This article is about the radio and television series. For other uses, see Gun Smoke.
James Arness as Matt Dillon in the television version of Gunsmoke (1956)

Gunsmoke is an American radio and television Western drama series created by director Norman Macdonnell and writer John Meston. The stories take place in and around Dodge City, Kansas, during the settlement of the American West. The central character is lawman Marshal Matt Dillon, played by William Conrad on radio and James Arness on television. When aired in the UK, the television series was initially titled Gun Law,[1] later reverting to Gunsmoke.[2]

The radio series ran from 1952 to 1961. John Dunning[3] wrote that among radio drama enthusiasts, "Gunsmoke is routinely placed among the best shows of any kind and any time." The television series ran for 20 seasons from 1955 to 1975, and lasted for 635 episodes. At the end of its run in 1975, Los Angeles Times columnist Cecil Smith wrote: "Gunsmoke was the dramatization of the American epic legend of the west. Our own Iliad and Odyssey, created from standard elements of the dime novel and the pulp western as romanticized by [Ned] Buntline, [Bret] Harte, and [Mark] Twain. It was ever the stuff of legend."[4]

Radio series (1952-1961)


Title card of Gunsmoke's radio version (title card of 1954)
Genre Western
Running time 30 minutes
Country United States
Language(s) English
TV adaptations Gunsmoke
Starring William Conrad
Parley Baer
Howard McNear
Georgia Ellis
Created by Norman Macdonnell
John Meston
Produced by Norman Macdonnell
Air dates April 26, 1952 to June 18, 1961
No. of series 9
No. of episodes 432
Audio format Monaural

In the late 1940s, CBS chairman William S. Paley, a fan of the Philip Marlowe radio serial, asked his programming chief, Hubell Robinson, to develop a hardboiled Western series, a show about a "Philip Marlowe of the Old West". Robinson instructed his West Coast CBS Vice President, Harry Ackerman, who had developed the Philip Marlowe series, to take on the task.

Ackerman and his scriptwriters, Mort Fine and David Friedkin, created an audition script called "Mark Dillon Goes to Gouge Eye" based on one of their Michael Shayne radio scripts, "The Crooked Wheel". Two auditions were created in 1949. The first was very much like a hardboiled detective series and starred Michael Rye (credited as Rye Billsbury) as Dillon; the second starred Straight Arrow actor Howard Culver in a more Western, lighter version of the same script. CBS liked the Culver version better, and Ackerman was told to proceed.

A complication arose, though; Culver's contract as the star of Straight Arrow would not allow him to do another Western series. The project was shelved for three years, when producer Norman Macdonnell and writer John Meston discovered it while creating an adult Western series of their own.

Macdonnell and Meston wanted to create a radio Western for adults, in contrast to the prevailing juvenile fare such as The Lone Ranger and The Cisco Kid. Gunsmoke was set in Dodge City, Kansas, during the thriving cattle days of the 1870s. Dunning[5] notes, "The show drew critical acclaim for unprecedented realism."

Radio cast and character biographies

The radio series first aired on CBS on April 26, 1952 with the episode "Billy the Kid", written by Walter Newman, and ended on June 18, 1961. The show stars William Conrad as Marshal Matt Dillon, Howard McNear as Doc Charles Adams, Georgia Ellis as Kitty Russell, and Parley Baer as Dillon's assistant, Chester Wesley Proudfoot.

Matt Dillon

William Conrad in 1952, when Matt Dillon was created on radio

Two versions of the same pilot episode titled "Mark Dillon Goes to Gouge Eye" are in the archives with two different actors, Rye Billsbury and Howard Culver, playing Marshal "Mark" Dillon as the lead, not yet played by Conrad. Conrad was one of the last actors to audition for the role of Marshal Dillon. With a resonantly powerful and distinctive voice, Conrad was already one of radio's busiest actors. Though Meston championed him, Macdonnell thought Conrad might be overexposed. During his audition, however, Conrad won over Macdonnell after reading only a few lines. Dillon as portrayed by Conrad was a lonely, isolated man, toughened by a hard life. Macdonnell later claimed, "Much of Matt Dillon's character grew out of Bill Conrad."[6]

Meston relished the upending of cherished Western fiction clichés and felt that few Westerns gave any inkling of how brutal the Old West was in reality. Many episodes were based on man's cruelty to man and woman, inasmuch as the prairie woman's life and the painful treatment of women as chattels were touched on well ahead of their time in most media. As originally pitched to CBS executives, this was to be an adult Western, not a grown-up Hopalong Cassidy.

