‘Gunsmoke’: John Wayne’s Good Friend Directed a Huge Number of Episodes

It helps to have good connections. This is a lesson that led one of John Wayne’s good friends to direct many episodes of CBS’s “Gunsmoke.”

Andrew McLaglen personally directed Wayne in five films, according to an article from MeTV.com. One of them was the 1952 film “Big Jim McLain” starring both Wayne and James Arness. But McLaglen didn’t get a sniff at “Gunsmoke” until Arness, who played Marshal Matt Dillon, suggested to show producers that he direct some episodes.

Arness and McLaglen worked again on the 1956 film “Gun the Man Down,” which was McLaglen’s second film and first western as a director. CBS hired McLaglen to direct two episodes at first, but show producers loved his work so much they kept bringing him back.

McLaglen ended up directing between 95-96 “Gunsmoke” episodes between the 1950s and ’60s. The director’s work helped solidify the popular CBS western. He died on Aug. 30, 2014, at 94 years old.

“Gunsmoke” ran for 20 seasons on CBS, making it the longest-running Western series in television history. It still holds that record despite leaving network television in 1975. But the show, like many other classic TV ones, lives on in the power of syndication.

Arness loved playing Matt Dillon on “Gunsmoke.” It made him a household name not only on television sets in the United States but around the world, too.

Some cast members like Dennis Weaver and Burt Reynolds stayed for a few seasons then left the CBS powerhouse show. Arness, though, never considered taking a hike out of Dodge City.

He was asked by True West Magazine why he never left the series to pursue a film career.

“An awful lot of TV actors tried that and didn’t do too well,” Arness said. “Just a few of them made the transition — Clint Eastwood, Burt Reynolds, Steve McQueen — but not too many made it.” Reynolds, as mentioned earlier, played Quint on “Gunsmoke.” Eastwood played “Rowdy” Yates on “Rawhide.” McQueen was the star of “Wanted: Dead or Alive.”

At one time, some film actors looked down upon being on television shows. The pay was much different for film stars than TV stars. Today, though, that’s changed a bit. TV stars can command top dollar for their work. It might not come close to big box-office numbers, but the salaries are still better than they were in the Golden Age of Television.

Plus, you can see some film stars veer into TV work at times. They will not lose their film fans as possibly some movie stars feared back in the day. Or worse, they may have feared that going to do TV would cost them future movie work.

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