Ken Curtis said Festus had more to offer Gunsmoke than Chester Goode

"Chester was always whining along behind Matt," Curtis joked.

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Ken Curtis fans will tell you that the Gunsmoke episode "Hard Luck Henry" is one of the funniest ones focused on Festus.

In this 13th-season episode, the audience meets more of Festus' extended family, with the delightful twist being that he's the brains of the whole bunch. It's one of those rare hours in the Gunsmoke run where Marshal Matt Dillon is hardly around. Rarer yet, you hardly miss him. You're laughing too hard at what Festus and his family get into.

When Curtis joined Gunsmoke after Dennis Weaver's exit, he knew he had some big shoes to fill. He told the Daily Advertiser in 1971 that for a long time, he was worried his Festus wouldn't ever truly replace Weaver's character, Chester Goode, and would always be viewed as a lesser substitute.

But episodes like "Hard Luck Henry" proved to Curtis that Festus actually had a wider range and could do more for the show than Chester ever could — because he realized Festus could carry an entire episode if you needed him to.

"He does things on his own, while Chester was always whining along behind Matt," Curtis joked.

To build out this iconic character as he was written into the Gunsmoke universe, the story goes that Curtis actually arrived at his audition with his idea of how to portray the character fully formed from previous work the actor did on Have Gun – Will Travel.

On Have Gun – Will Travel, Curtis played a character named Monk, a pelt scavenger, for a couple of episodes. According to Curtis, "Festus is the same character."

Curtis as Monk on 'Have Gun - Will Travel'

Describing Monk during his interview with the Daily Advertiser, Curtis recalled that in one episode, "Monk inherited half-interest in a bawdy house, but smelled so bad they wouldn’t let him in."

The original inspiration for Monk, and thus also for Festus, goes back even further than Curtis' work on Have Gun – Will Travel, and into his childhood growing up in Las Animas, Colorado.

When Curtis was a boy, he remembered a real character he often encountered who went by the name of Cedar Jack.

Cedar Jack was one of those town locals whose story everyone seemed to know. Curtis explained how he came to know Cedar Jack to The Daily Times-News in 1970:

"A few miles out of Las Animas were cedar brakes and he could cut down cedar trees for fence posts," Curtis said. "He'd stay out a few months and load up his mule-drawn wagon with these cedar posts. Then 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 of days and then go back out to the cedar brakes again."

Curtis funneled some of Cedar Jack's nature into his portrayal of Festus, creating one of TV Westerns' most iconic characters as a sort of tribute to this hometown legend who always stuck out in his mind.

In 1971, Curtis said he was still wondering what happened to Cedar Jack.

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HughJardon 19 months ago
Chester was my favorite. I'd even place Quint over Festus.
AlanRockman HughJardon 19 months ago
Nah, Festus was funny and cool. Chester was a fool.
WandaBaker 30 months ago
I liked both Chester and Festus but I liked Festus better. Chester really was whiney.
James9 30 months ago
I agree with Ken Curtis. I like Festus a lot better than Chester and the episodes with Festus were better.
Tommygunz 36 months ago
All I know is they both walked oddly, It was never explained why Chester walked like he did, I’m assuming he’s leg was injured in the civil war. Festus walked like he had a permanent saddle sore and that’s all I’m gonna say.
dangler1907 39 months ago
It didn't hurt to have Festus to introduce some humor into the show. Programs that focus exclusively on the painful realities of life tend to wear the audience down. As most of us have learned in the past year, a smile and a laugh can be strong medicine.
FMAMACAT 39 months ago
I liked Festus a lot better than Chester. The shows with Festus is a lot better.
robert FMAMACAT 39 months ago
But they resorted to using Festus's relatives in plots too often. They got tiring.
Tim535 39 months ago
Ken’s last movie was “Conagher” in 1991 with Sam Elliott - Buck and Dub Taylor were also in it . Sam has always been one of my favorites - saw him in an early Gunsmoke without a mustache. A friend of mine saw Buck Taylor in a bar in Montana once - think he used to have a ranch there.
Wiseguy Tim535 39 months ago
You should watch the fifth season of Mission: Impossible for more Sam Elliott.
F5Twitster 39 months ago
"'A few miles out of Las Animas were cedar brakes and he could cut down cedar trees for fence posts,' Curtis said."

They're cedar BREAKS. And not to be confused with Cedar Breaks National Monument, which is in Utah.
MaryMitch 39 months ago
I don't have a favorite between Festus and Chester, but I like the Chester-era episodes much more.
GaryGoltz 39 months ago
I liked him and Shug Fisher in Ripcord
Tim535 39 months ago
Ken Curtis could sing - think he was once a member of the Sons of the Pioneers singing group - Roy Rogers was once a member - Ken did some movies in his early days where he was the lead character. He was in several John Wayne movies because he was once married to John Ford’s daughter - Ford directed many of Wayne’s movies. Ken was in a few Gunsmoke episodes before he was Festus.
Big3Fan Tim535 39 months ago
He was also a temporary replacement for Sinatra after Frank left the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra.
Tim535 Tim535 39 months ago
Search Ken Curtis Festus Country on YouTube to hear him sing.
AlanRockman Tim535 19 months ago
Yes, as someone just posted he replaced Frank Sinatra in the Tommy Dorsey band too.
FalcoPhoenix821 39 months ago
I would rather have Festus with me in a gunfight. And Festus seemed to carry a lot of the shows on his own. Generally you would only see Matt at the beginning, and the end of an episode.
Spiro 39 months ago
Never watched Gunsmoke growing up because I couldn't stand Festus. You could just smell his B.O. and bad breath through the TV.
Chester was a more endearing character. And Dennis Weaver a better actor. I'll take Chester's "Mr. Dillon" over a Festus "Mathew" any day.

There you go!
Tampammm Spiro 39 months ago
Absolutely hated Festus!! He was a hillbilly who belonged on Hee Haw or Hootenanny.

No contest between him and Chester.
Mac2Nite Spiro 39 months ago
Couldn't agree more! I loved Chester and hated when Dennis Weaver left the series. Festus was OK, and yes, he was funny, but I didn't watch the series for comedy, so when I purchased Gunsmoke on DVD, I stopped with Season 9 [when Chester left]. It wasn't the same show after that. IMHO.
TwirlGirl 39 months ago
I've always preferred Festus over Chester (mostly because of Chester's blabbing and whining [except for "Never Pester Chester"]). I loved Festus' singing/scatting and his hoedown calling and dancing. But my absolute favorite Festus episode is "Comanches is Soft" with Quint Asper. BOY!! That one makes me laugh every time I see it!! Festus and Quint are hilarious together!!
TwirlGirl 39 months ago
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TomLawrence 39 months ago
Cedar breaks, not brakes. Sheesh.
dbalius 39 months ago
After only a couple of episodes I thought Festus was an improvement. And his turn on Have Gun definitely shows the Festus character forming.
Peter_Falk_Fan 39 months ago
Well, all I know is when I was a kid, my brothers and I took turns limping around calling "Marshall Dillon!" I do like Festus' banter with Doc, though.
Doc and Festus were the western equivalent of McCoy and Spock.
Festus could be used for comic relief (and sure was) but he could be well-used in dead-serious episodes, too. I grew up on the Festus episodes. I've now seen most of the Chester eps and heck, I like him, too!
ScoobyDoo169 39 months ago
I think Festus was the funniest one they ever had on Gunsmoke. I also think that he was the smartest because he always would say things the way they really are.
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