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James Arness - Matt Dillon

Updated on November 13, 2016

James Arness - Sheriff Matt Dillon of Gunsmoke

Even today, when I bump into a Gunsmoke re-run, I find myself watching to see how things will turnout in Dodge City or at the Long Branch Saloon. I am still a kid at heart. I grew up on Westerns. In spite of the fighting and shooting, you at least got some type of moral overview. Gunsmoke was great when it came to character studies. There seem to be a story we all could relate to or an outcome that we could at least agree with. If not, occasionally they had something funny from Festus. Today, when I watch, it is fun to see the actors and actresses who, then were very new to the industry, but made it on their own and in some cases stared in their own series.

James Arness seem to really fit the character of Matt Dillon. Six foot seven inches made him an ideal candidate for a western sheriff. After all, would you want to mess with Mr. Dillon? As I think back, he wasn't a man of a lot of words, but his physical stature substituted for the lack of words.

Born May 26, 1923 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He started out with a career as a radio announcer in his hometown in 1945. He served his Country during World War II. Wounded at Anzio, Jim was awarded the Purple Heart.

Jim and his lovely wife Janet are very giving people. Over the years Jim has given his time and personal donations to several non-profit organizations, including ranch acerage to the Brandis Institute; a 60 ft. catamaran name "Sea Smoke" to the Sea Scouts; as well as supporting his favorite charity: the United Cerebral Palsy organization.

James Arness played Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke from 1955 to 1975. He was encouraged to try out for the part when his friend John Wayne turned down the roll. The two men were friends and shared the same birth date, May 26.

Famous Works

Who was first considered for Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke?

William Conrad was considered as he was playing the part on the radio. But his rotund size was a disqualifier. John Wayne was then offered the part. He did not want to do television and suggested to his friend, Jim, that he consider the part.

Did you know, Wayne and Arness made an anticommunism film "Big Jim McLain"

Famous Works

* Credits; Television Appearances; Series

* Matt Dillon, Gunsmoke (also known as Marshall Dillon), CBS, 1955- 75.

* Zeb Macahan, How the West Was Won, ABC, 1978-79.

* Detective Jim McClain, McClain's Law, NBC, 1981-82.

* Credits; Television Appearances; Miniseries

* Zeb Macahan, How the West Was Won, ABC, 1977.

* Credits; Television Appearances; Movies

* Zeb Macahan, The Macahans, ABC, 1976.

* Jim Bowie, The Alamo: Thirteen Days to Glory, NBC, 1987.

* Matt Dillon, Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge, CBS, 1987.

* Tom Dunson, Red River, CBS, 1988.

* Matt Dillon, Gunsmoke: The Last Apache, CBS, 1990.

* Matt Dillon, Gunsmoke: To the Last Man, CBS, 1992.

* Matt Dillon, Gunsmoke: The Long Ride, CBS, 1993.

* Matt Dillon, Gunsmoke: One Man's Justice, CBS, 1994.

Famous Works Continued

Interviews with James Arness

Matt Dillon

Not the way most of us remember it!

Did You Know?

During the battle of Anzio, Arness' right leg was peppered with machine gun bullets, and when the bones were set they didn't mend properly, leaving him with a slight but permanent limp.

I Challenge You To A Duel

Who was the toughest Sheriff?

Just the facts

Standing 6'7" and casting a shadow every bit as impressive as his mentor John 'Duke' Wayne, James Arness burned himself indelibly into the American psyche as Marshall Matt Dillon, Dodge City's straight-shootin' sheriff on the long-running CBS series "Gunsmoke" (1955-1975). Born James Aurness, this older brother of actor Peter Graves (March 18, 1926 - March 14, 2010) was recovering from WWII wounds suffered during the Anzio invasion when he joined a little-theater group, supporting himself as a real estate agent and advertising man....

Trouble strikes us all some time or another: Divorced from first wife, Virginia, Arness took custody of his children. Virginia Arness, attempted suicide twice, in 1959 and in 1960. In 1975, Jenny Arness (daughter) died of an apparently deliberate drug overdose. Two years later, an overdose that police deemed accidental killed her mother (Virginia).

James Arness

Image by Corbis - Brothers: Peter Graves and James Arness

Matt and Kitty

James from another world

Goodbye Cowboy

Arness died of natural causes at his Brentwood home in Los Angeles on June 3, 2011. He is interred at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.

