Gunsmoke broke barriers, beat records and set the standard for Old West culture during its 20-season run on television. Gunsmoke wasn’t your average weekly Western; it became an institution and addressed important moral questions many viewers wanted answers to.
With 20 seasons on-air, it’s no question that the series went through its fair share of changes between 1955 and 1975. One of the most remembered changes was during season one when James Arness, who played Marshal Matt Dillon, went through surgery. This lead to his temporary replacement by actor Roger Ewing.
Gunsmoke went through a few character changes, additions and storyline switch-ups.The series also made the shift from black and white to color in 1967 and shifted themes in stories. But the one thing that remained consistent throughout many of Gunsmoke’s 20 seasons was Miss Kitty Russell, played by Amanda Blake.
“Nobody’s going to tamper with her character,” Blake said in a 1968 interview with The Durham Sun. “She has been the same since about the second half of the season, when she became Matt Dillon’s girl. Before that, she was just one of the girls in the saloon and didn’t play any favorites.”
During the season 17 episode “Hostage” Miss Kitty was kidnapped by a few outlaws who demanded a ransom for her release. Although this is a fan-favorite episode for some, it wasn’t for Blake.
According to the interview, Blake wanted the writers to portray Kitty Russell as a more strong and independent woman who could have her own story — not Matt Dillon’s story — no matter how attractive he was. Her battle with Gunsmoke writers to put more respect on her name wasn’t unheard, but it was an ongoing fight.
“Good lord, I have been kidnapped,” Blake said. “I’m sick and tired of it. The writers claim I can’t be in jeopardy as long as I’m in town because Matt would protect me. So, they keep having me kidnapped. I sure wish they’d think of something else.”
Despite her worry about her character, Blake was deeply devoted to Gunsmoke. The series brought her millions in wealth, glamour, great co-stars and she was even elected to the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City.
According to the article, the Gunsmoke scripts were built around Kitty about three times each season, and she would make brief appearances in most other segments. Did she ever want more screen time?
“Well it’s like this — I hate Los Angeles and I love Phoenix and I’m scared of airplanes,” Blake said. “So, I’m happy just the way things are.”
With all of Blake’s success she quickly became the richest lady saloon keeper anyone had ever seen. She kept the drinks pouring when she sold her rights in the first six years of Gunsmoke for an estimated $1 million.
“I thought the show would be a success, but I never dreamed it would be an institution,” Blake said. “I never thought I’d see the day where I could afford not to get dressed up.”