Gunsmoke is widely regarded as one of the greatest television shows ever produced. The massively successful Western drama was a phenomenon, and America tuned in weekly for 20 years to watch Marshal Matt Dillon’s adventures.
The television show aired from 1955-75 — there was also a Gunsmoke radio show from 1952-61 — and its legacy lives on to this day. How much do you remember about the Emmy Award-winning program? Whether you’re a diehard fan or were a casual viewer, you’re sure to learn some fascinating facts in the slides to come. What incredible tidbits did we miss? Let us know in the comments, and make sure to SHARE this with all of the TV buffs in your life!Long-Standing Success
Gunsmoke was on television from 1955-75. There were a lot of Westerns on in the ’50s, fewer in the ’60s, and even fewer in the ’70s. Throughout its entire run, Gunsmoke was constantly considered the best and most popular of them all. It was appointment viewing, even as the Western craze tapered off.The Show Changed Shape
First, Gunsmoke was a radio show. Then it was a half-hour long black-and-white show. Then it was an hour-long black-and-white show. Then it was an hour-long color show. It changed with the times, and its ability to adapt is one of the reasons it could stick around.Doc Didn’t Have a First Name for 16 Seasons
Doc, or Dr. Adams, was the second lead on Gunsmoke. But he didn’t have a first name. Finally, after 16 seasons, “Galen” was revealed to be the good doctor’s name. Milburn Stone got to pick the name himself, as the writers agreed that nobody knew the character better than Stone.‘Gunsmoke’ Was a Radio Show First
Gunsmoke started as a radio drama. It was hugely popular there, too. So while the producers wisely made the jump to television, they kept the radio show on the airwaves for the first six years of the television show’s run. The radio show was on from 1952-61.
John Wayne Said No
Originally, John Wayne was supposed to play the part of Matt Dillon. But TV schedules are much more taxing than film schedules, and Wayne simply didn’t feel like doing that much work. He did, however, offer an endorsement of the show before its first episode aired.Sponsored by Cigarettes
One sign of how times have changed since Gunsmoke ruled television: The first seven seasons of Gunsmoke were sponsored by L&M Cigarettes.A Face for Radio
The lead character of Gunsmoke, Matt Dillion, was originally played by William Conrad on radio. However, the producers made a change when the show moved to television. James Arness got the part of Dillon over Conrad for one simple reason: He was better looking.Gary Busey Holds a Special Place in ‘Gunsmoke’ History
Gary Busey played the role of Harve Daley in what would turn out to be the third-to-last episode of Gunsmoke. When Daley died in the episode, he became the last character ever killed on Gunsmoke.From Madame to Miss
Miss Kitty Russell was a professional Madame on the Gunsmoke radio show. However, her job was almost never mentioned on television. Network executives and producers understood that television had to be very family friendly, and they shied away from all mentions of it.Politics Changed the Show’s Opening Scene
From the start of the series until the early ’70s, the same gunfight between Matt Dillon and another gunman opened the show. The show’s intro only changed once the anti-violence politics of the 1970s were so strong that showing a gunfight on TV every week became unsustainable.‘Gilligan’s Island’ Took a Bullet for ‘Gunsmoke’
In 1967, CBS decided to cancel one of its big shows. Originally, it chose Gunsmoke. When the audience heard about this, they had a fit, as did a few of the network executives who liked the Western. So CBS canceled Gilligan’s Island instead.‘Gunsmoke’ Holds a Major TV Record
Gunsmoke held the primetime record for most episodes ever, with 635 episodes. On April 29th, 2018, The Simpsons broke the record with their 636th episode. The Simpsons were already on Season 28 in contrast to Gunsmoke’s 20, but Gunsmoke averaged far more episodes per season than television shows today.No Finale
The show’s creators had no idea that the network was going to pull the plug after the 1975 season. They ended that season just like any other, so there was no final plot or finale episode for the longest-running show on primetime television.James Arness and Milburn Stone Were in Every Episode — Almost
James Arness was on every single episode, and Milburn Stone came very close to joining him in achieving that milestone. Stone suffered a heart attack in 1971 and missed six episodes while he recovered. Only six episodes. That guy was tough.
James Arness Had Horrible Arthritis
James Arness’ arthritis was so bad during the last decade of filming that the show shot all of his episode’s scenes in one day. This gave him one week of necessary recovery time between shoots.
‘Gunsmoke’ Concluded the Film Career of Glenn Strange
Gunsmoke was the final project for film and television star Glenn Strange. His Hollywood career started in the ’30s, but it began to take off in the 1940s. During that time, Strange took over the role of Frankenstein from Boris Karloff and played the monster in several films. Starting in the 1960s, he began work on Gunsmoke until his death in 1973.Amanda Blake Was Not the Original Miss Kitty Russell
If the producers had it their way, Blake would not have been playing the role of Kathleen “Kitty” Russell in the show. Actress Polly Bond was the original choice for that role. Bond’s family was in show business, and she started performing in Westerns at age 11. She turned down the role on Gunsmoke that would have made her into a star. Blake took over the role, and the rest is history.The Cast Had No Idea the Show Was Cancelled
All shows eventually come to an end, but the way it ended for Gunsmoke was really awful. The actors of the show were never told about the cancellation. Years later, James Arness confirmed that the producers told him about it because it was already reported in the trade publications.The Producers Tried Out Many Actors for Matt Dillon
Before James Arness took on the iconic role, the producers weren’t sold on him, or anyone, for the job. Such actors as Raymond Burr and Denver Pyle auditioned for the part. They were all considered to potentially get the role. Eventually, Arness came through and nabbed the role.The Show Was No. 1 for Four Years
From 1957-61, Gunsmoke was the No. 1 rated show on television. Then, the producers made a big change — the format of the program switched from a half-hour show to a full hour. As a result, the show slipped in the ratings. It began to gain more popularity during the late ’60s and early ’70s, but that format change made a significant difference.