James Arness, Dead -- 'Gunsmoke' Star dead at 88
James Arness, Dead -- 'Gunsmoke' Star dead at 88
How could you not like James Arness? May he live forever in reruns.
James King Arness (May 26, 1923 – June 3, 2011) was an American actor, best known for portraying Marshal Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke for 20 years. His younger brother was actor Peter Graves. Arness has the distinction of having played the role of Marshal Matt Dillon in five separate decades: 1955 to 1975 in the weekly series, then in Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge (1987) and four more made-for-TV Gunsmoke movies in the 1990s. In Europe Arness reached cult status for his role as Zeb Macahan in the western series How the West Was Won.
 Early lifeArness was born James Aurness in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His parents were Rolf Cirkler Aurness (July 22, 1894 – July 1982), a businessman, and Ruth (née Duesler) Aurness (died September 1986), a journalist. His father's ancestry was Norwegian, his mother's German. The family name had been Aursnes, but when Rolf's father Peter Aursnes emigrated from Norway in 1887, he changed it to Aurness. Arness and his family were Methodists.
Arness attended John Burroughs Grade School, Washburn High School and West High School in Minneapolis. Despite "being a poor student and skipping many classes", he graduated from high school in June 1942. He then enlisted in the United States Army to serve in World War II.
Arness' younger brother was actor Peter Graves (1926–2010). Peter used the stage name "Graves", a maternal family name.
In his prewar years, Arness worked as a courier for a jewelry wholesaler, loading and unloading railway boxcars at the Minneapolis freight-yards, and logging in Pierce, Idaho.
 Military service in World War IIArness wanted to be a naval fighter pilot, but he felt his poor eyesight would bar him. His height of 6 feet 7 inches (2.01 m) ended his hopes, since 6 feet 2 inches (1.88 m) was the limit for aviators. Instead, he was called for the Army and reported to Fort Snelling, Minnesota in March 1943.
Arness served as a rifleman with the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division, and was severely wounded during Operation Shingle, at Anzio, Italy.
According to James Arness – An Autobiography, he landed on Anzio Beachhead on January 21, 1944 as a rifleman with 2nd Platoon, E Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division. Due to his height, he was the first ordered off his landing craft to determine the depth of the water; it came up to his waist.
On January 29, 1945, having undergone surgery several times, Arness was honorably discharged. His wounds continued to bother him, and in later years Arness suffered from acute leg pain, which even prevented him from mounting a horse.
His decorations include the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart; the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three bronze battle stars, the World War II Victory Medal and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
 Acting careerAfter his discharge, James Arness entered Beloit College in Wisconsin. He began his performing career as a radio announcer in Minnesota in 1945.
Aurness soon began acting, and appeared in films. He began with RKO, which immediately changed his name to "Arness". His film debut was as Loretta Young's (Katie Holstrom) brother, Peter Holstrom, in The Farmer's Daughter (1947).
Though identified with westerns, Arness also appeared in two science fiction films, The Thing from Another World (in which he portrayed the title character) and Them!. He was a close friend of John Wayne and co-starred with him in Big Jim McLain, Hondo, Island in the Sky, and The Sea Chase.
John Wayne was originally offered the starring role in an upcoming TV western drama titled Gunsmoke. Wayne turned down the offer, but strongly recommended Arness for the role.
After Gunsmoke ended, Arness performed in western-themed movies and television series, including How the West Was Won, and in five made-for-television Gunsmoke movies between 1987 and 1994. An exception was as a big city police officer in a short-lived 1981 series, McClain's Law. His role as Zeb Macahan in How the West Was Won made him into a cult figure in many European countries, as the series has been re-broadcast many times around Europe, where it became more popular than in the states.
Arness did the narration for Harry Carey, Jr.'s Comanche Stallion (directed by Clyde Lucas).
