8 things you might not know about the Gunsmoke finale

The cancelation took everyone by surprise.

Image: The Everett Collection

You would think that the longest-running Western in television would go out in a blaze of glory. Nope. After 20 seasons on air, Gunsmoke simply disappeared from the schedule. Alas, there was no fanfare, no fond farewell, no spelling "Goodbye" with rocks as Marshal Matt Dillon rode off into the sunset.

Instead, the final episode of Gunsmoke to air was "The Sharecroppers," the 635th tale of that classic Dodge City show. It was a lighthearted episode, mostly centered around Festus (Ken Curtis). Still, there are some interesting behind-the-scenes facts surround its creation.

As we celebrate the 45th anniversary of this humble adios, let's dive deep into "The Sharecroppers."

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1. It was the final screen appearance of Milburn Stone.

The end of Gunsmoke was not the end of Matt Dillion. James Arness and Amanda Blake would reunite as the Marshal and Miss Kitty for the TV movie Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge in 1987. Four made-for-TV sequels followed, concluding with Gunsmoke: One Man's Justice in 1994. However, "The Sharecroppers" was the end of the ride for some Gunsmoke characters. Milburn Stone, the only actor besides Arness to appear in all 20 seasons, made his final turn as Doc on March 31, 1975. It would be his last screen role. Stone passed away in 1980 at the age of 75.

2. There was a pro wrestler in the episode.

Ted Christy had been grappling in the ring since the 1930s, having won the World Light Heavyweight Title in 1936. He formed a tag-team duo with his brother Vic Christy — and used his charisma to land acting roles. One of his earliest notable appearances was on The Twilight Zone, seen here, in the episode "What's in the Box?" In the 1960s and '70s, he frequently turned up as an uncredited "Townsman" in TV Westerns. He made around 20 appearances on Gunsmoke. See if you can spot him in "The Sharecroppers."

3. CBS tried to cancel the show years earlier.

Thank the fans for the later seasons. In April 1975, the Associated Press sensationally wrote, "CBS has done something Indians, bad guys, bad whisky and not even CBS could do earlier: Kill off U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon. The move will put James Arness… on the unemployment rolls. A few years ago CBS tried to remove the show but was met by such audience protest that the network had to renew the series." Of course, Arness was hardly "unemployed" for long.

Image: The Everett Collection

4. The cast and crew found out at the last minute

As chronicled in David R. Greenland's book The Gunsmoke Chronicles: A New History of Television's Greatest Western, the cancelation took everyone by surprise. "All of us were ready… for one more season of Gunsmoke," Arness recalled. "CBS had led us downstream and then, when we were down to the wire, they dropped the ax." Series producer John Mantley found out his show had been canceled via the front page of The Hollywood Reporter, Arness explained in an interview with the Archive of American Television. Critics deemed the show and its audience as "too old, too rural."

Image: The Everett Collection

5. Amanda Blake was not happy about it.

Remember, Amanda Blake had left the show following its 19th season. She was not involved with the final season and "The Sharecroppers" in any way. Nevertheless, she took offense to how the network suits treated the show. "Amanda Blake was in New York shortly after the series was canceled," Greenland wrote in his The Gunsmoke Chronicles, "Riding past CBS headquarters, she remarked, 'I think I'll go in there and hit [CBS president] Bill Paley over the head with a brickbat.'"

Image: The Everett Collection

6. "Hard Labor" was the last episode filmed.

Like most shows, Gunsmoke did not air its episodes in production order. Thus, "Hard Labor," episode 20 of season 20, was the final story shot for the series.

7. It was Bruce Boxleitner's fourth television episode ever.

Bruce Boxleitner became a major star of the Eighties thanks to Tron and Scarecrow and Mrs. King. In the mid-'70s, he was just getting started. Following appearances on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Hawaii Five-O, he made his fourth guest spot on an episodic television series with Gunsmoke. He must have clicked with James Arness — the two would soon co-star together in How the West Was Won.

8. Production on How the West Was Won began "days later."

James Arness and John Mantley did not wait long to switch saddles. MGM approached the star and writer-producer to helm a television reboot of the 1962 film How the West Was Won. Originally intended to be a miniseries, How the West Was Won the series ended up running for three successful seasons. "We were off and running on that show within days, actually, of cancelation of Gunsmoke," Arness explained to the Archive of American Television.

