Do You Know... James Arness?
Do you know…
Arness (born: James King Aurness
on May 26, 1923 Minneapolis, Minnesota, – died: on June 3, 2011 in
Los Angeles, California) was an American actor, best known for
portraying Marshal Matt Dillon in the television series
Gunsmoke for 20 years?
World War 2, Arness served as a rifleman with
the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division, and was severely wounded
during Operation Shingle, at Anzio, Italy.
After World War 2, James Arness
entered Beloit College in Wisconsin. He began his performing
career as a radio announcer in Minnesota in 1945.
He began with RKO, which immediately
changed his name from "Aurness". His film
debut was as Loretta Young's (Katie Holstrom) brother, Peter
Holstrom, in The Farmer's Daughter (1947).
An urban legend has it that John Wayne was
offered the leading role of Matt Dillon in the longtime
favorite television show Gunsmoke, but he turned it down,
recommending instead James Arness for the
role. The only part of this story that is true is that Wayne
did indeed recommend Arness for the part. Wayne introduced
Arness in a prologue to the first episode of Gunsmoke, in
Arness has the distinction
of having played the role of Dillon in five separate decades:
1955 to 1975 in the weekly series, then in Gunsmoke:
Return to Dodge (1987) and four more made-for-TV
Gunsmoke movies in the 1990s?
In Europe, Arness reached
cult status for his role as Zeb Macahan in the western series
How the West Was Won.
His younger brother was actor Peter
Arness was married twice, first to Virginia Chapman from 1948
until their divorce in 1960. He adopted her son. She died of a
drug overdose in 1976.
Arness was married to
Janet Surtees from 1978 until his death. He had two sons, Rolf
(born February 18, 1952) and Craig (died December 14, 2004). His daughter Jenny Lee Aurness (May 23, 1950 – May 12, 1975)
committed suicide by overdose. Rolf Aurness became World
Surfing Champion in 1970. Craig Aurness founded the stock
photography agency Westlight and also was a photographer for
National Geographic. Arness is survived by Rolf and by his
- Arness died of natural causes at his
Brentwood home in Los Angeles on June 3, 2011.