Originally a popular radio show (called "Gun Law"), Gunsmoke is one of the most popular TV westerns in television history. Long before its characters were name-dropped in a Toby Keith classic, viewers tuned in to the 20-season series to watch Marshal Dillon defeat villains in the wild west of Dodge City, Kansas. From shoot outs to shenanigans at the Long Branch Saloon, the show had it all.
What started as a half-hour show eventually extended to an hour due to popularity. It's also the second-longest-running television series of all time with 5 Emmys to boot. Here are some things you may not have known about the iconic show.
1. There were multiple famous guest stars
Kirk, Spock, Bones, and Scotty from Star Trek all appeared on the show. You also get to see Peter, Jan, and Cindy from The Brady Bunch.
2. James Arness is the only actor to appear in every episode
Milburn Stone was almost there with him in his role as Doc but suffered a heart attack that led him to miss six episodes.
3. Amanda Blake was not the first choice for Miss Kitty Russell
The role was initially offered to Polly Bond. After she declined, it was all Blake.
4. The show was a number one hit
From 1957-61 this was the number one show on television. Quite the run.
5. Marshal Matt Dillon was challenging to cast
The show really struggled to fill the iconic role, mostly because they really wanted John Wayne, who refused to leave his film career. Unfortunately, William Conrad, who had voiced the character on the radio show, didn't get the part because they felt he wasn't attractive enough (ouch). After 26 actors tested, Wayne recommended his friend James Arness who won the role. He even introduced the series in the first episode.
6. The radio series ran alongside the TV show
It ended in 1961 after over 400 episodes.
7. The show caused Gilligan's Island to get canceled
CBS was going to cancel the show, but some producers freaked out a bit. So instead, they cut Gilligan, and his crew and Gunsmoke stole their time slot.
8. The show popularized the phrase 'Get out of Dodge'
Dillon would tell criminals to "Get outta Dodge," referring to the show's setting of Dodge City, Kansas.
9. Doc Adams didn't have a name for 16 seasons
Stone was given naming rights since it was his character, and he decided on the name "Galen."
10. Gary Busey was the last character killed on the show
He died of a brain tumor in the third to last episode of the series in the role of Harve Daley.
11. The show didn't mention Miss Kitty's career choices
She was openly a madame on the radio show, but producers felt that they needed to shy away from those details to be family-friendly on television. So it was never mentioned.
12. The show's opener changed in the 1970s
The political focus on anti-violence became so strong during this period that the show felt it was inappropriate to keep airing Matt Dillon in a gunfight every single week.
13. The show once held the primetime record for the most-ever episodes
With 635 episodes Gunsmoke seemed hard to beat, but The Simpsons have now surpassed it
14. There was no series finale
The show had no idea that the network was going to cancel the show, so they weren't able to make any preparations for ending the beloved show. It ended its 20 seasons with a regular episode.
15. There were five TV movies
Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge (1987), Gunsmoke: The Last Apache (1990), Gunsmoke: To the Last Man (1992), Gunsmoke: The Long Ride (1993), and Gunsmoke: One Man's Justice (1994). Arness showed up as Matt Dillon for every single one.
16. Matt Dillon had one onscreen kiss throughout the tv series
Dillon got his one silver screen kiss in the episode "Matt's Love Story" with Michael Learned, who portrayed Olivia Walton on The Waltons.
17. Dennis Weaver came up with Chester's limp
He was told to distinguish his character from Dillon, so he decided that a limp would be a unique character trait to make Chester stand out. He ended up regretting this decision because it can't be that easy limping week after week.
18. Ken Curtis played multiple characters
Though he mostly portrayed Festus Haggen, during the series' run, he also played a Texas cattleman who was killed after becoming friends with Chester Goode. Buck Taylor also played another character before portraying the charming Newly O'Brien gunsmith turned deputy.
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