Dunning writes that Meston was especially disgusted by the archetypal Western hero and set out "to destroy [that type of] character he loathed". In Meston's view, "Dillon was almost as scarred as the homicidal psychopaths who drifted into Dodge from all directions."[7]


Chester's character had no surname until Baer ad libbed "Proudfoot" during an early rehearsal. Initial Gunsmoke scripts gave him no name at all; his lines were simply slugged to be spoken by "Townsman". Again, Conrad's sense of what the program would be supervened, and Chester was born. The amiable Waco expatriate was usually described as Dillon's "assistant", but in the December 13, 1952, episode "Post Martin", Dillon described Chester as Dillon's deputy. Contradicting this description, in the July 5, 1954, episode "Hank Prine" (episode 116, minute 3:02) Dillon corrects a prisoner who describes Chester as his "deputy" stating "Chester is not my deputy", though they both agree Chester acts like he is. Whatever his title, Chester was Dillon's foil, friend, partner, and in an episode in which Chester nearly dies ("Never Pester Chester"), Dillon allows that Chester was the only person he could trust. The TV series changed the newly limping Chester's last name from Proudfoot to Goode.

Doc Adams

Doc Adams was, at first, a grumpy and somewhat dark character, but McNear's performances steadily became more warm-hearted. Doc Adams' backstory evokes a varied and experienced life: In some episodes, he had educational ties to Philadelphia; in others, he spent time as ship's doctor aboard the gambling boats that plied the Mississippi River, which provided a background for his knowledge of New Orleans (and acquaintance with Mark Twain). In the January 31, 1953, episode "Cavalcade", a fuller history is offered, though subsequent programs kept close listeners' heads spinning. In "Cavalcade", his real name is Calvin Moore, educated in Boston, and he practiced as a doctor for a year in Richmond, Virginia, where he fell in love with a beautiful young woman who was also being courted by a wealthy young man named Roger Beauregard. Beauregard forced Doc into fighting a duel with him, resulting in Beauregard's being shot and killed. Though it was a fair duel, because Doc was a Yankee and an outsider, he was forced to flee. The young woman fled after him and they were married in St. Louis, but two months later, she died of typhus. Doc wandered throughout the territories until he settled in Dodge City 17 years later under the name of "Charles Adams". The Adams moniker was another Conrad invention, borrowing the surname from cartoonist Charles Addams as a testament to Doc's occasionally ghoulish comportment.

Miss Kitty

Georgia Ellis first appeared in the radio episode "Billy the Kid" (April 26, 1952) as "Francie Richards", a former girlfriend of Matt Dillon and the widow of a criminal. "Miss Kitty" did not appear until the May 10, 1952, episode "Jaliscoe". Kitty's profession was hinted at, but never explicit; in a 1953 interview with Time, Macdonnell declared, "Kitty is just someone Matt has to visit every once in a while."[7] An out-take from the program makes this hilariously obvious.[8] The television show first portrayed Kitty as a saloon employee (dance-hall girl/prostitute) then later as the owner of the Long Branch Saloon. Sometime in 1959, Ellis was billed as Georgia Hawkins instead of Georgia Ellis.

Distinction from other radio westerns

Photograph of the actual interior of the real-life Long Branch Saloon in Dodge City, Kansas, taken between 1870 and 1885

Gunsmoke was often a somber program, particularly in its early years. Dunning writes that Dillon "played his hand and often lost. He arrived too late to prevent a lynching. He amputated a dying man's leg and lost the patient anyway. He saved a girl from brutal rapists then found himself unable to offer her what she needed to stop her from moving into ... life as a prostitute."[9] Some listeners, such as Dunning, argue the radio version was more realistic. Episodes were aimed at adults and featured some of the most explicit content of their time, including violent crimes, scalpings, massacres, and opium addicts. Many episodes ended on a somber note, and villains often got away with their crimes. Nonetheless, due to the subtle scripts and outstanding ensemble cast, over the years, the program evolved into a warm, often humorous celebration of human nature.

Apart from the doleful tone, Gunsmoke was distinct from other radio Westerns, as the dialogue was often slow and halting, and due to the outstanding sound effects, listeners had a nearly palpable sense of the prairie where the show was set. The effects were subtle but multilayered, giving the show a spacious feel. John Dunning wrote, "The listener heard extraneous dialogue in the background, just above the muted shouts of kids playing in an alley. He heard noises from the next block, too, where the inevitable dog was barking."[10]

Gunsmoke was also unique from other Westerns in that it was unsponsored for the first few years of production. The program got its support from CBS for the first two years. Series producers felt that if the show were sponsored, they would have to "clean the show up".[11] The producers wanted to find a sponsor that would allow them to keep the show the way it was.[12]

