Ken Curtis played bad so well that his wife cheered when he got killed in a movie
Festus could play a pretty loathsome villain when needed. Even his wife thought so.
MeTV remembers Eileen Saki, Rosie on M*A*S*H
MeTV Presents the Best of Jan Brady
Andy Griffith tells a story on The Carol Burnett Show!
MeTV Presents the Best of Olivia Walton
It’s Boomers versus Zoomers on Toon In With Me!
Mike Farrell’s real-life wife appears in M*A*S*H as Nurse Able!
Arnold Ziffel goes to Hollywood!
WATCH: MeTV’s exclusive with Tina Cole, star of My Three Sons
Most people know Ken Curtis as the long-standing deputy Festus Haggen in Gunsmoke. While Marshal Matt Dillion had five deputies over two decades, Festus was the one who stuck around the longest, working in Dodge City for eleven years.
Festus is undisputably a colorful character on Gunsmoke with his distinctive twang and turns of phrase — he always had a "passel of things coming out from his tater trap," as he might say. However, Festus, while cantankerous, was one of the good guys. He had a deep sense of wrong and right, and an unshakeable loyalty in his friends.
He could play a heel just fine, though. Just ask his wife!
In 1959, three years before he would join Gunsmoke as Festus (though he did appear in earlier episodes now and then as different characters), Curtis was in a now-cult classic B-movie, The Killer Shrews. The movie, described by Curtis as "surely among the cheapest movies ever made," is infamous for the titular shrews, which in reality, are dogs with some extra fur stuck on them, and look like it.
"We used coon dogs because they run in packs," Curtis said in a 1984 interview with United Press International. "We'd stick a raccoon in a cage up above whatever they were supposed to attack and they'd really go for it."
Every good horror movie needs someone to boo and hiss at, and while the shrews may have a habit of snacking on humans, Curtis' Jerry Farrel is equally, if not more, loathsome. He's bitter, he's jealous, his cowardice leads his fiancé to break off their engagement, and then he threatens leading man James Best over her attention. It's even his fault that the shrews escaped from the lab in the first place.
This being 1959, of course the vindictive Farrel had to face consequences at the end of the film. So — spoiler alert — when Farrel refuses to leave with the rest, he becomes shrew chow himself.
According to Curtis' wife, the movie came on frequently on TV in California, and "I cheer every time he gets killed because he's so bad."
Curtis may have won the nation's heart as Festus, but when he needed to play a villain, even his wife couldn't stand the characters! Now that's a compliment.
Watch Gunsmoke on MeTV!
Monday - Saturday at 1 PM & 1:30 PM*available in most MeTV markets
One day a gimpy lawman, the next an on'ry cuss.
I wish Sven showed the MST3K versions, which are great fun, but perhaps rights are costly.