HEROES ARE FOREVER by Patti Shene

Today’s blogger Patti Shene

Sharene James bookWe all have a hero, someone we’d like to meet in person someday. I met mine for the first time on our grainy black and white TV in our Long Island home when I was all of four years old. The first episode of Gunsmoke aired on September 10, 1955. That evening, Marshal Matt Dillon, played by the 6’7” blue-eyed Minnesotan, James Arness, was introduced into our living rooms. He stayed there for twenty years.

Throughout my teen years in the sixties, my admiration for James Arness remained steadfast. I lived for Saturday nights and my weekly dose of Gunsmoke. Tuesday and Thursday evenings were also special, the evenings the half hour reruns, renamed Marshal Dillon, aired.

Even though raised on the east coast, I’d been in love with westerns and the west all of my life. I moved to Colorado in my early twenties, ironically, to a small town on the eastern plains where another Gunsmoke main character, Ken Curtis, had grown up.

Gunsmoke went off the air in 1975 and those shows became only memories. That following year, I heard portions of the movie How the West was Won would be filmed at Bent’s Old Fort, a historic site a mere ten miles from my home. Jim Arness starred in that movie, playing the part of rugged mountain man Zeb Macahan. Oh, man, I was finally going to get to see my lifelong hero!

It was thrilling to stand on the balcony of the fort, look down on the courtyard and observe the big man in action. Still, there was no opportunity to speak to him, shake his ham-sized hand, or smile into those huge blue eyes.

When Gunsmoke came back on the air in this area on TVLand, I invested in a new VCR and a multitude of video tapes. One night I was checking the internet for anything Gunsmoke and came across the Delphi Gunsmoke message board, an internet group that shared about everything Gunsmoke. It was there that I learned that James Arness had written his autobiography and was hosting a bookSharene my autographed booksigning at the Autry Museum of Western Heritage in Los Angeles. Now was my chance to meet my hero in person, face to face!

Even Sharene Jim Arness & Patti 2001 booksigningthough I was fifty years old at the time, I tingled with the excitement of a kid on Christmas morning as I walked into the auditorium and saw Jim sitting on the stage, dressed as Marshal Matt Dillon, waiting to greet his fans. We had each been assigned a number, and mine was thirteen. I had to wait for twelve people to have their turn before I got mine! There were a hundred and fifty people in line behind me, so I carefully planned the words I would say in the thirty seconds I would probably get with him.

When it was my turn to speak to Mr. Arness, he and his lovely wife, Janet, made me feel like I was the most important fan in the whole room. We visited about the town where I live and the fact that I know many people who were personal friends with Ken Curtis. He loved to joke, and his blue eyes sparkled with laughter.

Our day didn’t end with the booksigning. Jim, Buck Taylor, who also starred in Gunsmoke as gunsmith Newly O’Brien, Bruce Boxleitner, star in How the West was Won, and Jim Byrnes, who Sharene My numberwrote some of the Gunsmoke episodes, held a question and answer panel. It was such fun to listen to the actors answer questions from the audience and share stories of their acting experiences together.

I had the privilege of returning to LA in 2003 to celebrate Jim’s 80th birthday along with other fans. Our Delphi Gunsmoke group presented Jim with a statue of a horse and rider, which one of our members carried all the way from Massachusetts on the Amtrak! I compiled a book of birthday cards and letters from those who were unable to attend, but wanted to send their greetings. I was honored to present that to him. We had planned to present the gift and book during the event, but his PR manager arranged for our group to meet with him privately in a small room away from the crowd.

JSharene Bruce Boxleitner, Buck Taylor, Patti, Jim Arness 2001 booksigningames Arness passed in 2011, but his name lives on in television history, representing justice, patriotism, self-respect, and worthy of the highest admiration. In all the parts he has played, he has portrayed characters that emulate our basic American principles and values. I am so blessed that one of my prayers was answered, to meet my lifelong hero in person!

I would like to offer a $10.00 Amazon gift card as a giveaway. Hopefully, the winner will use it to enjoy a 19th century historical novel set in the American west. There is plenty of wonderful work by talented authors out there to choose from!

Patti still loves Gunsmoke and likes to write Gunsmoke fan fiction. She plans to complete her contemporary and historical western novels in progress and pursue publication someday. Currently, she hosts Step Into the Light, a blog talk radio interview format show that serves to help people out of darkness into the light of God’s love, grace, and faithfulness. Connect with Patti on her website (www.pattishene.com), her personal Facebook page, http://ow.ly/T2uyj and her Step Into the Light Facebook page at http://ow.ly/T2uSx or on Twitter http://ow.ly/T2v7o.

Guest Blogger

58 Comments

  1. Hi Patti! Thank you for sharing your love of Gunsmoke and how you finally met James Arness. I always loved him too, as well as his brother Peter Graves. Great actors.