Talk of adapting Gunsmoke to television

Not long after the radio show began, talk began of adapting it to television. Privately, Macdonnell had a guarded interest in taking the show to television, but publicly, he declared, "our show is perfect for radio," and he feared, as Dunning writes, "Gunsmoke confined by a picture could not possibly be as authentic or attentive to detail." "In the end", wrote Dunning, "CBS simply took it away from Macdonnell and began preparing for the television version."[10]

Conrad and the others were given auditions, but they were little more than token efforts—especially in Conrad's case, due to his obesity. However, Meston was kept as the main writer. In the early years, a majority of the TV episodes were adapted from the radio scripts, often using identical scenes and dialogue. Dunning wrote, "That radio fans considered the TV show a sham and its players impostors should surprise no one. That the TV show was not a sham is due in no small part to the continued strength of Meston's scripts." [9]

Macdonnell and Meston continued the radio version of Gunsmoke until 1961, making it one of the most enduring vintage radio dramas.

Conrad directed two television episodes, in 1963 and 1971, while McNear appeared on six, playing characters other than Doc, including three times as storekeeper Howard Rudd.

Television series (1955-1975)


Gunsmoke title card
Based on Gunsmoke created by
John Meston
Norman Macdonnell
Developed by Charles Marquis Warren
Theme music composer Rex Koury
Glenn Spencer
Country of origin United States
No. of seasons 6 ('Marshal Dillon', syndication retitling of half-hour episodes)
14 ('Gunsmoke'),
20 (total seasons)
No. of episodes 233 ('Marshal Dillon', syndication retitling of half-hour episodes), 402 ('Gunsmoke')
635 (total episodes) (list of episodes)
Running time 26 minutes (1955 – 1961),
50 minutes (1961 – 1975)
Production company(s) CBS Productions
Filmaster Productions
Arness and Company (1959 – 1961)
The Arness Production Company (1961 – '64)
Distributor CBS Television Distribution
Original network CBS
Picture format Black and white (1955 – 1966)
Color (1966 – 1975)
Original release September 10, 1955 – March 31, 1975

The TV series ran from September 10, 1955, to March 31, 1975, on CBS, with 635 total episodes. It was the second Western television series written for adults,[13] premiering on September 10, 1955, four days after The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp.[14][15] The first 12 seasons aired Saturdays at 10 pm, seasons 13 through 16 aired Mondays at 7:30 pm, and the last four seasons aired Mondays at 8 pm. During its second season in 1956, the program joined the list of the top ten television programs broadcast in the United States. It quickly moved to number one and stayed there until 1961. It remained among the top 20 programs until 1964.[16]

Longevity records

The television series remains the longest-running, prime time live-action series of the 20th century. As of 2016, it has the highest number of scripted episodes for any U.S. prime-time, commercial, live-action television series. Other TV show fans sometimes question its position as having the longest run. Outside the United States, some foreign-made programs have been broadcast in the United States which contend for the position as the longest-running series.[notes 1] As of 2016, Gunsmoke is rated fourth globally, after Doctor Who (1963–89, 2005–present), Taggart (1983–2010),[17] and The Bill (1984–2010).

Character longevity

James Arness and Milburn Stone portrayed their Gunsmoke characters for 20 consecutive years, a feat later matched by Kelsey Grammer as the character Frasier Crane, but over two half-hour sitcoms (Cheers and Frasier).[18] George Walsh, the announcer for Gunsmoke, began in 1952 on radio's Gunsmoke and continued until television's Gunsmoke was canceled in 1975.[19] The first seven seasons were jointly sponsored by L&M cigarettes and Remington shaving products.

Transition to TV from radio

When Gunsmoke was adapted for television in 1955, in spite of a campaign to persuade the network, the network was not interested in bringing either Conrad or his radio costars to the television medium. Conrad's weight was rumored to be a deciding factor. Denver Pyle was also considered for the leading role, as was Raymond Burr, who was ultimately also seen as too heavy for the part. Charles Warren, television Gunsmoke's first director, said "His voice was fine, but he was too big. When he stood up, his chair stood with him."[20] According to Dennis Weaver's comments on the 50th Anniversary DVD, Disc One, Episode "Hack Prine", John Wayne was never considered for the role; to have done so would have been preposterous since Wayne was a top movie leading man. The belief that Wayne was asked to star is disputed by Warren. Although he agrees Wayne encouraged Arness to take the role, Warren says, "I hired Jim Arness on the strength of a picture he's done for me ... I never thought for a moment of offering it to Wayne."[19]

According to Thomas "Duke" Miller, a TV/movie/celebrity expert, this story was told to him by legendary actor James Stewart: "Jimmy said he was in the office with Charles Warren when Mr. Wayne came in. Mr. Warren asked Wayne if he knew James Arness, and Mr. Wayne said yes. Mr. Warren told Mr. Wayne about the transition of the show from radio to TV, and Mr. Wayne readily agreed that James Arness would be a terrific choice for the part of Matt Dillon. I have no reason to doubt the story, because Jimmy absolutely knew everybody."

