Ken Curtis based Festus on a stinky ol' drunk named Cedar Jack

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!

Inspiration has to come from somewhere, right? Especially if you're a sophisticated, soft-spoken man tasked with embodying all the filth of the old West. 

Ken Curtis wasn't much like his onscreen character Festus. Sure, he kept up a good stink even while he wasn't on the Gunsmoke set. But for the most part, he was acting hard to create a believable persona that was different from who he was. While in real life, Curtis was given to cleanliness and neatness, on Gunsmoke, the role he played was far from tidy. 

So, what did he base that smelly Festus guy on, and who deserves the credit? Luckily for fans, Curtis spoke with The Daily Times-News in June of 1970 about Cedar Jack, an old alcoholic and the creative well from which Curtis supped.

"A few miles out of Las Animas," Curtis said, evoking his hometown, "were the cedar brakes. Old Jack would go out into the brakes and cut down cedar trees for fence posts. He'd stay out a few months and load up his mule-drawn wagon with these cedar posts."

Now, working out in the woods for months at a time would build up enough stench by itself, but the fact that Jack spent his time with a mule is a nice, ripe detail.

"Then," Curtis continued, "he'd come into town and that's when us boys would all see him. He'd sell his posts and take the money and get roaring drunk. And he'd spend all his money in a couple days and then go back out to the cedar brakes again.

"Well, about 10 years ago, I was called on to play a character named Monk on Have Gun, Will Travel. And I modeled Monk after Cedar Jack. Festus is the same character."

Some folks say that if you wander out to the cedar brakes and stay real, real quiet, you can still smell old Cedar Jack and his mule to this very day.

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4 Comments

ironman2000 1 month ago
You can make characters up like Festus Hagen, there has to be some person as an inspiration to fall back on like Cedar Jack and his mule. Great story to hear, from a great actor and performer.
Jeffrey 1 month ago
Well, that's nice to know, even though I only believe about half of it.
LoveMETV22 Jeffrey 1 month ago
Guess you're not the only "Jeffrey" on these blogs/ threads/ or w/e one wishes to call them:

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However that gentleman doesn't seem to resemble any celebrities. You have that distinct honor.:

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