The truth about Dennis Weaver leaving Gunsmoke

Weaver: ''I tried to quit the program twice before.''

Imagine stepping away from one of the most successful shows on television. It seems shocking, but it happens all the time, especially in classic TV. Lots of actors go an entire career without landing a hit show. It might seem unfathomable to leave at the top, and yet there are Wayne Rogers, Larry Linville, and McLean Stevenson, and that's just on M*A*S*H. Frank Gorshin wasn't offered the money he deserved, so he stepped away as The Riddler in Batman. Don Knotts left Mayberry for Tinsel Town. Walking away from television for movies is a prominent reason, but many others exist.

Dennis Weaver labored at odd jobs for years while acting parts were scarce. In the early '50s, he made anywhere from $5 to $7.50 a day to support his wife and firstborn son. His fortunes changed, of course, when he was cast as Chester on Gunsmoke, a show that made him a millionaire by 38.

So why then, after 9 years of steady, bountiful employment, would a star pack up and leave a show? In a 1964 interview with The Hartford Courant, Weaver explained his mindset as he quit Gunsmoke

"After almost 10 years," said Weaver, "I want to walk without a limp. In Gunsmoke, I've exhausted all the dimensions of Chester. There's nothing I can do with that character anymore. I knew it some time ago, and I tried to quit the program twice before.

"Two years ago I did a variety show pilot, TV Tonight. I was a combination host and master of ceremonies. It didn't sell. Last year I worked in another pilot, Giant Step. I played a high school vice principal. That didn't sell either. In both instances, I returned to Gunsmoke because financially that was the best thing to do. But this time I'm severing the umbilical cord for good. [NBC's new show] Kentucky Jones has been bought and scheduled. I own 25 percent of the package, and I'll get a weekly guarantee of about $5,000."

Compared to Gunsmoke's 625 episodes, Kentucky Jones produced 26. 

"I want to grow as an actor, to create, to expand. I know I'll never be lucky enough to find another show like Gunsmoke, but in all fairness to myself, I can't afford to make it my whole life's work."

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13 Comments

GOOSEYGOOSE9 7 months ago
Danny Thomas Sheldon Leonard and Louis f Edelman were executive producers of Kentucky Jones series
rlb2k1jr 7 months ago
Gentle Ben… Duel… McCloud… and the lost 1975 Gunsmoke episode that was scripted but never filmed featuring Dennis Weaver’s return to Dodge as a Texas Ranger.
GOOSEYGOOSE9 7 months ago
Jack Webb fired from warner bros replaced permanently by friend William Conrad
SDWriter 7 months ago
He offered to return as Chester as a guest star, but the producers turned him down. That’s a shame. It also would have been great to see Chester and Festus — and maybe even a cameo from Quint — on one of the reunion TV movies. But they were shot on a tight budget and frankly were rather disappointing.
57Tbird 7 months ago
I always liked Dennis in McCloud.
GOOSEYGOOSE9 7 months ago
Danny Thomas,Sheldon Leonard and Louis F Edelman Executive producers of Kentucky Jones
GOOSEYGOOSE9 7 months ago
I like Chester better than festus on gunsmoke Dennis weaver starred as Kentucky jones the executive producers were Danny thomad,sheldon Leonard as well as Louis f Edelman danny Thomas,Sheldon Leonard,Louis f edelman Dennis weaver,jerry bick and buzz Kylik
We’re the ownership of the series weavbickkulelda productions Thomas-Leonard-Edelman productions and NBC owned it filmed at desilu studios earle Hagen did the theme music Ronald jacobs was associate producer and production supervisor Dennis weaver was in giant step what studio giant step done at
Yort 7 months ago
I saw an interview with Larry Linville a long time ago and he said he quit MASH because Frank had become stale. Margaret was involved in another relationship and his character had lost it's motivation. As we all know sometimes it's just time to move on and the money is not important.
CoreyC Yort 7 months ago
After Wayne Rogers and McLean Stevenson left M*A*S*H changed. Loretta's role began to evolve while Larry's degraded from an antagonist to a fool. Margaret's relationship then marriage to Donald Penobscott was a plot device for Larry's departure.
justjeff 7 months ago
...yet, he eventually found his way back to TV success with McCloud...
Runeshaper 7 months ago
Sounds like he knew what he was doing. Plus, I'm glad Ken Curtis got a chance to be on the show too.
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