In the end, the primary roles were all recast, with Arness taking the lead role of Marshal Matt Dillon (on the recommendation of Wayne, who also introduced the pilot); Dennis Weaver playing Chester Goode; Milburn Stone being cast as Dr. G. "Doc" Adams (later Galen "Doc" Adams); and Amanda Blake taking on the role of Miss Kitty Russell. Macdonnell became the associate producer of the TV show and later the producer. Meston was named head writer.

Good evening. My name's Wayne. Some of you may have seen me before; I hope so. I've been kicking around Hollywood a long time. I've made a lot of pictures out here, all kinds, and some of them have been Westerns. And that's what I'm here to tell you about tonight: a Western—a new TV show called Gunsmoke. No, I'm not in it. I wish I were, though, because I think it's the best thing of its kind that's come along, and I hope you'll agree with me; it's honest, it's adult, it's realistic. When I first heard about the show Gunsmoke, I knew there was only one man to play in it: Jim Arness, who is actually my friend. He's a young fellow, and maybe new to some of you, but I've worked with him and I predict he'll be a big star. So you might as well get used to him, like you've had to get used to me! And now I'm proud to present my friend Jim Arness in Gunsmoke.
John Wayne, first Gunsmoke TV episode, "Matt Gets It".[21]

Additional casting

Ken Curtis as Festus and Arness as Dillon, 1968

Chester and Festus Haggen are perhaps Dillon's most recognizable sidekicks, though others became acting deputies for 2 12- to 7 12-year stints: Quint Asper (Burt Reynolds) (1962–65), Thad Greenwood (Roger Ewing) (1966–68), and Newly O'Brian (Buck Taylor) (1967–75), who served as both back-up deputy and doctor-in-training, having some studies in medicine via his uncle, which then continued under Doc Adams.

In 1962, Burt Reynolds was added to the show's lineup, as the "halfbreed" blacksmith Quint Asper, and performed that role elipsing the years just before the departure of Chester Goode and just after the appearance of Festus Haggen. Three of the actors, who played Dodge deputies, Ken Curtis, Roger Ewing, and Buck Taylor, had previous guest roles. Curtis, a big band and Western singer (Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, Shep Fields Band, Sons of the Pioneers), had five previous guest roles, including one in 1963 as a shady ladies' man named Kyle Kelly ("Lover Boy", season 9, show 2 [episode 307]).[22]

Curtis first appeared in the 1959 episode "Jayhawkers" (season 4, episode 21 [episode 138]), where he played Phil Jacks, a Texas cowboy, with Jack Elam as his boss during a cattle drive from Texas. The second was another 1959 episode entitled "Change of Heart" (season 4, episode 32 [episode 149]), where he played Brisco. The third appearance is the 1960 episode "The Ex-Urbanites" (season 5, episode 30 [episode 186]), where he plays Jesse. He also had a small role as an Indian named Scout in the episode "Speak Me Fair" (season 5, episode 34 [episode 190]) in 1960. Curtis was reared in Las Animas, Colorado, and for a time was a son-in-law of director John Ford.[23]

In 1963, Weaver left the series to pursue a broader acting career in TV series and films. In 1964, Curtis was signed as a regular to play the stubbornly illiterate hillbilly Festus Haggen. The character, heretofore a comic feature, came to town in a 1962 episode titled "Us Haggens", to avenge the death of his twin brother Fergus, and decided to stay in Dodge when the deed was done. Initially on the fringes of Dodge society, Festus was slowly phased in as a reliable sidekick/part-time deputy to Matt Dillon when Reynolds left in 1965. In the episode "Alias Festus Haggen", he is mistaken for a robber and killer whom he has to expose to free himself (both parts played by Curtis). In a comic relief episode ("Mad Dog"), another case of mistaken identity forces Festus to fight three sons of a man killed by his cousin. As a side note, only one episode has all three actors in it playing their respective roles. It is the 1964 episode entitled "Prairie Wolfer" (season 9, episode 16 [episode 321]), with Dennis Weaver as Chester, Burt Reynolds as Quint, and Ken Curtis as Festus.[24]

When Milburn Stone left the series for health reasons for several episodes in 1971, Pat Hingle played his temporary replacement, Dr. John Chapman, whose presence was at first roundly resisted by Festus, a bickersome but close friend of Doc Adams.

