While some fans still believe that Dennis Weaver was kicked off Gunsmoke because of James Arness, the actor was actually beloved by most of his colleagues.
James Arness may not have always been the top choice to play Matt Dillon, but the actor has now become synonymous with the character.
Although there were always rumors that Arness had underlying feuds with other members of the Gunsmoke cast, most of these rumors turned out to be false.
James Arness’s crucial Gunsmoke role
Gunsmoke is now well-known to the fans of classic westerns as one of the longest-running shows to ever air on television.
But before the show became what we know it as today, there was some uncertainty about who would play the show’s unflappable lead man, Marshal Matt Dillon.
In fact, producers reportedly had a list of 26 final candidates for this crucial role. This list included other well-known names like Raymond Burr, Richard Boone, Denver Pyle, and William Conrad, who were all eventually passed over for the role in favor of casting the then movie-only star, James Arness.
But even with the tough competition, Arness reportedly needed bolstering from his old friend, John Wayne, in order to accept the role and join the cast permanently.
The truth behind who James Arness wanted off of Gunsmoke
The decision to cast James Arness in the leading role of Matt Dillon proved to be an incredibly good one. Arness ended up portraying the character for over 20 years (and all 635 episodes).
When a show is on the air for as long as Gunsmoke was, there is bound to be a few on-set scuffles between the stars and the guest stars, recurring characters and series regulars throughout the years.
But though rumors always suggested that Arness had some underlying conflicts with some of his Gunsmoke co-stars, these rumors never really held much weight.
For instance, when Dennis Weaver, who played the role of Matt Dillon’s right-hand man and deputy, Chester Goode, left the show in its ninth season, many fans incorrectly assumed that Arness had actually requested that Weaver be kicked off the show.
However, Weaver later clarified in a 2002 interview that he had actually left the show completely of his own accord. This was because he decided that he had “exhausted all creative possibilities” with Chester’s beloved character.
In much the same vein, Arness’s rumored feud with other actors like Milburn Stone, are often still tied to the show today, though most of these rumors have since been cleared up by the actors.
The James Arness and Milburn Stone feud
Milburn Stone’s Doc was one of only a few characters from Gunsmoke to be featured in all 20 seasons of Gunsmoke, alongside Arness’s Matt Dillon. But the actors did not always get on well on set for all those years.
Stone admitted in an interview with TV Guide, following Gunsmoke’s 10th season, that he could not stand Arness in the first three years that they worked together.
However, after Stone confronted Arness about his tardiness and his goofing around on set, the two actors actually became very good friends, both on and off the Gunsmoke set.
Other rumored James Arness feuds
Arness was also involved in a fairly notable feud with the man who convinced him to go after the role of Matt Dillon.
John Wayne and Arness had worked together on many shows, including Big Jim McLain, Hondo, Island in the Sky and The Sea Chase, even before Arness started making a name for himself as the Marshal.
However, Wayne later explained that Arness had failed to show up for a meeting for Wayne’s passion-project film, The Alamo.
This reportedly caused a significant rift in the two actors’ friendship, and they never worked on another movie together again after that.
What James Arness’s co-stars had to say about the actor
If there is one thing that has become very evident about Gunsmoke over the years, it is that the rumor-mill was just as active in the 1950s as it is today.
And although Arness’s name has frequently been associated with a variety of rumored feuds on the set of Gunsmoke, it turns out that the actor was just an immensely private person.
The Tallahassee Democrat described Arness as “one of the most private men in Hollywood” in 1973 and many of his co-stars confirmed this sentiment.
Ken Curtis, who played Festus also had nothing but praise for the actor, stating that he was “terrific to work with.”