Thanks for Riding By Cowboy

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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Great show!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I watched Gunsmoke as a child for years and years. It was more realistic than most westerns, with characters covered in dirt and grime and nasty teeth. Just like you envisioned someone would look like after riding the range for weeks with no baths. Always loved James Arness as Matt Dillon. he really should have married Miss Kitty though. You just knew they were getting it on, although the show never divulged that.

    • ERiverDogs profile image


      6 years ago

      Thanks for the details about one of the cowboy good guys.

    • Pam Irie profile image

      Pam Irie 

      6 years ago from Land of Aloha

      I always wanted Marshall Dillon and Miss Kitty to get married. :)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Thanks for all the info

    • flinnie lm profile image

      Gloria Freeman 

      6 years ago from Alabama USA

      Hi this is a great lens on my fav cowboy.Loved Gunsmoke....have a lens on it.Thanks for all the info on James Arness.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Returning with a blessing....sweet memories!

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 

      6 years ago from Canada

      Gunsmoke was indeed a true western classic and I think that most of us girls were very fascinated by the love - friendship relationship between Matt Dillon and Kitty.

    • blue22d profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      I agree John Wayne was too big of a star and he didn't want anything to do with TV. But, lucky for Arness. He had a long run and, I believe, he played it well.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      The only thing I would like to mention is that contrary to all the stories that have been told about James Arness and how he earned the role of Marshal Matt Dillion, it was made quite clear in a conversation with writer Norman MacDonnell that John Wayne was told of the character of Matt Dillion but never offered the role. As everyone knows Wayne was to big of a star and why should he take a chance on a thing called television in 1955.

    • Philippians468 profile image


      7 years ago

      this definitely brings back the good ole' times! cheers

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      You sure are stiffing up memories...every Saturday night we headed to Dodge. Wonderfully done!

    • kguru1979 lm profile image

      kguru1979 lm 

      7 years ago

      A good information about a great personality...!

    • norma-holt profile image


      7 years ago

      Guess these old westerns will never really die and they could certainly replace some of the rubbish on todays television stations. Great lens

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Cool lens! I am watching a Gunsmoke rerun as I type this! Great job.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      i am 66, still watching you mat.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Ah bit whatever happen to Chester? "Mr Dillon, Mt Dillon....."

    • Wbisbill LM profile image

      Barbara Isbill 

      8 years ago from New Market Tn 37820

      I grew up on westerns. Gunsmoke was/is my favorite. I invite you to check out my lens on gunsmoke! Thumbs up!

    • blue22d profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Wow, Thanks for the blessing Squid Angel. I am honored to be in such a wonderful class of lenscrafters.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I don't think we ever missed Gunsmoke with James Arness when I was growing up. I didn't know what caused his slight limp. That Margaret Hamilton blooper was funny! Blessed by a Squid Angel today and lensrolled to my Classic TV Westerns lens.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I have started to watch Gunsmoke - almost every evening, and am enjoying getting to know the characters!

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 

      9 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      oh..I love to watch the old westerns and Gunsmoke was one of my favorites. I can remember my Dad always wanting to watch these programs. Thanks for the memories. 5*****

    • kateloving profile image

      Kate Loving Shenk 

      9 years ago from Lancaster PA

      Ohhh, Gunsmoke was certainly a favorite in my household. I loved Kitty, too. I think she represented the oldest female profession, didn't she??

      Great lens--helps us remember the 1950's.

    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image


      9 years ago

      Every Saturday night, Dad would bring home fudgecicles . We watched Gunsmoke and at the beginning, Matt facing some guy he was going to shoot in a draw.

      And dad would call him "Old slack in the pants"!

      5*, and I am going to stumble it, finishing the process so it won't end up in stumble graveyard.

    • LaraineRoses profile image

      Laraine Sims 

      9 years ago from Lake Country, B.C.

      I still watch that show whenever it is rerun. I think watched a couple of James Arness interviews. He is a lovely man.

    • GiftsByDiana profile image

      Diana Burrell-Shipton 

      9 years ago from Hubbard, Ohio, USA

      Oh my how my Grandparents and I would so enjoy watching that show !

      I never realized he was so tall (he would have fit right in with my family) or that he and Peter Graves are brothers.

      I guess it is true, we learn something new everyday ;)

      Organically Yours,



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