Character back stories

Clockwise from top: Ken Curtis (Festus), James Arness (Matt), Amanda Blake (Kitty), and Milburn Stone (Doc) in 1968

The back stories of some of the main characters were largely left to the imagination of the viewer. Matt Dillon spent his early years in foster care, knew the Bible, was a wayward, brawling cowboy, and later mentored by a caring lawman. Kitty Russell, born in New Orleans and reared by a flashy foster mother (who once visited Dodge), apparently had no living family. Barkeep Sam was said to be married, but no sightings of a wife were made (In the episode "Tafton", he is seen side-by-side with a woman in a church singing). Quint Asper's white father was killed by white scavengers. Thad Greenwood's father, a storekeeper, was harassed to death by a trio of loathsome ne'er-do-well thieves. Chester Goode was known to be one of many brothers raised by an aunt and uncle, and he mentions his mother on one occasion; he referred to past service in the cavalry, and years as a cattle driver in Texas. The cause of Chester's stiff right leg was never given, but it was shown as his own leg and not a prosthesis. No direct reference was ever made to his disability in the script, although some oblique moments painted the free-spirited, comic deputy with a darker tone. Newly O'Brien was named after a physician uncle, who ignited his interest in medicine.

While Dillon and Miss Kitty clearly had a close personal relationship, the two never married. In a July 2, 2002, Associated Press interview with Bob Thomas, Arness explained, "If they were man and wife, it would make a lot of difference. The people upstairs decided it was better to leave the show as it was, which I totally agreed with." In the episode "Waste", featuring Johnny Whitaker as a boy with a prostitute mother, her madam questions Dillon as to why the law overlooks Miss Kitty's enterprise. It appears that bordellos could exist "at the law's discretion" (meaning the marshal's). As an historical matter, prior to the First World War, there were few laws criminalizing prostitution in the United States.[25] Miss Kitty was written out in 1974. The actress sought more free time and reportedly missed her late co-star, Glenn Strange, who played her Long Branch barkeep, Sam. When Blake decided not to return for the show's 20th (and final) season, the character was said to have returned to New Orleans. She was replaced by the hoarse-voiced, matronly actress Fran Ryan (known to many as the second Doris Ziffel on CBS' Green Acres).

For over a decade on television, a sign hung over Doc's office that read "Dr. G. Adams". Milburn Stone was given free rein to choose the character's first name. The actor chose the name of an ancient Greek physician and medical researcher named Galen.[26] He is first referred to in this manner by Theodore Bikel as "Martin Kellums" in the season-10 episode, "Song for Dying", aired February 13, 1965.[27]

Radio and TV character differences

Differences were noted between the characters on the radio and TV versions of Gunsmoke. In the radio series, Doc was acerbic, somewhat mercenary, and borderline alcoholic—at least in the program's early years. On radio's Gunsmoke, Doc Adams's real name was Dr. Calvin Moore.[28] He came west and changed his name to escape a charge of murder. The television Doc, though still crusty, was in many ways softer and warmer.

Nothing in the radio series suggested that Chester Proudfoot was disabled; this merely visual feature was added to the Chester Goode character on television because of actor Dennis Weaver's athletic build, to emphasize Chester's role as a follower and not an independent agent.

Miss Kitty, who after the radio series ended, was said by some to have engaged in prostitution, began in that role in the television series, working in the Long Branch Saloon. In an earlier 1956 episode, the owner of the Long Branch was named Bill Pence. A later 1956 episode begins with Chester pointing out to Matt (who had been out of town) a new sign under the Long Branch Saloon sign stating "Russell & Pence, Proprietors". In that same episode, John Dehner portrayed a dubious New Orleans businessman claiming to be Kitty's father, who tried to talk her into selling her half interest in the Long Branch and returning to New Orleans with him as a partner in his alleged freight business. In another 1956 episode (involving a new saloon girl named "Rena Decker" who causes four deaths by provoking men into fighting over her), Miss Kitty identifies herself as half-owner of the Long Branch with Mr. Pence (played by Judson Pratt). Subsequently, Miss Kitty transitioned to sole owner. Although early film episodes showed her descending from her second-floor rooms in the saloon with Matt, or showed her or one of her girls leading a cowboy up to those same rooms, these scenes disappeared later on, and viewers were guided to see Miss Kitty just as a kindhearted businesswoman.


From 1955 to 1961, Gunsmoke was a half-hour show (retitled Marshal Dillon in syndication). It then went to an hour-long format. The series was retitled Gun Law in the UK. The Marshal Dillon syndicated rerun lasted from 1961 until 1964 on CBS, originally on Tuesday nights within its time in reruns.


