What Was With "Chester Goode's" Fascination With Eating While on "Gunsmoke"?
Ever find yourself watching classic TV westerns? Gunsmoke, was arguably, my all-time favorite western was Gunsmoke. The cast was a virtual line-up of Who’s Who who helped to shape the Modern TV Western, with stars such as . . .James “Matt Dillon” Arness; Amanda “Kitty Russell” Blake; Ken “Festus Haggen” Curtis; Milburn “Doc Galen Adams” Stone, and Buck “Newly Obrian” Taylor.
In Gunsmoke’s early days, Dennis Weaver was “Chester Goode,” “Dillon’s” chief deputy and when “Goode” moved on to better celluloid deals, in walked, Ken ‘Festus Haggen” Curtis, as “Matt’s” deputy sheriff and “Roger “Thad Green” Ewing-- was The Law when both “Matt” and “Festus” were out of tow. You might also be interested to know that in these early Gunsmoke episodes, we enjoyed watching a very young Burt Reynolds who was cast as “Quint Asper,” as the Dodge City blacksmith and Glenn Strange filled out the cast as “Sam Noonan,” “Kitty’s” most-reliable bartender at the Long Branch Saloon. Many years ahead, who could forget, Pat Hingle, who did a short stint as “Dr John Chapman,” who filled in for “Doc Adams,” when Milburn Stone was having health issues in Real life.
In the earlier black and white Gunsmoke episodes, I would watch the dialogue between "Matt"and "Chester" as they would ride out of Dodge in pursuit of a lawbreaker, or they might find themselves sitting beside a crackling campfire about to devour a prairie chicken or rabbit that one of the duo had killed for their dinner. My point is this: "Matt" was a conscious eater. He only ate once, but "Chester," my stars, for a mostly thin man, this guy knew his way around food. Goode was one of the few TV or film stars who could say their lines with a mouthful of food--Andy Griffith when he had his break-out role of "Will Stockdale," in "No Time For Sergeants," and in one scene, "Stockdale" and his barracks buddies along with "Sgt. King" were sitting having a meal in the Mess Hall.
"King" brags on "Stockdale" to the rest of his pals about how good his eyes are and how great he did on the eye test, but "Stockdale" ate what looked to be slices of turkey and quoted his lines and never missed a beat. Amazing.
And while I'm on food. Why do you think that "Chester," whom we would see eating a huge breakfast with "Matt" and "Kitty" at "Del Monico's" ("Matt paid for all three) and in the scene events, "Chester" and "Matt" have just walked to the jail house and "Chester" is sweeping up the office and he had the gall to say to "Matt": "boy, 'Mister Dillun,' that there grub for breakfast wuz real good--when do you want to have dinner, 'Mister Dillun?'" I tell you. I think that the character, "Chester," must have been afflicted with an eating problem for he was always belly-aching (no pun) about eating or wanting to eat.
TVs Gunsmoke ran from Sept. 10, 1955 to March 31, 1975, on CBS, with 635 total episodes. The writing was, like the acting, ahead of television. Every episode was in word, excellent, with not every episode had a Happily Ever After ending. The scripts were written from a historic viewpoint of the early west. But the writers and producers achieved that delicate balance of real life, (some) comical elements, all surrounded by a serious wrapping that made Gunsmoke one of CBS Television’s program with the richest ad revenue percentages of most all of their progra
In my younger days, I was a self-confessed TV Addict. And Gunsmoke was not immune to the questions that I had when I was enjoying this weekly show. Questions like: where did “Matt Dillon,” Festus,” “Doc,””Kitty,” “Sam,” live? Certainly in the case with “Sam,” the Long Branch Saloon bartender, whom I had my doubts of him having to live (inside) the saloon. And did you ever see “Matt,” “Doc,” and “Festus,” at home? I can tell you that I did see a particular Gunsmoke episode when “Matt” had to go and see “Doc Adams” about someone he had to shoot in a gunfight and when he came to “Doc’s” outside stairs that ran upward to “Doc’ Adam’s” office, he came “Doc,” looking at his pocket watch.
“Matt,” offered some remark about the weather and then “Doc” said, “yeah, ‘Matt,’ it is a nice day. I am sorry to be so late, but a farmer came by my home this morning and wanted to see about me going to where he lived and take care of his wife who was sick,” Did you catch that phrase: “came by my home?” And I know that “Matt” sometimes slept in the jailhouse when he had been working late, but what about “Festus,”where did he live?” It was those little things that I wondered about in Gunsmoke.
“Kitty,” lived upstairs in the Long Branch Saloon—for I did see a Gunsmoke episode when the producers had her and “Matt” inside her room preparing for dinner and he fell asleep for he had been tracking an escaped convict and not slept for over two days. No wonder she felt so depressed each time “Matt” would have to “get up a posse,” as he said many times to get a band of bank robbers who had just robbed a bank in a nearby town.
