‘Gunsmoke’: James Arness Found 1 Unique Way To Use Matt Dillon To Make More Money Than From The Show


Gunsmoke actor James Arness was fortunate enough to star in one of the biggest television shows of all time. The charm that came through in his performance and in relation to his co-stars certainly played into that. However, acting on television didn’t always earn a whole lot of money. Arness once wrote about how he found another way to make even more money using his Gunsmoke stardom and bringing it right to the supportive audiences in person.

‘Gunsmoke’ actor James Arness played U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon for 20 seasons

Gunsmoke made its move from radio to television with Arness starring in the lead role of U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon in 1955. He was long-time friends with Western movie star John Wayne, who helped convince him to take the part. There were some initial rumors that Wayne was offered the part, but producer Norman MacDonald confirmed that wasn’t the case.

Arness became world famous thanks to the success of Gunsmoke. He remained in the role for the entirety of its 20-season run that ended in 1975. The show remained in the top 10 in television ratings for more than half of its run, carrying the coveted top spot for four years in a row.

James Arness went to weekend events as Matt Dillon to make more money

According to James Arness: An Autobiography, the actor wrote that he made more money at weekend events than he did on weekly Gunsmoke episodes. It was the perfect opportunity for the show’s fans to gather and interact with Arness himself for autographs and pictures. In the early days, he did three shows over a weekend for $5,000, but he quickly discovered that nobody wanted to see Matt doing comedy. However, the moment that the skit ended, Gunsmoke fans would immediately “mob” Arness.


The actor did a ton of these weekend appearances across the country within the first three years of the show’s run. The more he incorporated this into his schedule, the more money he made. Arness started making $10,000-$15,000 each weekend, which made it time well-spent for the actor. He was “scammed” a few times, so he started to demand the money upfront.

However, Arness called the opportunity to meet kids in a children’s hospital as Matt the “highlight” of these visits. It was an unexpected part of the job that he always jumped at the chance to fulfill.

He teamed up with co-star Dennis Weaver

#FlashbackFriday Actors Dennis Weaver and James Arness are pictured during the filming of the T.V. show “Gunsmoke.” Melody Ranch in Placerita Canyon was frequently used as the backdrop for the show from 1955 to 1962. ? #SantaClarita #FilmProduction pic.twitter.com/Ci523p3Czy

— Santa Clarita City (@santaclarita) February 22, 2019

Arness wasn’t the only Gunsmoke star to begin spending some of his weekends attending these events with the show’s fans. Chester Goode actor Dennis Weaver was the first to tag along, only increasing their popularity. Weaver’s Chester was a fan-favorite, which left them feeling “overwhelmed” by the amount of love and support.

In one scenario, local communities built replicas of the Long Branch saloon for them to act in. Arness said that Gunsmoke fans only continued to “mob” them over the course of these events, bringing even more cash their way. This was a tremendously wise way to advertise the show, amplify his reach as an actor with the fans, and make quite a bit more money along the way.