James Arness said there was "no comparison" between Marshal Matt Dillon and himself

The actor got candid about his Gunsmoke character.

It's a tough life for an on-screen peacekeeper like Marshal Matt Dillon. It seems like in every episode, something new is going wrong in Dodge, and it's up to the Marshal to try his best to fix it. Still, with an actor like James Arness who brought humanity and tolerance to the Gunsmoke role, it's no wonder that many fans idolized the character.

However, Arness himself never had any fantasies that the fortitude and bravery of Marshal Dillon were autobiographical. 

In an interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Arness explained, "As for the issue of the on-screen personality and the real person, there's no comparison, no way. I couldn't hold down the job of a U.S. Marshal for a week."

Granted, Arness had played Dillon for so long that despite not being the character's twin, he had a better understanding of who the character was than the average Gunsmoke fan. Still, Arness stated that the role was not without its challenges and said, "You might think playing the same character all these years must be a piece of cake, but if you look at it from the standpoint of reality, it is always a mountain to climb."

However, while Arness acknowledged that he wasn't Marshal Dillon, it didn't mean that James Arness was without merit. John Mantley, a writer and producer on Gunsmoke, spoke very highly of the actor, and said, "He has less ego than any man I know. He has always been that way." Mantley was also quick to insinuate that it was the goodness of Arness and his fellow castmates that contributed to the perseverance of the series.

Manley stated, "In fact, perhaps more than anything else, the thing that has given the show longevity is the absolute unselfishness of the actors who portrayed the various parts."

So while he's made it clear that he's no Matt Dillon, we stand to think that just being good old James Arness is pretty great on its own.

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6 Comments

latats 6 months ago
Gunsmoke is my favorite western. I never miss an episode.
Runeshaper 6 months ago
John Mantley's statement really says a lot about the cast (-:
GatorMike 6 months ago
My understanding is that James Arness was a wounded war hero in World War II and his modesty was talking. At a time when the average height for men was around 5’4”, Wild Bill Hickok was considered a giant at 6’2”. Other than his peerless capability with Colt Navy revolvers, one of the reasons Hickok was so imposing and effective as a law enforcement officer was his size. At 6’7”, James Arness made Wild Bill looks like a little guy. He could have handled the job.
nerstrand 6 months ago
That's how Minnesota people are, very humble.
WesternWoman nerstrand 6 months ago
I'm moving to Minnesota soon and glad to hear this. I've also heard the people are very nice. And everyone I've talked to on the phone so far have been.
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