Gunsmoke was TV's number one-ranked show from 1957 to 1961 before slipping into a decline after expanding to an hour. In 1967, the show's 12th season, CBS planned to cancel the series, but widespread viewer reaction (including a mention in Congress and the behind-the-scenes pressure from the wife of CBS's president) prevented its demise. On the Biography Channel's Behind The Scenes: Gilligan's Island (2002); Gilligan's Island producer Sherwood Schwartz states that the wife of CBS's president pressured her husband not to cancel Gunsmoke in 1967, so the network cut Gilligan's Island instead. The show continued in its new time slot at 8 pm on Mondays. This scheduling move led to a spike in ratings that had it once again rally to the top 10 in the Nielsen ratings until the 1973–74 television season.[29] In September 1975, despite still ranking among the top 30 programs in the ratings, Gunsmoke was canceled after a 20-year run; it was replaced by Mary Tyler Moore spin-offs Rhoda and Phyllis (though Rhoda actually debuted while Gunsmoke was still airing first-run). Thirty TV Westerns came and went during its 20-year tenure, and Gunsmoke was the sole survivor, with Alias Smith and Jones and Bonanza both leaving the airwaves in January 1973.

Arness and Stone remained with the show for its entire run, though Stone missed seven episodes in 1971.

The entire cast was stunned by the cancellation, as they were unaware that CBS was considering it. According to Arness, "We didn't do a final, wrap-up show. We finished the 20th year, we all expected to go on for another season, or two or three. The (network) never told anybody they were thinking of canceling." The cast and crew read the news in the trade papers.[30]

TV movies

In 1987, CBS commissioned a reunion movie entitled Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge. James Arness and Amanda Blake returned in their iconic roles of Matt Dillon and Miss Kitty, with Fran Ryan returning in her role as Kitty's friend/saloon-owner Hannah and Buck Taylor returning as Newly O'Brian. Doc Adams and Festus Haggen were not featured in the film. Milburn Stone died in 1980 and the role of Doc was not recast. Ken Curtis, meanwhile, balked at the salary offer he received and said that he should be paid based on Festus' importance in the character hierarchy. The screenwriters responded to Curtis' absence by making Newly the new Dodge City marshal. The film, shot in Alberta, featured a now-retired Marshal Dillon being attacked and a vengeful former rival returning to Dodge City to entrap him.

In 1990, the second telefilm, Gunsmoke: The Last Apache, premiered. Since Amanda Blake had died the year before from AIDS-related complications, the writers decided to revisit a 1973 episode for the movie. The episode was based on "Matt's Love Story", which was noted for the marshal's first overnight visit to a female's lodgings. In the episode, Matt loses his memory and his heart, during a brief liaison with "Mike" Yardner (played by Michael Learned). In the film, Learned returned and Mike reveals to Marshal Dillon that he is the father of their daughter Beth (played by Amy Stock-Poynton) and asks him for help in saving her. Dodge City was never again seen.

Other films included Gunsmoke: To the Last Man (1992), Gunsmoke: The Long Ride (1993), and Gunsmoke: One Man's Justice (1994). Arness appeared in all five films.

Broadcast history and ratings

Season Time slot Nielsen Ratings
Rank Viewers Rating
1 (1955–56) Saturday at 10:00-10:30 pm ET N/A
2 (1956–57) #8 12,720,300 32.7
3 (1957–58) #1 18,067,520 43.1
4 (1958–59) 17,404,200 39.6
5 (1959–60) 18,437,250 40.3
6 (1960–61) 17,605,600 37.3
7 (1961–62) Saturday at 10:00-11:00 pm ET #3 13,741,065 28.3
8 (1962–63) #10 13,581,000 27
9 (1963–64) #20 12,126,000 23.5
10 (1964–65) #27 11,910,200 22.6
11 (1965–66) #30 11,470,050 21.3
12 (1966–67) #34[31] N/A
13 (1967–68) Monday at 7:30-8:30 pm ET #4 14,450,850 25.5
14 (1968–69) #6 14,504,250 24.9
15 (1969–70) #2 15,151,500 25.9
16 (1970–71) #5 15,325,500 25.5
17 (1971–72) Monday at 8:00-9:00 pm ET #4 16,146,000 26
18 (1972–73) #7 15,292,800 23.6
19 (1973–74) #15 14,630,200 22.1
20 (1974–75) #28 14,042,500 20.5[32]

Primetime Emmy Award wins and nominations

1955 (presented March 17, 1956)

1956 (presented March 16, 1957)

1957 (presented April 15, 1958)

1958 (presented May 6, 1959)

1965-1966 (presented May 22, 1966)

1967-1968 (presented May 19, 1968)

1969-1970 (presented by June 7, 1970)


All 635 episodes of the television series, and almost all 480 episodes of the radio show, still exist.

