Up to this date, Gunsmoke still holds the title for being the longest-running dramatic series in television history, having a whopping 635 episodes over 20 years. It is truly a part of Classic TV history. The TV show was inspired by a radio drama of the same title which began in 1952 and believe it or not, reunion movies of this series were made up until 1994. If you do the math, that’s almost half a century of Gunsmoke in pop culture. Since this TV series aired from 1955 to 1975, it helped dozens of future stars to earn an early spotlight. Harrison Ford and Jodie Forster are some of the famous actors who appeared on the TV show. That’s why in this article, we are going to take a look at some interesting facts about Gunsmoke.
- James Arness’ war injuries affected the shooting schedule of the show – During World War II, James Arness was one of the first American soldiers to storm the Italian beach in the Battle of Anzio. He sustained machine gun fire injuries to his lower leg and foot. The injuries hassled Arness for the rest of his life because it limited his time on foot. That’s why his scenes don’t involve that much walking.
- Milburn Stone was the one who chose his character’s first name – For over 16 years, “Doc” Adams didn’t have a first name. Thankfully, the producers finally decided to allow Stone to pick a first name that will perfectly go with his character’s surname. Stone chose the name Galen because of a great doctor named Claudius “Galen” Galenus who was a famous doctor in ancient Rome and the emperor’s Marcus Aurelius’ personal physician.
- Gunsmoke was one of the reasons why the show “Gilligan’s Island” was canceled – Back in 1967, Gunsmoke was reportedly on the brink of being canceled because it slipped out of the top 30 rating charts. But CBS president William Paley liked the series so much he did all that he can to move the show into an earlier schedule. The management agreed and moved Gunsmoke to an early Monday primetime slot. However, that time slot belonged to Gilligan’s Island and it led to the cancelation of the show to make room of Gunsmoke. The time slot move worked and it put Gunsmoke back in the top ten of the ratings.
- Milburn Stone and James Arness are the only two actors who appeared throughout the show’s entire run – Arness is the only actor that you will see from the beginning to the end of every episode. While Milburn Stone, the one who portrayed Doc, was the only actor to show up in all twenty seasons.
- Dennis Weaver had to auditioned twice – His first audition didn’t go very well that’s why he convinced the show’s casting director to give him another shot. When they all agreed, Weaver put on his famous country accent and got the part and proved everyone that he was perfect for it.
- The radio series carried on until 1961 – The radio show continued to air alongside the TV series. The said radio series had over a total of 400 episodes. Talk about getting the audience hooked.
- Gunsmoke popularized the idiomatic expression “Get the hell out of Dodge” – Did you ever wonder where did this expression come from? Well, Gunsmoke was set in Dodge City where criminals were often forced to “Get the hell out of Dodge”. Teenagers who were watching the show back in the day started mimicking the line and it got stuck.
- A comic strip of Gunsmoke ran in the United Kingdom – The show was called Gun Law in the United Kingdom and a daily comic strip with the same title ran in the newspapers in the U.K from 1957 to 1978. This comic strip featured the spot-on art of Harry Bishop.
- Ken Curtis replaced Frank Sinatra as the singer of the band – Before Ken Curtis became the beloved Festus, he had a successful singing career. And during the early 1940s, Frank Sinatra’s career was starting to be successful as he played the crooner in Tommy Dorsey’s band on the show. However, Sinatra left the show and the band for a solo career and that’s when Ken Curtis stepped in to fill in the void that Sinatra left in the big band.
- Gary Busey played the role of the last man who gets killed on the series – For a series that had more than 600 episodes, you can expect that the body count was fairly high. But, Gary Busey had the honor to play as the last man to die on the series. His character died after riding a wild horse during the end of the third-to-last episode of the show.
- Gunsmoke was nominated for fifteen Emmy Awards – Out of the fifteen nominations, the show won four of them which includes the award Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Drama for Milburn Stage in 1968.
- Amanda Blake left the show because she missed her co-star – Amanda Blake, who played the role of Miss Kitty, was written out of the show during its 20th and final season in 1974. This was because she missed her co-star, Glenn Strange who passed away from lung cancer in 1973.
Listed as one of the “All-Time-Best TV Programs” in a 1993 TV Guide article, Gunsmoke, the longest-running Western drama and the longest-running primetime show with continuing characters in history (from 1955 to 1975), marked its success as a primetime gem. The series showcased a revolutionary approach to the famous Western formula, and its popularity led to a wide range of merchandise, including Matt Dillon dolls, Gunsmoke trading cards, and comics. Its popularity at one point was attributed to approximately 30 primetime contributions to the genre.
Gunsmoke’s success spawned many imitators, but no show enjoyed the timeline and its popularity heights. After the series ended, CBS produced several made-for-TV movies based on the show, including Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge (1987), Gunsmoke: The Last Apache (1990), and Gunsmoke: One Man’s Justice (1994). Arness starred in all of them.
Praised for its superior acting and scripting compared to other radio and television programs, the show became immensely popular with twice-a-week broadcasts to U.S. forces during the Korean war. Further, Gunsmoke won several broadcasting awards, which included the writers’ team. Gunsmoke was one of the top 10 most-watched TV shows for 13 seasons and was ranked #1 or #2 on-air Best Western series in Motion Picture Daily’s annual TV poll.
All lead actors were inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. James Arness won the International Broadcasting Award for Man of the Year in 1973 and was named the 6th Greatest Television Star of All Time by People magazine in 1989. Undeniably, Gunsmoke was one of the top-rated shows with excellent viewer ratings while still on the air.