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.

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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.


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21 Comments

OldRog 7 months ago
Love this flaky flick - dog costumes and all! Ken also played a good guy in a Republic serial that needed a new character name after Disney got the rights to Zorro. Using stock footage and the same Zorro serial costume, Ken played Don Daredevil. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJK10VlWVmY
SusanTammy 12 months ago
This movie is one of my favorites! I am so glad Sven had it on last night. Ken was really good in this, too!
cperrynaples 12 months ago
I'm watching this movie now and it's just as campy as you would expect! Fun Fact: a Sequel was done over 50 years later! James Best returned and somehow Jerry Farrell was back! I assume he was a Junior just like Paul Drake in the PM movies! Bonus Question: Who played Jerry and what '70's horror classic did he star in? Hint: It also featured VERY hungry rodents who weren't played by dogs!
Moverfan 12 months ago
The Killer Shrews...where Festus Haggen loses the girl to Sherriff Roscoe P. Coltraine...there's something wrong in there somewhere...
trogg888 12 months ago
I remember in some of his early work in gs and movies he played a barely recognizable ladies .quite a versatile talent!
dadfav 12 months ago
does anyone remember Festus taking a bath from a water bowl ? wish I knew the Gunsmoke episode to see it again . it is classic Festus
meggcon dadfav 12 months ago
It was in Season 20, episode 15, "The Hiders".
Cowgirl 12 months ago
Ken Curtis was a very talented man. He was a very good actor and had a wonderful singing voice. He was the lead singer for the Sons of the Pioneers for several years & guest starred in several John Wayne movies. Here's the link to him singing Down by the Glenside on Rio Grande https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5jwPVe_sWa8&list=PLnEe01Hx2ZZCpb1NO-TL73Tr-pD8xku7m and singing I'll Take You Home Again Kathleen in the same movie. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BP3M-u75zFo
AgingDisgracefully 12 months ago
Acting!
One day a gimpy lawman, the next an on'ry cuss.
John 12 months ago
Mr. Curtis can also be seen as one of the crew in the Henry Fonda classic, Mr. Roberts.
GaryGoltz 12 months ago
and he was Jim Buckley on Ripcord https://youtu.be/cFOMk5agXoU and a member of Son's of the Pioneers too!
Runeshaper 12 months ago
Ken Curtis was a GREAT man! Very talented.
CaptainDunsel 12 months ago
My ex would have cheered, movie or not.
harlow1313 12 months ago
I am partial to the MST3K treatment of Killer Shrews. My understanding is that Shrews was paired with "The Giant Gila Monster" as drive-in fare upon initial release. I prefer Gila, with its hot rods and hep teens, but both films are quite bad.

I wish Sven showed the MST3K versions, which are great fun, but perhaps rights are costly.
Robertp 12 months ago
Wished he had been in the Gunsmoke movies! They were good but would have been better with Mr Curtis.
Andybandit 12 months ago
Ken Curtis is good in Gunsmoke
cperrynaples 12 months ago
Has this movie even been on Svenghoolie? Sounds like a perfect choice!
rfjindra cperrynaples 12 months ago
It is actually scheduled this weekend, 5/27/23
cperrynaples rfjindra 12 months ago
Just checked! I will record it! Wonder if Sven will do any "evil Festus" jokes...LOL!
harlow1313 12 months ago
In Shrews, the black fellow was as doomed as a red-shirt on Star Trek.
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