Before he was Marshal Dillon, James Arness was the terrorizing ''giant carrot'' in The Thing

Was Arness truly ashamed of his role as the Thing? Not so, according to the man himself.

Read to Me

Electric blankets come with warning labels. However, one thing you will not find on there is "Do Not Thaw Out Frozen Alien Creatures." That's just what happens in one of the landmark horror films of the 1950s — and one of the most influential sci-fi movies of all time.

These days 1951's The Thing from Another World is commonly shortened to just The Thing, mostly thanks to the spectacularly unsettling remake from the mind of John Carpenter that arrived in 1982. The two versions of The Thing have their differences — the original was in the Arctic, the Kurt Russell version was in Antarctica — especially the gore levels. But at heart, they are the same tale. Scientists discover an alien being trapped in the ice and unleash it on an unprepared polar station.

And, yeah, in the original, the alien is a giant Frankenstein's monster-like behemoth played by James Arness. Who is unleashed thanks to an electric blanket.

You can find many sources reporting how Arness found the role embarrassing. The film's IMDb page spouts trivia like this: "James Arness reportedly regarded his role as so embarrassing, that he didn't attend the premiere," and "James Arness complained that his 'Thing' costume made him look like a giant carrot."

But the man himself sang a different tune. Sure, it's possible the Gunsmoke star softened in his old age. It's easy to fondly recall your formative years after decades of Hollywood success.

In a 2006 interview, the Western icon looked back on his role as the "Thing" with a smile:

"Well, it's always with me. But it was great. I was at the stage where I was trying to get any job I could, (and) that thing came along," he said. "I wasn't going to turn that down."

Around the same time, when the former Marshal Matt Dillon was in his Eighties, he denied thinking negatively on the role. He actually credited the movie for kickstarting his career. Nobody wanted to cast him because he was so tall — a towering 6' 7".

"Not true!" Arness said about the rumors he loathed his Thing role. "I started in movies in 1946, and lost a lot of parts because of my height. When Howard Hawks put me in The Thing, it was a great break for me at the time, because I was struggling to get any kind of job whatsoever, and that picture got a tremendous amount of publicity… and got me other work afterward," he told the Herald-Tribune.

As for the "carrot" description of the alien beast, well, that's straight from the script. Don't blame Arness for that. "An intellectual carrot! The mind boggles," a scientist declares in a famous scene. Hey, it could have been worse. He could have looked like this.

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WhiteRook 4 months ago
In the first "Halloween" movie late at night the kids are watching "The Thing" on the tv in their living room. That makes this movie even more scary.
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Stoney 4 months ago
Absolutely love that movie!
Barry22 4 months ago
A great movie. One thing about the movie always bothered me. If 'The Thing' is intelligent, why does he run around growling like a wild animal?
Sway 4 months ago
Did they use a Frankenstein mold for the head? Anyway, you can still make out his handsome face.
DethBiz 4 months ago
Marshall Matt Dillon was in two of my favorite sci-fi movies of that era...The Thing from Another World and Them. I wish Svengoolie would have on the sci-fi movie with his brother Peter Graves...It Conquered the Word. I haven't seen it in ages.
Pacificsun 4 months ago
A LOT of very successful actors took initial roles as someone (or thing) that would become embarrassing later on. (As mentioned below, Michael Landon, of course Steve McQueen, and Robert Vaughn come to mind). But I'm sure there are many, many others. In the day, work was work!
Michael Landon had fun with being a teenage werewolf. He didn't seem to mind it being brought up. Case in point, remember the spoof he did on his character on Highway To Heaven? Come to think of it: he might have also given a nod and a wink to it in that Little House On the Prairie episode, where Laura helps Albert become a werewolf to scare off this highly destructive, {I do believe he was,}bully at school. But Carrie comes out and spoils their fun, because she's having problems with baby Grace. She asks why is Albert dressed like that?
CelticTwilight 4 months ago
We also have a brief warning for you regarding this Saturday’s movie- “The Thing from Another World”. Just this once- we want you to NOT reveal who plays the Thing in this film.

Our commenters often unfortunately offer spoilers, and some viewers also contend that I sometimes give away too much information about the movies- but, we’ve learned that, even though so many of us are familiar with the films- every week there are people who have never seen the movie before! So, just for this week ( or unless we ask you again in the future)- PLEASE do not mention who plays the monster. We’ll reveal it at the end of the show. We know people could find it out elsewhere, but please obey this for this week. That includes not mentioning it on the blog comments until the show has aired in all time zones. Maybe wait until Sunday!

