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.
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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.