Milburn Stone's Gunsmoke character was like an alter ego to him

A grandfather, a family doctor and an actor all inspired the character of Doc Adams.

Image credit: The Everett Collection

Gunsmoke (1955) is one of the longest-running Western series in the history of television. The series aired for a total of 20 seasons on CBS.

There are many reasons as to why the Gunsmoke formula was so successful, but one of the biggest reasons the series became a hit was because of the cast and their characters. 

Viewers all over the country fell in love and grew to know characters such as Matt Dillon (James Arness), 'Doc' Adams (Milburn Stone), Kitty Russell (Amanda Blake) and Festus (Ken Curtis).

For Milburn Stone, who played the role of 'Doc' Adams, relating to the viewers was his main mission. In fact, he spent 20 seasons developing his character on his own in order to connect with fans all across the country. 

Stone's character had more influence on him than Stone had on his character. Doc became somewhat of an alter ego for Stone who identified with his character more than most actors.

In early seasons of Gunsmoke, viewers didn't know much about who Doc Adams was. Yes, he was Gunsmoke's grumpiest doctor, but what made him so grumpy and where did he come from? Stone wanted to fill in the blanks for Doc.

In a 1959 interview with The Miami Herald, Stone said the first thing he set his mind on doing was creating a backstory for Doc Adams - something his character didn't have in early seasons of the series. 

"The first thing I did, with the aid of writer Johnny Meston and Norm MacDonnell (producer of Gunsmoke) was to make him a Midwesterner," Stone said. "My own roots are Midwestern, and it just seems more appropriate for me to play it that way."

"Not much has been said in the more than 100 episodes of the show about Doc's past," Stone continued. "But a man's past, his roots and his history are what make him the man he is, and Doc Adams can't be an exception. So, I made one up for him."

According to the interview, Stone pulled from both past experiences and his imagination to help create the image of Doc. Stone said he liked to think of his character as someone who left Illinois or Michigan to go East and study medicine. 

"He isn't the pioneer type, and I can't believe he went to Dodge City to set up practice by choice," Stone said. "I think he went because he had to, and stayed only because he was needed and because of the friends he found there."

To Stone, his Gunsmoke character was real. He said he felt as though sometimes he wasn't inventing a character but rather revealing one he knows very well. The characterization, Stone said, was based on two men he knew - his grandfather and his family doctor. 

All three men made the man. Stone's portrayal of Doc Adams was just one piece of the perfect Gunsmoke formula. 

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4 Comments

Runeshaper 21 days ago
Super interesting! I like Stone's creation of Doc's backstory. Thanks, MeTV!
Andybandit 21 days ago
I like MS on Gunsmoke. Cool that is character was like him in real life.
McGillahooala 21 days ago
That’s an odd picture with Milburn Stone in costume and Dennis Weaver wearing his street clothes. Wonder what they were talking about? Dennis almost looks like he was directing that day or something but I don’t remember him ever doing that on Gunsmoke or any other show for that matter.
KJExpress McGillahooala 21 days ago
I seem to remember that Dennis did do some directing on Gunsmoke.
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