James Arness, who we all know as Marshal Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke, handed Burt Reynolds the highest sort of compliment during an interview looking back on the show.
Reynolds spent three years on Gunsmoke, playing a blacksmith named Quint Asper. His character was half Native American, so Gunsmoke writers layered in the discrimination Quint faced during the 1800s in Dodge City, Kansas. The character played a major role. Quint was added to the cast after Dennis Weaver, who portrayed Chester, left the series.
Arness said that Reynolds, who beat out more than 300 other actors for the role, flashed a flair for comedy, but he couldn’t show that on-screen in Gunsmoke. His character was far too serious. But everyone enjoyed working with him.
“He was a wonderful guy to work with and we all became friends,” Arness said during a 2002 interview with the Archive of American Television. “He just fit right in with the family group. And we all had a wonderful time. His character was there only a couple of seasons. He moved on and of course went on to gigantic screen stardom.”
Burt Reynolds Also Loved Family Feeling of Gunsmoke
Burt Reynolds, in interviews about Gunsmoke, always praised the sense of family the show created for its cast members.
Ben Costello, who wrote the book Gunsmoke: An American Institution, Celebrating 50 Years of Television’s Best Western, interviewed Burt Reynolds. He asked him about the character and the cast.
“Every actor in town loved doing the show, because it was a family,” Reynolds said. “And, now that I think back about it, I don’t think anybody in town, before or since, ever had the generosity of spirit that they had on that show in terms of being an ensemble group, “whether) it was Kitty’s [Amanda Blake] turn or Doc’s [Milburn Stone] turn or Chester’s [Dennis Weaver] turn or whoever’s turn.
“It was a great place for young actors to learn some manners and behave, because, number one, Jim Arness [Marshal Matt Dillon] and Milburn wouldn’t put up with it.”
Reynolds was on Gunsmoke from 1962-65. It was his second major TV role. He also was briefly on Riverboat in 1959-60, but walked away from the show. Gunsmoke offered him a chance to show studio executives he was serious about acting.
“I thought that this was a terrific show to be on,” Reynolds said of Gunsmoke. “And quite honestly … some of the happiest years of my life were on that show. Jim said — I’ll never forget it — ‘You know, we’ve been on seven years and, hell, we’ve probably only got another year.’ I thought, ‘Well, okay,’ I had done it for almost three years, so I said I’ll strike out on my own.”
Sadly, none of the original major characters in Gunsmoke still are alive.