 Filmography GunsmokeUntil 2010, Gunsmoke had the longest run of any scripted primetime American television series with recurring characters. As of 2010, it was the sixth globally, after Doctor Who (1963–), Taggart (1983-), The Bill (1984–2010), The Simpsons (1989-) and Law & Order (1990–2010). James Arness and Milburn Stone portrayed their Gunsmoke characters for twenty consecutive years as did Kelsey Grammer, who played Frasier Crane in both Cheers and Frasier from 1984 to 2004.
 Films1947 The Farmer's Daughter
1947 Man From Texas
1947 Roses Are Red (film)
1950 Wagon Master
1950 Two Lost Worlds
1950 Double Crossbones
1950 Stars In My Crown
1950 Wyoming Mail
1951 Cavalry Scout
1951 Belle le Grand
1951 Iron Man
1951 The Thing (1951), Science Fiction
1951 The People Against O'Hara
1952 Carbine Williams
1952 The Girl In White
1952 Big Jim McLain
1952 Horizons West
1953 The Lone Hand
1953 Ride The Man Down
1953 Island In The Sky
1953 Veils of Bagdad
1954 Them!, Science Fiction
1954 Her Twelve Men
1955 Flames of the Islands
1955 Many Rivers to Cross
1955 The Sea Chase
1956 Arizona Mission
1956 Gun the Man Down
1956 The First Traveling Saleslady
1959 Alias Jesse James — (as Marshal Matt Dillon)
 Television1950 The Lone Ranger (1 episode as Deputy Bud Titus)
1954 Lux Video Theatre "The Chase"
1956 Front Row Center
1959 The Red Skelton Chevy Special
1961 The Chevrolet Golden Anniversary Show
1972 A Salute to Television's 25th Anniversary
1976 The Macahans
1977 How The West Was Won — Miniseries
1978–1979 How The West Was Won — TV series
1981 McClain's Law
1987 The Alamo: 13 Days to Glory — as Jim Bowie
1988 Red River remake of Red River (1948)
 Gunsmoke television movies1987 Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge
1990 Gunsmoke II: The Last Apache
1992 Gunsmoke III: To The Last Man
1993 Gunsmoke IV: The Long Ride
1993 Gunsmoke V: One Man's Justice
This sections references:
 Personal lifeArness was married twice, first to Virginia Chapman from 1948 until their divorce in 1960. She died in 1976. Arness was married to Janet Surtees from 1978 until his death. He had two sons, Rolf (born February 18, 1952) and Craig (died December 14, 2004). His daughter Jenny Lee Aurness (May 23, 1950 – May 12, 1975) committed suicide. Rolf Aurness became World Surfing Champion in 1970. Craig Aurness founded the stock photography agency Westlight and also was a photographer for National Geographic.
Arness died of natural causes at his Brentwood home in Los Angeles, California on June 3, 2011.
 AwardsFor his contributions to the television industry, Arness has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1751 Vine Street. In 1981, he was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Arness was inducted into the Santa Clarita Walk of Western Stars in 2006, and gave a related TV interview.
On the 50th anniversary of television in 1989, People Magazine chose the top 25 television stars of all time. Arness was number 6.
Arness was nominated for the following Emmy awards:
1957: Best Continuing Performance by an Actor in a Dramatic Series
1958: Best Continuing Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Dramatic or Comedy Series
1959: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Continuing Character) in a Dramatic Series
 MiscellaneousJames Arness' natural hair color was blond.
According to Ben Bates, his Gunsmoke stunt double, James Arness laughed "from his toes to the top of his head". Shooting on the Gunsmoke set was suspended because Arness got a case of the uncontrollable giggles.
James Arness wrote his autobiography in 2001 because "... if I was going to write a book about my life, I better do it now ... `cause I'm not getting any younger."
James Arness first came to Hollywood by hitchhiking.
Buck Taylor (Newly on Gunsmoke) thought so highly of James Arness that he named his second son, Matthew, after Arness's character.Taylor, who is also an artist, painted a portrait of Arness several years before Arness' death.
James Arness disdained publicity and banned reporters from the Gunsmoke set. He was said to be a shy and sensitive man who enjoyed poetry, sailboat racing, and surfing. TV Guide dubbed him "The Greta Garbo of Dodge City."