmokeNet.com.
  37. ^ "Gunsmoke board games", GunsmokeNet.com.
  38. ^ "Gunsmoke puzzles were popular in the 1950's", GunsmokeNet.com.
  39. ^ a b Gunsmoke Comic Book Cover Images.
  40. ^ Gunsmoke Dell Comic #15, June–July 1959, "Masked Vigilantes".
  41. ^ Gunsmoke Gold Key Comic, February–March 1970, "The Prophet" "The Guilty One"
  42. ^ Gunsmoke Annual 1974, Comic Collection.
  43. ^ "Aventura la ley del revolver", Gunsmoke comic book in Spanish, December 1960.
  44. ^ Don Ward, Gunsmoke – Adventures of Marshal Matt Dillon, Ballantine Books, 1957. (Second edition released in 1960.)
  45. ^ S. Newman, Showdown on Front Street, Whitman Books, 1969.
  46. ^ Jackson Flynn, Renegades, Award Books, 1974.

References[edit]

  • John Dunning, On The Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio, [Oxford University Press], 1998. ISBN 0-19-507678-8
  • SuzAnn Barabas & Gabor Barabas, Gunsmoke: A Complete History and Analysis of the Legendary Broadcast Series, McFarland & Company, Inc., 1990. ISBN 0-89950-418-3
  • Associated Press, July 2, 2002, Bob Thomas
  • Bill Carter, "NBC Will Bring Back All Three 'Law & Order' Shows", The New York Times, May 14, 2007.
  • Matt's and Miss Kitty's romance referred to in Toby Keith song, "I Should've Been a Cowboy" (released February 1993).

External links[edit]