Inside the Long Branch, we could always count on the regulars relaxing with a cold one or maybe something stronger, but did you ever see “Festus” give “Sam” or “Kitty” a nickel for a cold beer? I never did, but I did witness him quickly accept “Doc,” and sometimes “Matt’s’ offer to give him a tall cold beer when the day was so hot that it didn’t pay to work.
Speaking of pay. How much do you think that “Festus” made for being “Matt’s” Deputy marshall? Couldn’t have been much for if he had to hint about “sure would love a cold beer . . .” then his monthly wages had to be laughable. But with his home situation, don’t you think that maybe he lived in the Dodge House? That place was mentioned and seen a few times on Gunsmoke when a family or salesman had to have “board for the night.”
The owner of the Dodge House was Ma Smalley played by actress Sarah Shelby. This is where I think that “Festus” made himself at home and when it was time to eat, he would walk down the block and there was Delmonico’s, a fine restaurant where all of the cast would be seen at one time or the other eating steak, eggs, bacon, biscuits and coffee—that reminded me of the many times when “Festus” would conveniently just show-up when “Doc” or “Matt” would be tying on the feed bag and then he would “hint” for a freebie-of-a-meal. I can still hear “Festus” say: “Well now, uhhh, ‘Doc,’ that thare bunch of eggs and bacon does look laripain,” and stare at “Doc’s”plate until he caved in and motioned for waiter to come over to get “Festus’” order.
But this doesn’t get me any closer to knowing how much “Festus” was paid each month, once, “Matt” was telling “Festus” about a job opportunity doing the same thingthat he was doing in Dodge City, but in the eastern part of the United States. “this job doesn’t pay that much more, but I could get another vacation,” “Matt” told Festus. “I only draw $43.55 a month, and unless (that) other job pays more more—I might as well stay put,” he said.
But how much did “Festus” make? Would that be too high above any heads of those Gunsmoke Re-runs Watchers? I’d love to know. On one black and white episode, I heard “Chester” confessing to “Matt,” about him (‘Chester’) just getting nearly ten dollars a month, and I can’t see me taking out a girl for eating or dancing.” The wages were cheap reflected by how many hours that “Matt” and “Festus” worked and if they did work per hour, Dodge City would be broke.
Then we now have an additional monetary question about “Haggen.” Do you remember his mode of transportation, “Ruth,” a pretty mule? Well, when “Festus” was in Dodge taking care of the things in the town—leaving “Ruth” to be kept and cared for in the livery stable, did the manager of this business just “give” his services to “Festus?” I do not think so.
That brings me to the rub with “Festus’ pay.” Do you recall when a big cattle drive would be on the way to Dodge City to sell the huge herd of cattle that was going to be loaded on boxcars near the train station somewhere outside of Dodge, I remember the City Elders telling “Matt” to “ease up” on the drovers because as the Elders said, “need some time to kick-up their heels and off steam,” to which “Matt” sharply responded, “yeah, but fun is fun and when one of them gets drunk and starts shooting up the place, they go to jail!”
To which the Dodge City Elders replied, “Marshall Dillon! Do you know how much money these cattle drovers spend here in town and how much our bank gets from the herds that they sell?” “Matt,” just looked angry at the stuffy gents and walked down to the Long Branch to have a drink.
And now we have two “Gunsmoke Controversies”: the question about “Festus’” pay and why was there no law against “Matt,” “Festus” or “Newly” (when he was deputized) drinking while on the job as Deputy sheriff or a just plain deputy? To me, this was always a hypocritical way to live. “Sam,” I seen him hand and pour beer and liquor out to “Kitty” and the rest of the Gunsmoke cast, but “Sam” was the only cast member who did not drink (while in character). You ever notice this?
What about the jail where “Matt,” “Chester,” “Festus,” and “Thad” worked, did you ever see these men ever go behind the jail house to answer Mother Nature’s call? No. Nor did you see any of them running down to the Long Branch to “use the facilities,” in the saloon—and while I am at it, in the many bar room scenes in the Long Branch with all of the beer guzzling, whiskey drinking and gambling, there was not one soul who asked “Sam” where the Little Drover’s Room was or any of the Little Saloon Girls’ room. How about this for a question?
“This” bathroom-usage question has already been answered by Mother Nature herself when “Matt,” “Festus,” or “Thad,” would be hot on the trail to arrest a jail jumper, an escaped prisoner, murderer or gunfighter who had been convicted of murder. If these Dodge City authorities had to travel a long distance and Mother Nature knocked, the outdoors, wide and green answered. No problem.
Just wish it were that simple to find out how much did “Festus” make, and even today, I still do not know the answer to this perplexing question.
---Dec. 31, 2017
© 2018 Kenneth Avery