Buck Taylor made Gunsmoke better than the radio show, according to producer John Mantley

"...the one element that seemed to be missing from that cross-section."

CBS Television Distribution

Adaptations are a tricky business. Too frequently,  something special is lost in the process when a concept hops from one medium to another. This is particularly true of radio-to-TV reworkings. Because radio programs rely on the mind's eye, we create and bond with our ideas of each character and what they look like. In that way, radio is the most intimate medium. We use our imaginations and fill in all the blanks. 

Gunsmoke existed for years on the radio before it premiered on TV. While the radio version continued to air, the televised version quickly eclipsed its predecessor in popularity. Now, granted, this coincided with TV's growth as a commodity; more households were buying television as the country became more excited about this new source of entertainment. While this certainly contributed to Gunsmoke's success on CBS, producer John Mantley explained how the addition of one character made the TV show the definitive version.

"I've had a lot of time to think about what made Gunsmoke so uniquely successful for so many years," Mantley wrote in Gunsmoke Years: The Behind-the-Scenes Story

He explained that the character archetypes created an interesting cross-section of humanity.

There's Marshall Dillon, who Mantley describes as "the benevolent dictator," holding life and death in balance with his trusty sidearm. Doc, too, possessed the power of life and death with his scalpel. Then, Mantley describes Miss Kitty as "the Earth-mother to all men." Finally, there's the court jester, played first by Dennis Weaver and then later by Ken Curtis.  

"The only thing we tried to do, and which I think we succeeded in at the end [...] was to add the one element that seemed to be missing from that cross-section. That was the young man who learned from the older. So we brought in Buck Taylor as Newly O'Brien, who was a gunsmith and then began to read medicine under Doc. Eventually, in the two-hour show, he turned out to be the Marshal."

By adding this one additional character, Gunsmoke's creators allowed for an additional type of character in their stories. This young man, Newly O'Brien, created an interesting contrast with the other characters on the show. Mantley suggests that the Newly O'Brien character made the show even better than the radio version, and we agree. 

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3 Comments

Runeshaper 19 days ago
Very insightful and interesting!
GOOSEYGOOSE9 20 days ago
I liked Chester better than festus.
Kaydee GOOSEYGOOSE9 19 days ago
The character of Chester was a bumbling idiot. I was glad that he left Gunsmoke, Dennis Weaver's Chester was unbearable at times., The character of Festus was irritating at times as well but I recall an episode where Chester was sweeping the Marshall's office with the door closed and the dirt and dust clouded the office and Marshall Dillon came in the office and almost choked to death. The producers made Dennis weaver look like a complete fool, Festus has the edge over Chester in my opinion.
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