Gunsmoke

gunsmoke-dvd-dir.jpgRemember Gunsmoke?  The intro music with Matt Dillon on his galloping horse?  Miss Kitty and Doc and Chester and Festus and all the fine folks in Dodge?

Unless you’re a lot younger than I am, chances are this show was part of your life.  Not only was Gunsmoke (1955-1975) TV’s longest running Western, it was also television’s longest running prime-time series with continuing characters. In total, 233 half-hour episodes and 400 hour episodes were filmed.

Gunsmoke was set in Dodge City, Kansas, between 1872, when the Santa Fe Railroad reached town, and 1885, when local farmers forced the end of the Texas cattle drives along the Western Trail. Dodge City, known as the “Queen of the Cow Towns,” the “Wicked Little City,” the “Gomorrah of the Plains,” had a reputation as a hostile, lawless town where the “fastest gun” ruled. As the opening of the show proclaimed: “Around Dodge City and in the territory on west, there’s just one way to handle the killers and the spoilers and that’s with a U.S. Marshal and the smell of gunsmoke.”

The fictional marshall, Matt Dillon, was modeled after the real lawmen who “tamed” (or at least kept a lid on) Dodge City: US Deputy Marshall Wyatt Earp (1848-1929), Sheriff Bat Masterson (1856-1921), Sheriff Bill Tilghman (1854-1924), and Sheriff Charlie Bassett.Gunsmoke began on radio in 1952 with William Conrad reading the part of Matt Dillon (I actually remember this great radio version).  The series was so successful that it was adapted for TV in 1955.  Conrad, who had a fine radio voice, was a portly man who didn’t fit the visual image of Matt Dillon, so another actor had to be found.  There is some dispute as to whether John Wayne was offered the role of Marshal Dillon, but he is certainly the one who recommended the quiet, six-foot-seven James Arness, brother of Peter Graves.  Arness proved to be the perfect choice.  Wow, what a man!

Other actors rounded out the cast.  Remember them? 
Miss Kitty (Amanda Blake) ran the Longbranch Saloon where Sam (Glenn Strange) was the bartender; Chester Goode (Dennis Weaver) and Festus Hagen (Ken Curtis) were the deputies.
Does anybody remember who played Doc?

The romance between Matt and Miss Kitty was clearly evident, but they didn’t so much as hold hands (hey, this was the Fifties).  And the likely goings on upstairs in the Longbranch weren’t even mentioned.   All in all, Gunsmoke was a sanitized version of what the real West must have been like.  But who’s complaining?  It was so much fun.  And so romantic.

Do you have a favorite Gunsmoke episode?  What was your favorite TV Western series?  I’d love to hear.

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I'm an internationally published romance author, coming up on 40 novels and novellas. Most of my stories have been Westerns for Harlequin Historicals, but I set stories in other times and places as well. I'll also be writing contemporary stories for Harlequin Desire, with the first release in January 2013. You can learn more on my web site.

20 thoughts on “Gunsmoke”

  1. I love Gunsmoke. My husband and I watch it on TVLand and the Western channel a lot. I think Milburn Stone played Doc.

  2. Hey, Crystal, I’m pretty sure you’re right about Milburn Stone playing Doc (this wasn’t a trivia question, I honestly couldn’t remember). Thanks for your help. Didn’t he pass away before the end of the series–or am I remembering wrong?
    And it’s nice to know Gunsmoke is still out there to be seen by those who love it.

    Joining you a little late here in mountain land. But good morning all of you. Be sure to check out our contest–the winner will be announced tomorrow (yes?) Yahoo!

  3. My family watched Gunsmoke avidly. My grandfather (who lived with us) always had a western by his chair to read. I don’t remember any specific show that stays with me as most likely I was either doing homework or reading a book. 🙂 I did and still prefer reading to watching TV.

    I’ll have to get a DVD of the shows, my husband loved the show as well.

    Fun post, Elizabeth!

  4. Thanks, Paty, Gunsmoke was a great family show and still is.

    OK, here’s an off-the-wall related trivia question. One of James Arness’s very early roles was the monster in a scary B-grade horror film. Anybody remember the name of the movie?

  5. Hi Elizabeth – I watched Gunsmoke, but I admit it wasn’t my favorite western. I liked Bonanza and Cheyenne and Bronco. Remember Ty Hardin?
    Toby Keith sings “I Should’ve Been a Cowboy” and talks about how Marshall Dillion never hung his hat on Miss Kitty’s door. It’s a great fun song about cowboys who “rope and ride” and never got lassoed in by a woman.

