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12 surprising facts about 'Gunsmoke'

Can you imagine Raymond Burr as Marshal Matt Dillon?

Gunsmoke still holds the title as the longest-running dramatic series in network television history, logging a whopping 635 episodes over the span of 20 years. The TV show was based on a radio drama that began in 1952, and reunion movies were made all the way up until 1994.

That's nearly half a century of Gunsmoke in pop culture. Obviously, there are going to be loads of facts and anecdotes about the iconic Western. The series spurred a stampede of small screen Westerns in the 1950s, and gave dozens of future stars an early spotlight as it aired from 1955 to 1975. Everyone from Harrison Ford to Jodie Foster appeared on the show.

It's no wonder Gunsmoke remains a favorite in the MeTV stable. Let's take a look at some fascinating facts about the show — enough to fill two six shooters.

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1

James Arness' war injuries influenced the shooting schedule.

The towering 6'7" Arness was one of the first American soldiers to storm the Italian beach in the Battle of Anzio during WWII. He took machine gun fire to his lower leg and foot, earning the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. The injury nagged the actor for the rest of his life, limiting his time on foot. Thus, scenes involving significant walking were filmed earlier in the day. 

2

All four senior officers from 'Star Trek' appeared on the show.

Yep, you can spot Kirk, Spock, Bones and Scotty in various episodes of Gunsmoke. Leonary Nimoy turns up in four episodes. Not to mention three Brady kids. William Shatner, DeForest Kelley and James Doohan each appear in one episode. Oh, and Brady Bunch fans, three Brady kids (Peter, Jan and Cindy) can be seen in Gunsmoke, too.

3

James Arness and Milburn Stone are the only two actors to appear throughout the entire run.

Arness is the only actor in every episode, as you can see here from appearances in the beginning and end. Milburn Stone, who portrayed Doc, is the only other actor to turn up in all twenty seasons.

4

Raymond Burr and William Conrad were almost cast as Matt Dillon.

A total of 26 actors screen tested for the lead role. William Conrad, who voiced Matt Dillon on the radio program, and Raymond Burr were close to winning the gig, but were both considered too fat to play the role. Producers reportedly yearned to cast John Wayne, who could not be lured from the the silver screen to the boob tube. However, Wayne recommended his pal James Arness, and turned up to introduce the series in the first episode.

5

Gary Busey played the last man killed on the series.

It was a Western that ran for more than 600 episodes, so obviously the body count was fairly high. However, Gary Busey had the honor of being the last to die on the series, as he perishes at the end of "The Busters," the third-to-last episode in the run. He dies after riding a wild horse.

6

The radio series lasted until 1961.

The radio show continued to concurrently run well into the television run. More than 400 radio episodes were produced in total. You can find MP3s of most of them online.

7

The show popularized the idiom "Get the hell out of Dodge."

Ever ponder the source of that saying? Well, Gunsmoke was set in Dodge City. Criminals were often compelled to "get the hell out of Dodge." Teens started mimicking the line, and it stuck.

8

Dennis Weaver was the first actor cast for the show.

The boots of Chester Goode were filled before producers could find its main star. Weaver won an Emmy for the role in 1959, but left the series in 1964.

9

A comic strip ran in the U.K.

In Britain, the show went by the name Gun Law. A daily comic strip of the same title ran in newspapers in the U.K. Gun Law ran in the Daily Express from 1957 to 1978, featuring the wonderfully spot-on art of Harry Bishop.

10

Ken Curtis had replaced Frank Sinatra as the lead singer of a band.

Long before be became the beloved Festus — and before he jumped into the acting profession — Ken Curtis had a successful singing career. In the early 1940s, Frank Sinatra was growing to great fame as the crooner in Tommy Dorsey's band. Sinatra eventually broke away for solo glory. Curtis was the first to fill Sinatra's role in the big band.

11

Gunsmoke caused the death of 'Gilligan's Island.'

Gunsmoke was in danger of being canceled in 1967, as the Saturday night staple slipped out of the Top 30. However, CBS president William Paley was a fan of the series. He gambled and moved the show to an early Monday primetime slot — Mondays at 7:30PM. That was the home of Gilligan's Island, which was given the axe to make room for Gunsmoke. The move worked, as the Western leaped to No. 4 in the ratings.

12

Milburn Stone chose the first name for his character.

For sixteen years, "Doc" Adams went without a first name. Finally, producers allowed the actor to pick a first name to go with that surname. Stone selected the name "Galen," inspired by Claudius "Galen" Galenus, a doctor of great renown in ancient Rome and personal physician to emperor Marcus Aurelius.

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