Gunsmoke's Ken Curtis was destined to be in a Western
Ken Curtis and Festus both knew a thing or two about cattle and horses.
Gunsmoke's Ken Curtis was no stranger to life on a ranch. In fact, Curtis grew up in the country, and much like his character on Gunsmoke, he enjoyed every moment of it.
Curtis played a few different roles on Gunsmoke (Brisco, Frank Eaton, Scout and more), but joined the cast permanently as Festus in season nine, episode 16 in 1964.
He grew up in Colorado, where he lived his first ten years on a ranch. He and his family later moved to Las Animas so that his father could run for sheriff. Playing the role of Festus was like second nature for Curtis, who knew a thing or two about cattle and horses.
Curtis and Gunsmoke's Milburn Stone, who played Doc in the series, would travel the country in the rodeo circuit during their time on the series. They would travel to around 500 shows a year, keeping them busy even during downtime on the series.
In a 1972 interview with The Charlotte Observer, Curtis talked about his time in the rodeo with Gunsmoke co-stars.
"I'm on the rodeo circuit all year round and get a chance to talk to more fans than anybody else," he said.
Curtis and Stone were known as Gunsmoke's goodwill ambassadors, going on the road and putting on a folksy little act at rodeos all over the country. In the 1970s, Curtis began having heart problems. After a heart attack, Curtis took time off from the series and his travels before returning to the show towards the end of its 20-season run.
The rodeo became a great way to meet fans and promote the show, and soon more Gunsmoke cast members would join the team. Others who went along for the ride included: Glenn Strange, Miss Kitty's bartender and Buck Taylor.
Curtis said he wouldn't trade his country roots for anything. Growing up with over 75 cattle really prepares a person for a career in a Western series. He said he learned many life lessons while growing up, most of which he carried with him to Hollywood.
"Honor and politeness, and deep regard for others were prime things," he said. "And everyone is a friend until proven otherwise. That last part got me into a lot of trouble out here until I learned the hard way."
In a 1973 interview with The Daily Advertiser, Curtis said he used most of the money he earned from Gunsmoke to buy land, which was a fitting way to spend it. Curtis seemed dedicated to his Western ways and said the role of Festus was made for him.
"I figure to stay with Gunsmoke as long as I can," he said. "Any actor who leaves a show that has a part that's made for him is foolish."