‘Gunsmoke’ Guest Star Will Hutchins Reflects on Working With James Arness

“Gunsmoke” guest star Will Hutchins told A World On Westerns podcast that he remembered James Arness for his giant statue.

Hutchins, who said he was 6-foot-1, talked about tall actors and recalled 6-foot-7, 235-pound James Arness for host Rob Word. The two worked on one “Gunsmoke” episode (“Blind Man’s Bluff” in 1963) together. Hutchins said he felt sorry for Minnesota native’s horse during that time.

A Warner Brothers talent scout discovered Hutchins and put him to work in several Western movies. Hutchins, who got to work with stars like Clint Walker, Jack Nicholson, Richard Chamberlain, and Arness, acted from 1956 to 2010.

Hutchins went on to play in Tom Brewster in “Sugarfoot.” He played the character in James Gardner’s “Maverick” and “Bronco.” Later in his career, he played Dagwood Bumstead in “Blondie,” modeled off the cartoon strip.

‘Gunsmoke’ Actor Remembered For Producing

Hutchins said he remembered James Arness producing the show, and, at times, the actor had the dialogue cut very thin on the show. Arness played Marshal Matt Dillon on the show.

“(The short dialogue) made it more terse and powerful,” Hutchins said.

The 91-year-old actor thought James Arness was great but didn’t care much for his rehearsal style. Hutchins said it was like “John Carradine doing Shakespeare.”

Hutchins said actors would have to “toe the line.” But, at the same time, he thought Arness would do it to “relax the actors” and “keep them from getting into a rut.”

The actors knew how scenes were supposed to go ahead of time, and Hutchins said James Arness did this to “make things fresh.”

Over the years, Hutchins said he liked everyone he worked with though he wasn’t sure the feeling was mutual for everybody. Those folks were often movie studio executives.

Hutchins had a role in Clint Eastwood’s 1973 film “Magnum Force.” He played a stakeout cop who got shot in one scene. The actor looked the part so well that he said a woman came up to him and thought he was a real cop.

‘Gunsmoke’ Actor Got Leading Role When John Wayne Said No

Well, that’s a rumor. But the genuine part of the story seems to be that Wayne recommended Arness for the role. According to IMDb, Arness first passed on the show, thinking it would hurt his film career. But Wayne persisted, and the actor accepted his role. 

Reportedly, James Arness hated publicity and banned reporters from the “Gunsmoke” set. The actor was a shy and sensitive man who enjoyed poetry, sailboat racing, and surfing. 

The show had notable stars like Amanda Blake, Dennis Weaver, and Burt Reynolds on it. It ran for two decades and became the longest-running primetime drama series in American television history before it ended in 1975. That record was tied in 2010 with “Law & Order” and then tied again in 2018 with the 20th season of “Law & Order: SVU.”

James Arness died in 2011 at age 88.

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