In syndication, the entire 20-year run of Gunsmoke is separated into three packages by CBS Television Distribution:

DVD releases

In 2006, as part of Gunsmoke's 50th anniversary on TV, certain selected episodes were released on DVD in three different box sets. Twelve episodes, from 1955 to 1964, were selected for the Gunsmoke: Volume I box set, and another twelve episodes, from 1964 to 1975, were selected for the Gunsmoke: Volume II box set. Both sets are also available as a combined single "Gift Box Set". A third unique DVD box set, known as Gunsmoke: The Directors Collection, was also released with 10 selected episodes from certain seasons throughout the series' 20-year history. All of these box sets are available on Region 1 DVD from Paramount Home Entertainment and CBS DVD.

Additionally, Paramount Home Entertainment and CBS DVD have released the first 12 seasons (seasons one to six are known as the "half-hour years") on DVD in Region 1.

DVD Name Ep # Release Date
The First Season 39 July 17, 2007
The Second Season, Volume 1 20 January 8, 2008
The Second Season, Volume 2 19 May 27, 2008
The Third Season, Volume 1 19 December 9, 2008
The Third Season, Volume 2 20 May 26, 2009
The Fourth Season, Volume 1 19 October 5, 2010
The Fourth Season, Volume 2 20 December 14, 2010
The Fifth Season, Volume 1 20 October 11, 2011
The Fifth Season, Volume 2 19 December 13, 2011
The Sixth Season, Volume 1 19 August 7, 2012
The Sixth Season, Volume 2 19 October 16, 2012
The Seventh Season, Volume 1 17 December 11, 2012
The Seventh Season, Volume 2 17 February 5, 2013
The Eighth Season, Volume 1 19 May 7, 2013
The Eighth Season, Volume 2 19 May 7, 2013
The Ninth Season, Volume 1 18 August 6, 2013
The Ninth Season, Volume 2 18 August 6, 2013
The Tenth Season, Volume 1 18 August 12, 2014
The Tenth Season, Volume 2 18 August 12, 2014
DVD Name Ep # Release Date
The Eleventh Season, Volume 1 16 December 2, 2014
The Eleventh Season, Volume 2 16 December 2, 2014
The Twelfth Season, Volume 1 15 September 20, 2016
The Twelfth Season, Volume 2 14 September 20, 2016

Regular cast; major characters


1963 cast with Burt Reynolds



Notable guest stars

(partial list, alphabetical):
Amanda Blake and Jack Albertson, 1969.
Guest star Bette Davis, 1966.
Guest stars Anne Helm and John Drew Barrymore, 1964.
Arness as Dillon, 1955
Marshall Kent and Ben Gage in famous Maverick spoof "Gun-Shy" (1958)

Gunsmoke had one spin-off series, Dirty Sally, a semi-comedy starring Jeanette Nolan as an old woman and Dack Rambo as a young gunfighter, leaving Dodge City for California in order to pan for gold. The program lasted only thirteen weeks and aired in the first half of 1974, a year before Gunsmoke ended.

Notable directors


The Gunsmoke radio theme song and later TV theme was titled "Old Trails", also known as "Boothill". The Gunsmoke theme was composed by Rex Koury.[45] The original radio version was conducted by Koury. The TV version was thought to have been first conducted by CBS west coast music director Lud Gluskin. The lyrics of the theme, never aired on the radio or television show, were recorded and released by Tex Ritter in 1955. Ritter was backed on that Capitol record by Rex Koury and the radio Gunsmoke orchestra.[46] William Lava composed the original theme music for television, as noted in the program credits.

Other notable composers included:


The Gunsmoke brand was used to endorse numerous products, from cottage cheese[47] to cigarettes.

Lowell Toy Manufacturing Corporation ("It's a Lowell Game") issued Gunsmoke as their game No. 822.[48] Other products include Gunsmoke puzzles,[49]

In 1985, Capcom released a video game for the arcade (and its corresponding game for the NES in 1988) with a Western theme, called Gun.Smoke. Other than the Western theme, the show and game have no relationship whatsoever.[50]



Independent E-book


Reruns and syndication

The program currently airs on three major venues: TV Land, which has carried the show since its inception in 1996, Encore Westerns, and Weigel Broadcasting's MeTV digital subchannel network. Individual stations such as KFWD in Dallas also carry the series in their markets. It has also been shown on satellite channel CBS Action in the UK, Ireland and Poland. The series also appears intermittently on MeTV's themed sister network Decades, which CBS holds a partial interest in; it appears on the schedule depending on the theme and year a particular day has.


  1. Because the show was a "primetime" series, the competition does not include such long-lived shows as Captain Kangaroo (1955–84) and many daytime serials. As a "commercial" series, it cannot be compared to shows such as the PBS program Mister Rogers' Neighborhood (1966–2001). As a "live-action" series, programs such as the adult animated series The Simpsons (1989–) are not included, whose voice-over actors age off-screen. Some foreign countries have broadcast series over a longer duration, but these programs have employed an array of actors in their principal lead roles.