The administrator does not want to have to ride herd on the blog this holiday weekend, delete comments or ban anyone.

Thank you ( see? Thanksgiving already!) for playing along- and have a great holiday! And- make sure you come check out our store on Black Friday!
Pacificsun CelticTwilight 4 months ago

The title of your Post is this:

"Was Arness truly ashamed of his role as the Thing? Not so, according to the man himself."
Submitted November 28, 2020, 9:00PM By MeTV Staff

(So you ARE kidding right, since you JUST posted this comment 1 hour ago, Nov. 29, 20).
Barry22 CelticTwilight 4 months ago
The movie is almost 70 years old. I think people know who played 'The Thing'.
justjeff 4 months ago
Here's a link to a YouTube page with a wonderful rendition of the "Gunsmoke" theme in the style of the old time radio broadcasts...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mz69amVjd54
justjeff 4 months ago
Arness was able to win the role of Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke, because the producers thought William Conrad was "too short, fat and bald" to be taken seriously as the sheriff of Dodge City, despite having originated the role on radio. (In the pilot story he was referred to as Mark Dillion, not Matt.)

However, you can find on the web a publicity photo for the radio show, and the cast [decked out in Old West attire] actually look perfect for their parts. William Conrad was Matt Dillon, Parley Baer was Chester, Howard McNear was Doc and Georgia Ellis was Kitty.

Conrad's Stentorian voice would suit him well as the opening narrator for "The Fugitive" (and other Quinn Martin productions), and (of course) he ended up with starring roles in "Cannon" and "Jake and the Fat Man".

As "Bill Conrad" he was the enthusiastic narrator on "Rocky and Bullwinkle".

It's said that because of his 6'7" height, trenches were dug so Arness could walk alongside another actor in a shot and not tower over that actor...

justjeff justjeff 4 months ago
I should add that if you can, check out some of the old time radio shows of "Gunsmoke". Conrad had a *great* opening narration... "i'm that man, Matt Dillon... the first man they look for, and the last they want to meet. It's a chancy job, and it makes a man watchful... and a little lonely."

Even the "Gunsmoke" theme by Rex Khoury ("Old Trail" aka: "Boot Hill") sounds better than the TV version.
dmagoon 4 months ago
James Arness looked more like a Kanamit than the "carrot" in "Lost in Space"'s "The Great Vegetable Rebellion"
Hogansucks1 4 months ago
“An intellectual carrot” is a lot better than SOME of the other choices of vegetables I can think of, that Would have ruined his career. 🤣. Great movie/ movies and plot !
OldTVfanatic Hogansucks1 4 months ago
I take it you’ve also seen the 1982 version.
Hogansucks1 OldTVfanatic 4 months ago
Oh Yes, many, many times ! But always wondered, where the heck did they get all that Thermite ? A remake with Kurt 40 years after, with a good plot follow up. I Wonder if he would take the roll again ?
OldTVfanatic Hogansucks1 4 months ago
I don’t think Kurt would reprise the role again. Not without John Carpenter, but the newly announced reboot might not be a good idea given today’s climate. Of course, the 1982 rendition’s timing wasn’t great either.
jmarley0608 4 months ago
I always enjoy the 1951 version (have it on disc). Pay attention to the final scene where the airman
tosses the axe to put The Thing back on track. Some how the axe changes position at its final
resting place.
Hogansucks1 jmarley0608 4 months ago
Those damn stunt double Axes 🪓, 😬
daDoctah 4 months ago
I hear tell that Michael Landon was less philosophical about his role in "I Was a Teenage Werewolf".
LittleMissNoName 4 months ago
If any METV staffers reads the comment section, pleasr tell Svengoolie I said thanks for showing this classic movie tonight. It's one I have been wanting to see again for a long time.
You can write to Svengoolie. He answers his own fan mail (or at least he did mine!).
OldTVfanatic 4 months ago
For the record regarding The Thing, it was only because of the original 1938 novella’s content that Howard Hawks and RKO toned down the creature’s looks because of standard and practices in effect at the time. Only in late 1981, early 1982 did The Thing retain its original, albeit highly nauseating appearance courtesy of John Carpenter, Rob Bottin, Stan Winston, et al.
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