Image: The Everett Collection

SEE MORE: 12 surprising facts about 'Gunsmoke'

Can you imagine Raymond Burr as Marshal Matt Dillon? READ MORE

 
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swog85 1 month ago
Gunsmoke portrayed Matt's attitude toward Indian tribes as far more fair minded than most of his counterparts were willing to do during that era on screen, particularly earlier on. There were stories that portrayed interracial situations between Native American tribal people and Euro-American people that worked well except from those who had no part in the matter other than a topic to be gossiped about. I found that to be realistic about attitudes. I love how Miss Kitty was portrayed. Even in the mid 1950's, when the program first went on television, Kitty was a woman far ahead of her time. Miss Kitty took no guff from guys, as a rule! As for Festus, whom I loved, I was always a bigger fan of Chester, but they each had their humorous, loveable and heroic personalities!!
mmyers74 3 months ago
Can’t get enough of Gunsmoke; epic, really
hoopers56 4 months ago
I still watch Gunsmoke reruns every day and I love it. I record the ones I can’t watch when it’s actually on.
Trish 5 months ago
I watch Gunsmoke everytime it's on and I know the outcome before it ends. LOL I wish there was a writer who could start writing a continuing Gunsmoke picking up were it last left off leaving out all the big expensive seens producers think the public wants. Just a good old fashioned 2020 Gunsmoke with actors who can fill the shoes of the past. If only the producers could see how much the public likes western movies and even the popular shows like Yellowstone, (leaving out the language, and nudity), The Cowboy Way Alabama. Most of us have seat at the edge of our couch awaiting for a year for another serious of Yellowstone and the Cowboy Way instead of another Western / Cowboy, Cowgirl show to come on once they finish their series each year. The public likes those shows along with the repeats from shows if 1955 and eariler.
Audie 7 months ago
Now that me TV has aired the last episode of Gunsmoke Are they going to start The series From the beginning again With John Wayne introducing the series or Are they going To take gunsmoke off (gasp) and Replace it with how the west was won The next series that James Arness was in. Or They could Run the spin off of gunsmoke.............Dirty Sally
moax429 Audie 7 months ago
Relax about "How the West Was Won." That show is in the hands of Turner Entertainment Co./Warner Bros., so I *don't* think MeTV will be purchasing and airing that one soon (it'd most likely be run on one of Turner's networks).

As for "Dirty Sally" - *yes,* it'd be great to see that show again. It is one of my all-time favorites, despite the fact there were only about 13 or so episodes made. Why didn't CBS Television Distribution include the reruns in the "Gunsmoke" package, or why doesn't CBS/Paramount Home Entertainment release a DVD box set of the entire series? I'd buy it in two minutes flat (my favorite episodes of "Dirty Sally" were the pilot, "Honk 'Em, Squonk 'Em, Get the Wampum," and the finale, "The Hanging of Cyrus Pike").
Tresix 7 months ago
Arness and Boxleitner also reunited in the “Red River” remake.
erniebabs 7 months ago
Never forget that watching classic TV while ingesting beer and baked beans can give you bad gas,... and make you view TV alone! Which might not be such a bad thing afterall!
denny 7 months ago
Supposedly Gunsmoke was supposed to be canceled in the 60s, but they canceled Gilligan's Island instead.
James 7 months ago
I still watch its my favorite show and the Virginian also
Illini72 7 months ago
CBS did this to many shows. Gunsmoke deserved better. Still a classy show as it always was.
moax429 Illini72 7 months ago
Agreed.

I remember my father (may he rest in peace) was especially livid once he read about "Gunsmoke"'s cancellation. And when he saw what the #1 show in the ratings was that week (I believe I related this before), he sarcastically said, "Well, I see 'Maude' headed the popularity list!"
Tori 7 months ago
I love gunsmoke I watch it every day for a year and a half best show ever. And I could watch it forever so sad that it ended. Wish I could have met and told every single one of them how great they were and how much we enjoyed watching them everyday. Miss ya Matt,Kitty,Festus,Quint ,Newly Doc,Sam,Louie,ThadJonas Mr Botkin& of course Moss & telegraph guy & everyone else
SoCalNative 7 months ago
Loved Gunsmoke, got to see one of my favorite actors in it for the first time, Burt Reynolds. Wish John Wayne had done an episode.
Elvis 7 months ago
THE BIG VALLEY WOW MAGNIFICENT SHOWS...
Elvis 7 months ago
GUNSMOKE WAS ONE OF THE BEST WESTERNS I EVER LAID EYES ON ALSO THE RIFLEMAN, BONANZA ETC.
scottygirl 7 months ago
When we were kids we used to challenge Matt Dillion to the draw lol
Wendy 7 months ago
I just really enjoy me Tv.
Jeffrey 7 months ago
I have never seen or heard of the last episode of ''Gunsmoke''. But maybe I will this Saturday.
OldTVfanatic 7 months ago
Don’t forget Bruce Boxleitner’s run on Babylon 5 in the late 1990s.
srrainwater 7 months ago
Black day in my household. I had to do my homework to ease my pain 😫
birddog srrainwater 7 months ago
I lost the last few years of my beloved Gunsmoke! A little thing came up- called Vietnam RR. Thanks to Me TV I will get another chance :))
denny birddog 7 months ago
The last remaining American troops withdrew from Vietnam on March 29, 1973. Still 2 years of Gunsmoke airings.
birddog denny 7 months ago
Hey actually got out in 1971, Drafted out of High school!! Sure hope U served!! When you return from a Hell like Nam, the least thing a person is thinking of, is Dodge City. And that's all I got to say about that.
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