    May you have a blessed journey in your writing and publishing journey.

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

    countrybear52 AT yahoo DOT com

    1. Thank you, Cindy. Did you know that when Peter Graves met Jim in LA, he advised him to get back on the train and go home to Minnesota. He told him acting was no kind of a life! LOL!

  2. Patti, I loved hearing about you meeting your hero. How wonderful! I grew up watching westerns and Gunsmoke was certainly one of them. I always loved John Wayne and, although I never got to meet him, I did meet two of his sons, a daughter and a niece at a viewing of his auction items. What great fun!

    1. Hi Melanie. Sometimes meeting family members is as much fun as meeting the celebrity, especially if they are willing to share personal tidbits about their loved one. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Wow. Totally blown away by your post. I still find myself getting lost in Gunsmoke reruns. And own seasons 1 & 2 of How the West was Won. (Still waiting for season 3 to come out).

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Alisa. Would you believe, over the years I have accumulated at least one copy, and often more than that, of every single one of the 635 episodes that were filmed, either on VCR or DVD.

  4. Hi, Patti! That would have been great to meet James Arness. I haven’t watched a lot of Gunsmoke, but I did like it.

    1. Hi Faith. It was really fun! Thanks for your comment.

  5. Wow Patti! that must have been awesome! We still watch Gunsmoke everyday! Always a favorite.. I think I need to read his biography, I bet it’s very interesting.. thanks for the wonderful post!
    dkstevensneAToutlookD otCoM

    1. Hi DK! I wanted to offer a copy of the autobiography for a giveaway, but after all these years, it still sells on Amazon for over a hundred bucks! Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

  6. I’m glad your idol, James Arness, turned out to be an honorable hero worthy of your respect and admiration. I’m also happy you and your Delphi Gunsmoke group were able to meet with him privately to honor him with your gifts.

    I’ve always loved History. One of my favorite books was Sacajawea.

    Best wishes with your writing career!

    Laurie

    johns lake at usa dot com

    1. Laurie, thank you for stopping by. We heard many stories from the other actors about Jim’s generosity as well. He once funded a cast member’s entire expenses for her cancer treatments. He definitely was a person to look up to.

  7. It’s encouraging to hear of an actor whose real personality was almost inseparable from the noble character he played. That’s really neat!

    1. Hi Rachael. Thanks for your comment. I’m not saying Jim didn’t have his moments, but for the most part, he was someone to be respected.

  8. What a lovely story. It is really special that you were able to meet him. I have fond memories of watching all those TV westerns.

    1. HI Cheryl. Thanks for your comment. Yes, it was the answer to a lifelong dream. I even prayed about it – a lot!

  9. Oh, Gunsmoke was the one show my dad would never miss and I learned to love it too. That was back in the day when there were like 3 channels and dad was in charge lol. But that is why I now have a love of all things cowboy!!

    1. HI catslady. Funny you should say that. My sis-in-laws said their dad (my father-in-law, who I never knew), watched it every day as well. Because of that, they hate it! LOL! I don’t even talk about the show around them. Thanks for your comment.

  10. Hi Patti! Welcome to P&P. I have to say that I’m green with envy. I worshiped James Arness and always dreamed of meeting him. But I never got to. You, my dear, not only met and spoke with him, you have his autograph! How cool is that.

    As a writer of historical western romance, I’m like a sponge when it comes to history. I read everything I can find and visit historical places whenever possible. Just can’t get enough.

    Best wishes on finishing those novels you’re working on. Get them out so we can read them.

    1. Hi Linda. Thanks so much for writing. I didn’t share this in the post, but if you really want to be green with envy, I even got to give Jim a kiss on the cheek! Unfortunately, that happened so quickly that my friends did not get a photo for proof, but i know that moment in time was real.

  11. I saw Gunsmoke in reruns and thought it was a great show. Glad you got to met him in person.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Kim. It was a great experience!

  12. How wonderful that you got to meet someone you admired for so long!
    the closest I came was when Michael Landon ran into me as he was leaving the stage at a county fair!

    1. HI Connie. I’ve met several of the western actors, but Michael was never one of them. Thank you for your comment.

  13. I loved Gunsmoke. Loved Kitty, Doc, Chester and all the others who followed especially Festus. I loved How the West was Won.

    1. Hi Goldie. I think the major success of Gunsmoke was the way the characters interacted with each other. They were a close knit family, and they visited us in our living rooms every week. Thank you for stopping by.

  14. Oh that sounds like an amazing experience!

    1. It truly was, Colleen! Thanks for your comment.

  15. I was a huge fan of Gunsmoke. I grew up in Australia and we always watched it.

    1. Hi Rita. I’ve heard that American westerns are very popular in Australia and Europe. Interesting! Thanks for commenting.

