Saturday, June 4, 2011


From the Washington Post:
James Arness, who presided over the frontier town of Dodge City as television’s most enduring western hero, the laconic, fair-minded and incorruptible Marshal Matt Dillon of the two-decade-long series “Gunsmoke,” died June 3 at his home in Los Angeles at 88. The cause of death was not reported.

Mr. Arness, who was a rugged 6-foot-7, stood tall in the dusty streets of Dodge City, Kan., portraying a U.S. marshal whose badge represented more than just the force of law. He was the embodiment of quiet moral authority, a sensitive arbiter of conflict in a rough-and-ready cow town — “Gomorrah of the plains, they call it,” as he said in the show’s first episode. Only when pushed to the limit would Marshal Dillon pull his six-gun from its holster.

"Gunsmoke" was a must-watch TV show for me for years, and the characters, Matt, Miss Kitty, Doc, Chester, and Festus were were fond members of my extended family living at a distance in time and place in the "Gomorrah of the plains".
His relationship with Miss Kitty developed to the point that they shared a kiss during one episode in 1973. They never married, though, and the social order of Dodge City remained intact.

After the kiss, Matt should have married Miss Kitty to keep her reputation intact instead of being concerned with the social order, don't you think?

Guys, take note: Matt was tough and sensitive.

R.I.P., James. You brought many of us pleasure for a long time, and your character, Matt, taught us how to live. I like to think that there was more than a little of you in Matt.


  1. I think my dad would have watched Gunsmoke every day if there'd been a "Westerns" channel, as there apparently is now (because my brother watches it every day). Matt Dillon certainly was a role model for many. And yes, he and Miss Kitty (after whom my own cat is named) needed to stay single so that they could be something like equals.

  2. Penny, certainly the relationship between Matt and Miss Kitty would have been much less interesting had they married. It wasn't going to happen, except perhaps in the finale, but I admire the writers for not using the, "They lived happily ever after," cliché at the end.

  3. I'd forgotten "Gomorrah in the plains". Gunsmoke was a special kind of western - a western for thinking people.

  4. "Gunsmoke" was one of the last great radio programs, airing 1952-1961, weaving realistic stories, low-key acting, and evocative music into a true theater of the mind. The resonant voice of William Conrad as Marshall Dillon held it all together -- he sounded like James Arness looked. Unfortunately, he looked like Sydney Greenstreet and so didn't make the transition to television. He did go on to star as Cannon and on Jake and the Fat Man. He also was the narrator on Rocky and Bullwinkle. Pity that the possibilities of radio were realized only as the medium was being superseded. I've never forgotten one episode of Gunsmoke in which hunters had slaughtered hundreds of bison, and Dillon was hunkered down behind a dead beast while the poachers sought to find and kill him. I may be wrong about the plot, but the picture of dead bison littering the plain, and the figures taking cover have stayed in my mind after more recent computer-generated images have faded. Gunsmoke and The Big Show (Tallulah Bankhead)! Such stuff lingered longer on the BBC, but lost out to disk jockeys in the USA.

  5. Unfortunately, I didn't listen to the radio version of Gunsmoke. I guess I needed the new venue of television to attract me to the show, but I surely was hooked after a couple of episodes.

    I remember William Conrad on Cannon.

    Unfortunately, he looked like Sydney Greenstreet....

    He'd have killed the horse, had he made the transition.


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