Gunsmoke's Milburn Stone found medical mistakes in the first season
He wasn't a real doctor, but he could still give great medical advice.
Who is television's most experienced doctor? Some might say it was a character from M*A*S*H, or Dr. Leonard McCoy on Star Trek, but according to Milburn Stone, you're wrong.
Stone, who played the role of Doc on Gunsmoke, was a bullet-removing specialist in Dodge City for all of its 20 seasons.
In a 1964 interview with Asbury Park Press, Stone said his interest in medicine started when an incident occured during Gunsmoke's first season.
Following the script in front of him, Stone referred to the components of the human bloodstream. Unfortunately, what was described in the script had almost nothing to do with the human body and the bloodstream.
"Within a few weeks, I recieved hundreds of letters from doctors," he said. "It burned me up because I figured the writer had researched the darned thing. As it turned out, he hadn't."
So, Milburn decided to do his own research of the medical references in Gunsmoke. This research included purchasing textbooks on anatomy, a medical glossary, a book on surgery and more.
At the time of this interview, Stone said there were not many other actors who knew as much about the human body as he did. Throughout the first season, Stone kept finding medical mistakes in the Gunsmoke scripts... and he kept fixing them.
Over the course of the season, the rest of the Gunsmoke cast and crew knew there was no correcting Stone. He was the Doc anyway.
In May of 1963, Stone's medical knowledge was put to the test when he was a guest of honor at a cocktail party hosted by the Board of Medical Examiners of Fort Smith, Arkansas. He said he "talked shop" with them for several hours. He was made an honorary member of the board.
Stone said he would recieve many letters from fans who would ask a variety of questions and demand advice from a doctor.
"Even after 10 years, these letters shock me," he said. "These people honestly expect, me an actor, to cure their ailments by mail. I always write back, 'You'd better hurry up and see a doctor. I mean a real doctor.'"
However, one letter did grab his attention. A woman wrote to Stone and said that she was disgusted when he would pick his teeth as Doc in Gunsmoke.
"Let's face it, that was in the days before toothpaste and electric brushes," he said. "But when I thought about it, I decided maybe 100 percent accuracy was too much of a good thing. This season, Doc won't pick his teeth the way he used to."
Stone remained in the role of Doc until Gunsmoke's very last season. Doc was always on-call it seemed, both outside of work and in it. He would go on to be one of the most knowledgeable doctors in the Old West.