  1. Nicholaus Mills (June 8, 2011). "James Arness, symbol of power with restraint". The Guardian. Retrieved October 10, 2014.
  2. "Gunsmoke (1955 – 1975) Release Info". IMDb. Retrieved October 10, 2014.
  3. See Dunning. p. 305.
  4. Cecil Smith (September 1975). "Gunsmoke". Los Angeles Times.
  5. Dunning, p. 303.
  6. "Matt Dillon's character grew out of Bill Conrad",
  7. 1 2 Dunning, 304.
  8. "Gunsmoke Rehearsals". Internet Archive. Retrieved April 20, 2015.
  9. 1 2 (Dunning, 304)
  10. 1 2 (Dunning, 305)
  11. (Time, 1953)
  12. "Weeks of Prestige". Time. 1953-03-23. p. 106.
  13. Burris, Joe (May 10, 2005). "The Eastern Earps". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved October 20, 2014.
  14. Gunsmoke at the Internet Movie Database
  15. Gunsmoke at the Internet Movie Database
  16. Gunsmoke Museum of Broadcast Communications. Retrieved October 23, 2014
  17. "Taggart police drama axed by ITV". BBC News. Retrieved April 20, 2015.
  18. "What do Frasier (Kelsey Grammer), Matt Dillon (James Arness) and Doc Adams (Milburn Stone) have in common?"
  19. 1 2 Bill O'Hallaren, "When Chester Forgot to Limp and other fond recollections of 20 years on Gunsmoke", TV Guide, August 23, 1975.
  20. "Raymond Burr auditioned for the role of television's Matt Dillon",
  21. John Wayne's introduction of television's first Gunsmoke, September 10, 1955.
  22. Morganalee (November 16, 2010). ""Gunsmoke" Lover Boy (TV Episode 1963)". IMDb. Retrieved April 20, 2015.
  23. dougdoepke (April 30, 2013). ""Gunsmoke" Speak Me Fair (TV Episode 1960)". IMDb. Retrieved April 20, 2015.
  24. "Gunsmoke (TV Series 1955–1975)". IMDb. Retrieved April 20, 2015.
  26. Galen
  27. List of Gunsmoke television episodes
  28. "On radio's Gunsmoke, Doc Adams' real name was Dr. Calvin Moore",
  29. " TV Ratings > 1970's". Retrieved April 20, 2015.
  30. Associated Press, July 2, 2002, Bob Thomas.
  31. James W. Roman, From Daytime to Primetime: The History of American Television Programs, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, Inc., 2005, p. 34. Retrieved June 4, 2010.
  32. " TV Ratings". Retrieved April 20, 2015.
  33. Classic black and white episodes of Gunsmoke at
  34. April 17 – 23, 1993, issue of TV Guide that celebrated the 40th anniversary of television and the best television programs of all time.
  35. "100 Greatest Moments in Television",
  36. "The 100 Greatest TV Shows of All Time",
  37. "CBS's best western",
  38. "The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum",
  39. "Special Collector's Issue: 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time". TV Guide. June 28 – July 4, 1997.
  40. "TV Guide Names Top 50 Shows", TV Guide, May 4, 2002.
  41. TV Guide Magazine's 60 Best Series of All Time
  42. "Today's Dodge City",
  43. "Hopalong Einstein". Retrieved 4 May 2015.
  44. "James Arness' first wife, Virginia",
  45. "The Gunsmoke Theme",
  46. "Tex Ritter sings Gunsmoke",
  47. "Gunsmoke was used to sell cottage cheese",
  48. "Gunsmoke board games",
  49. "Gunsmoke puzzles were popular in 1950s",
  50. "Hardcore Gaming 101: Gun.Smoke". Retrieved 2016-10-19.
  51. 1 2 "". Retrieved April 20, 2015.
  52. Gunsmoke Dell Comic #15, June – July 1959, "Masked Vigilantes".
  53. Gunsmoke Gold Key Comic, February – March 1970, "The Prophet" "The Guilty One"
  54. Gunsmoke Annual 1974, Comic Collection.
  55. Aventura la ley del revolver, Gunsmoke comic book in Spanish, December 1960.
  56. Don Ward, Gunsmoke – Adventures of Marshal Matt Dillon, Ballantine Books, 1957. (Second edition released in 1960.)
  57. S. Newman, Showdown on Front Street, Whitman Books, 1969.
  58. Jackson Flynn, The Renegades, Award Books, 1974.

Additional reading

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