  6. LOL, Charlene. I’d forgotten about that song.
    My real favorite western series was a short-run, “The High Chaparral.” Great cast, with in-depth characters and high drama. Plus I loved the desert setting, very raw and real.

  7. Hi Elizabeth!

    I loved Gunsmoke, but it didn’t really have enough romance in it for me. My favorite Westerns were Roy Rogers — which was on every Saturday — and my favorite — Gene Autry. In LA, I live very close to the Autry Museum — and go there quite often — I love the feel of the museum.

    We only had one TV station when I was growing up so some of the Westerns that people mention, I don’t know, sad to say.

    Great post, Elizabeth!

  8. Hmmm…well, I only got to watch reruns of Gunsmoke.

    But my fave western tv show (as I have mentioned here before) was The Young Riders…series about Pony Express riders. Plus I always looked forward to western Saturdays on the Family Channel growing up (wish they still had that)…they would show all the old western tv shows…and some new ones. I loved watching The High Chaparral, Rawhide, Gunsmoke, etc.

    Several years ago there was also a tv show version of The Magnificent Seven that I really enjoyed.

  9. Ahhhh, Gunsmoke. I loved Matt, Festus, Miss Kitty and Doc. Such excellent characters, great plots filled with plenty of action, and thought-provoking dialogue. I remember one espisode where Miss Kitty got kidnapped. I think I chewed off every fingernail during that hour. I felt so sorry for Matt. He was wrestling with his feelings for her and so afraid he couldn’t save her. Then another episode Matt had to bring in a murderer but he got shot and only had the use of his left arm. I just knew the rotten outlaw was going to kill him. Those were the days. I think watching that show and others like it helped create a desire in me to write western romance. I especially wanted to give the cowboy the lady in the end and not let him ride off into the sunset alone.

    Great post, Elizabeth! Just sorry I had jury duty today and am just now commenting.

  10. I loved “Gunsmoke” and like others who replied still enjoy it on the Western Channel and TV Land. But my favorite — can you guess? — was
    “Wagon Train,” mainly, I think, because each story was so different. But then I also loved “Rawhide,” “Big Valley,” “Have Gun, Will Travel,” and, well, all of the TV westerns.

  11. Oh, I loved Wagon, Train, Pat! Like you, I enjoyed the variety of plots. And they had some great guest stars. Was it Richard Boone who starred in “Have Gun Will Travel”? Can’t remember but I liked him.
    I have my eye on a cd that’s for sale on Amazon, with theme music from many of the great TV westerns. Maybe i’ll break down and order it tonight…
    Love your comments. Thanks, all of you!

  12. Chiming in late, I’ve been without internet today. I think my favorite TV series western would be a three way tie between Young Riders, Deadwood, and Wild Wild West. I also really liked Alias Smith and Jones.

    My Mom was watching Gunsmoke the other day, it was an episode where a barrel of gunpowder exploded on Festus and the store owner. That is the first time I had seen an episode since I was about 8!

  13. I loved Gunsmoke, but my favorite tv western was Big Valley (Lee Majors–yay!) Lee made the most irresistable cowboy…oh and then there was Bonanza…mmmmm Little Joe Cartwright. 🙂 And of course as we moved into a new era…those pony express boys on Young Riders.

    Guess I just like ’em all LOL!

  14. I’m chiming in way late on this topic because I was out of town then driving and digging through snow! I loved Gunsmoke as a kid, watching it with my dad, and still do as an adult. Milbourn Stone did have a heart attack towards the end of the series and he was replaced by guest stars while he recovered. They gave him a grand return in a two parter where Matt was shot in the back, I think the episodes were called “The Gold Train”. I loved Festus and Newly, didn’t care for Thad, never saw much of Chester or Quint. I still watch reruns on TVLand and am thinking about getting the DVD sets.

  15. Thanks for your “late” comments, Terry, Pamela and Elsandra. It’s never too late to make a contribution. And thanks, especially for filling me in on Milbourn Stone. I knew something had happened toward the end of the series, but I couldn’t remember exactly what. As I recall, “Chester” was the deputy on the radio series. The others came later.
    Thanks again, everyone, for your comments.

  16. Hello All:
    I was wondering in which episode or episodes Kitty and Chester left the show,Did the show ever explain their leaving either leaving Dodge City or Dying? What happened to them? Sadly I missed out on these shows. Hope someone can answer
    Thank You Ken

  17. Hi, Ken,
    Thanks for your question. Unfortunately I don’t know the answer. Much as I loved the show I’m not into the trivia.
    I would suggest you google the show and check out some of the web entries devoted to it. Hopefully you’ll find your answer there. Good luck. Come back and visit us anytime.

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