10 Surprising Facts About The Classic Western ‘Gunsmoke’

Many TV Westerns came and went without so much as a whimper during the 20 glorious years that Gunsmoke was on the air.

If you grew up in the ’50s, ’60s, or even a bit of the ’70s, you probably remember gathering around the TV with your family or friends to watch Gunsmoke. Its two-decade span on the airways left a lasting impression on audiences all across the globe, but especially here in America. A show doesn’t stay on TV for that long if people don’t genuinely love the characters and the story lines.

One other Western, Bonanza, came close to matching the 20-year run, but Gunsmoke was able to hold on for just a few extra years.

But did you know that Gunsmoke almost went off the air in 1967? Can you imagine the drama everyone would have missed out on had that happened?

These 10 little-known things about Gunsmoke are sure to bring you back and reveal a bit of what was going on behind the scenes for those 20 long years.


1. James Arness’ War Wounds Affected The Shooting Schedule

James was severely wounded while serving as a rifleman in the Army. His life-changing injury happened during Operation Shingle, at Anzio, Italy, in 1944.

The damage to his foot and leg made it hard for him to walk for long periods of time, so the scenes with a lot of walking or on-foot action were shot in the morning, before his injuries got the best of him.


2. Several Kids From ‘The Brady Bunch’ Appeared On The Show

Christopher Knight (Peter Brady), Eve Plumb (Jan Brady), and Susan Olsen (Cindy Brady) all made appearances at one point or another during the show’s 20-year run on CBS.


3. The Cast Had No Idea When They Were Canceled

Many of the cast members had to read about the cancellation in trade publications instead of hearing it directly from the network or producers. You’d think after that long, they’d get a little heads-up before the news went public!


4. Dennis Weaver Auditioned Twice

Dennis didn’t think his first audition went very well, so he convinced the casting directors and the other folks in charge to let him give it a second go. He put on his famous country accent for this second try and, as we all know, got the part and was perfect for it.


5. John Wayne Got James The Job

It is rumored that John was offered the iconic part of Matt Dillon before James landed it, but it is true for certain that he recommended James for the role to the head honchos in charge of casting.

James did, however, have to dye his naturally blonde hair darker for 20 years to fit the role.


6. The Show Was Responsible For The Cancellation Of ‘Gilligan’s Island’

In 1967, Gunsmoke was slated to be canceled, but it was saved by William Paley, the network president. He and his wife were huge fans of the show, and they decided to move it to Gilligan’s Island‘s time slot on Mondays at 8 p.m. This put an abrupt and unexpected end to Gilligan’s Island, but it made Gunsmoke fans very happy.


7. Amanda Blake Left The Show Because She Missed Her Late Co-Star

Amanda, who played Miss Kitty, was written out of the show in 1974, for the 20th and final season, because she missed Glenn Strange. Glenn had passed away in 1973, at the age of 74, from lung cancer.

Buck Taylor named his third son, Cooper Glenn Taylor, after his late Gunsmoke co-star. Clearly, the man was well-loved both on and off camera.


8. James Appeared In Every Single Episode

During 20 years and for 635 episodes, James never caught a break! Everyone else on the show had episodes that their characters were not a part of, but James’ character, Matt Dillon, was needed for each and every one.

Remember that he was 32 when the show first aired, and 52 when it was finally canceled. That’s a long while to play a cowboy every single day!

Kelsey Grammer is the only person other than James and Milburn Stone to play one character for as many years. Kelsey played Dr. Frasier Crane for 20 years, but on two different sitcoms, Cheers and Frasier.


9. The Show Was Nominated For 15 Primetime Emmy Awards

Out of the 15 nominations over the years, the show won four of them, including outstanding performance by an actor in a supporting role in a drama for Milburn Stone in 1968.


10. Amanda Wasn’t The First Pick For Miss Kitty

Polly Bond was the original choice for the role, but she turned it down because she’d recently gotten married and wanted time to settle in.

Little did she know that turning down the role meant turning down 20 years of steady employment and being immortalized in TV Western history. Amanda was lucky things turned out as they did for her!

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