9 Gunsmoke actors who were born after the show was already on the air
The show lasted so long, kids who were born when it started acted in Dodge City years later — sometimes as teenagers!
Apart from a decade-spanning soap opera, the idea that someone could be born after a show already started and then grow up enough to act on that same show 10, 12 even 15 years later is inconceivable for most series. But as classic TV fans know, Gunsmoke is not most series.
The iconic Western aired 20 seasons over two decades from 1955-1975. We’ve highlighted historical things that lasted less time than the show and even pondered how long it would take to watch every episode back to back.
Here are nine actors born after Gunsmoke premiered — sometimes well after it lasted longer than many of its Western counterparts — who also appeared on the show years later.
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1. Jodie Foster
Gunsmoke was already seven years in when this future Oscar-winner was born in 1962. Foster first appeared in Dodge City at the very beginning of her career, in the 1969 episode “Roots of Fear.” Two years later she was in “P.S. Murray Christmas” and the year after that “The Predators,” pictured here. Her Christmas episode is a fan-favorite and includes many other child stars like Erin Moran before she became Joanie Cunningham in Happy Days and Willie Ames, who played Tommy Bradford in Eight is Enough.
2. Johnny Whitaker
Johnny Whitaker was born in 1959 during Gunsmoke’s fifth season. He appeared in three episodes in the late Sixties and early Seventies, right in the middle of his time as Jody in the sitcom Family Affair. Whitaker’s first Gunsmoke outing was “The Returning” followed by the two-part story, pictured here, “Waste.” The latter also featured Ellen Burstyn just a few years before she won her Oscar for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.
3. Clint Howard
Though Ron Howard appeared in the Gunsmoke episode “Charlie Noon,” he was born in 1954 — a year before the show started. His brother Clint, however, was born five years later, well after the classic Western became a hit. Clint appeared in the season 16 episode “Murdoch” alongside prolific character actor Jack Elam.
4. Susan Olsen
Three Brady kids appeared on Gunsmoke and all were born after the show started. Christopher Knight had a small role as a young boy in “The Miracle Man” while Eve Plumb played Sue, a girl learning her letters alongside Festus in “Goldtown.” But Susan Olsen actually had a recurring character on the classic Western, or at least played the same girl in two episodes a year apart. She was Marianne, who lived with her mother, Abelia, in Dodge City. Festus helped heal Marianne after a snake bite in “Abelia” (seen here) then the mother and daughter appeared again in “A Man Called Smith.”
5. Dawn Lyn
Dawn Lyn and her older brother Leif Garrett were born in the early Sixties, when Gunsmoke had already aired more seasons than many Westerns at the time. But the show lasted so long the two child stars played siblings a decade later in the season 18 Gunsmoke episode “The Sodbusters.” The episode also featured the first of two Dodge City appearances by Han Solo himself Harrison Ford.
6. Pamelyn Ferdin
Classic TV fans no doubt recognize Pamelyn Ferdin from her many guest parts in shows like The Andy Griffith Show, Green Acres and Star Trek. She was born during Gunsmoke’s fourth season then appeared almost ten years later in the episode “The Money Story.” The plot revolves around a poor widower and his two kids. When their father can’t get a bank loan, the children, with the help of a distracting dog, take a bag full of money from the bank.
7. Lance Kerwin
Though Lance Kerwin was born at the beginning of Gunsmoke’s sixth season, he was still able to appear on the show 15 years later in one of the last episodes. He played Tommy Harker, a boy whose education is interrupted by a stern father who believes his son is better off working on the farm. It’s a touching episode about the importance of education and exemplifies Gunsmoke’s quality even after 20 seasons.
8. Melissa Gilbert
Gunsmoke was already nine seasons in when Melissa Gilbert was born. Eight years later it provided Gilbert her first foray into TV’s Old West and her first credited role. She played the daughter of a drunk in the episode “The Judgement” two years before starring with Michael Landon in Little House on the Prairie.
9. Ike Eisenmann
Seventies child star Ike Eisenmann was born well into Gunsmoke’s run in 1962 then appeared on the show in his first-ever role ten years later. He played three different kids on Gunsmoke in as many years. He was Susan Oliver’s son in “Eleven Dollars,” Johnny, whose governess marries Newly in “Patricia” and a boy named Caleb in the season 19 episode “The Town Tamers.”
I particularly enjoy Mr. Barlow (so Nosferatu in appearance) and Mr. Straker (the dry and smug James Mason).