Ken Curtis was a singer before taking the role on Gunsmoke
Before Curtis was in Dodge City, he was performing at Carnegie Hall.
Before Ken Curtis became Festus, Marshal Matt Dillon's right-hand man on Gunsmoke, he had his sights set on a different career path. The star was a full-time singer before becoming a Western gunslinger.
In 1941, Curtis became a top singer for the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra when he temporarily replaced Frank Sinatra as the featured vocalist.
The orchestra had a run of around 286 Billboard chart hits through the 1940s and the 1950s and had about seventeen number-one hits, some of which included: "Boogie Woogie," "I'll Never Smile Again," "Our Love," and more.
"I started my career as a pop singer," Curtis said in a 1969 interview with The Charlotte News. "I've sung a lot of nights, and there were [times] I sung all night long, but I don't remember none of them."
Besides his time with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, Curtis also had the opportunity to sing with other big bands, including Sons of the Pioneers, where Roy Rogers got his start, the Shep Fields band and Pied Piper.
Adding to his list of singing credits, Curtis and Sons of the Pioneers performed at Carnegie Hall and was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
According to the article, Curtis started performing and singing at a young age. He came from a musical family; His father played the fiddle, his brother played the banjo and his mom played the organ.
He did most of his singing before World War II. During the war, Curtis served in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1945. After World War II, Curtis started pursuing another career: Acting.
Curtis, much like his character, had a great amount of tenacity and fight in him. He started with a series of films: John Wayne's The Quiet Man, The Alamo, The Searchers and How the West Was Won.
In 1955, Curtis took the role of Festus, which would be one of his most important roles.
"I didn't know it was going to be a career," Curtis said. "But it surely looks that way, doesn't it? Why, we are the sixth most popular show in the nation and the year before that finished fourth."
Because of his time on Gunsmoke, Curtis found a happy medium between being an actor and performing live. He and Milburn Stone, who played the role of Doc., would travel from rodeo to rodeo all over the country.
Attending rodeos meant making personal appearances and marketing themselves and Gunsmoke to viewers.
The two had a bit of an act they'd put on. Just imagine their usual Gunsmoke banter but with some added singing and dancing.
According to a 1966 interview with Richmond Times-Dispatch, Curtis and Milburne had a very special friendship that only bloomed more on its own outside of the show. The arguing and banter between the two stars was the Old West's way of expressing love.
Going on tour again helped Curtis find confidence in his voice and stage presence. He may have put his dreams of being a singer on hold, but he was able to reach new fame, find new friends and create a family with Gunsmoke.
"You know, I owe Doc a lot," Curtis said. "I'll never earn enough in Dodge City to repay him."