  16. Welcome to Wildflower Junction, Patti. Your experiences and pictures of Mr. Arness are so inspiring. Thanks for sharing with all of us who loveed grew up with Gunsmoke.

    1. Thank you, Tanya! I carried those pictures with me for months after I got back home from LA! Thanks for commenting.

  17. Isn’t it nice when dreams really do come true? I’m glad one of yours did Patti.

    1. Yes, it sure is fun, Naomi. Thanks for stopping by.

  18. What a wonderful story! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Glenda! Thanks for your comment.

  19. I didn’t realize that Gunsmoke started in 1955 (I was 5 months old). As a kid living in the country, we only got 2 channels and Gunsmoke was on 1 of them. Ah, memories.

    1. Hi Linda. Yep, 1955, and I believe it still holds the record as the longest running drama on television with continuing characters. Thanks for commenting!

  20. This was such a great post. I was in grade school when How the West Was Won aired. If I remember right, it aired on a Saturday night – maybe Sunday. I loved James Arness as the patriarch in that show and had a crush on a young Bruce Boxleitner. What a trip down memory lane. 🙂 Thank you, Patti.

    1. Hi Terill. I loved How the West was Won too! Zeb Macahan was quite different from Matt Dillon, but no one could have played those two parts like Jim! Thanks for your comment.

  21. I never got to meet him, but my mother and I share a love of John Wayne. Over the years we’ve collected autographs, pictures, articles on his career but more importantly his life. He was an amazing man. I’m intrigued by Gunsmoke, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen it but I am now on a mission to discover it. Your blog and the comments have piqued my interest. :+)

    1. HI Corey. John Wayne was offered the part of Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke, but recommended Jim Arness. John introduced the show and Jim in that very first episode. Thank you for commenting!

  22. Interesting post!

  23. Hello Patti. Another lover of the westerns. I still watch Gunsmoke everyday and enjoy it like those many years ago. Always hated he wouldn’t marry Miss Kitty tho. How the West was Won is great too. I have that one. Would have loved to meet him. But my most favorite was John Wayne and I did get to meet him and watch him making a movie. Got my picture with him , his autograph, and talk to him and eat lunch with the crew several times. He even signed a Get Well card and wrote a note for me to send to my mother in the hospital. Loved his voice just like he was in the movies. A dream come true. A great memory like yours. I would love to read james Arness’ Autobiography. Maxie > mac262(at)me(dot)com <

    1. Hi Maxie. John and Jim were very close friends. As I mentioned in a previous comment, it was John Wayne who recommended Jim Arness for the part of Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke when he (John Wayne) turned it down. I loved The Cowboys with John Wayne, and I always hated Bruce Dern for killing him! Bruce always played a nasty, hateful villian in the Gunsmoke episodes he was in as well. Thanks for your comment.

  24. This was a great story. I’d love to be entered for gift card.

    1. HI Cathy! Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

  25. I always loved Gunsmoke and “Chester” chasing Matt down the street. I still hear echoes of “Mr. Dillon, MR. DILLON!” That show was so much how American we should all be. It was the epitome of personal and American values. How I miss those times! (sigh) I thought my son was tall at 6’5″ but 6’7″ makes my neck hurt!

    1. Yes, Whitney, James was pretty tall! I enjoyed Chester as well. It was Dennis Weaver who came up with the idea to give Chester a limp. He later said if he realized he’d be doing it for so long, he might have thought twice about it. Thanks for your comment.

  26. Great post. There were some great heroes, weren’t there? Gunsmoke and the old Westerns were also a part of my growning up and I love them still. In fact, Gunsmoke even came to my wedding! We were married in a small town Justice of the Peace office in 1969. Very casual. Gunsmoke was playing on the TV right behind us all through the ceremony.

    1. OH, Sally, that’s funny! You can say Matt, Kitty, and all the gang were at your wedding! Thanks for your comment.

  27. Interesting article.
    Westerns are always on my shelves to read.

    1. Hi Joyce. I had a great aunt who asked me what I wanted from her house before she died. I told her I wanted her Zane Grey novels. She boxed them up and on one of their trips to Colorado, my folks brought them out to me. They have been sitting on my bookshelf for 40+ years. Every once in a while, I need a Zane Grey fix and read three or four of them in a row. Thanks for your comment!

  28. Oh how awesome! What fun. 🙂 I love all westerns – growing up on a farm will do that.

    1. Yes, yes, Susan, or a ranch! Thanks for your commment!

  29. I always love Gunsmoke or any western. My father was into westerns so that is what we got to watch on our black and white TV and we thought it was awesome. We grew up in the country and the TV didn’t come in that good but we still set and watched it.

    1. Hi Quilt Lady. It is funny that, with our modern technology, most Gunsmoke fans prefer the black and white episodes over the color ones. Thanks for commenting.

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