Ken Curtis Wore Suits Offscreen To Escape His Character’S Image On Gunsmoke


After being associated with such a smelly, dirty character for 20 years, it’s good to try something new — even if it’s just doing a little more laundry from time to time.

This was the case for Ken Curtis, who played the role of Festus in Gunsmoke (1955). With that much time as one very distinctive character, Curtis found himself looking for ways to lose his character’s image.

Although he loved his role in the hit series, he was growing tired of the assumptions about his personality, hygiene, and accent while in public.

He wanted to refine the way people saw him in real life; one suit at a time. Festus was the great unwashed slob of the Old West, but Curtis had a bit more class.

“I have to wear my best clothes offstage,” Curtis said in a 1965 interview with the Wisconsin State Journal. “Otherwise, I’d be rousted by the police for being a bum. It’s necessary for me to have a few days’ growth of beard for the show, so I have to counterbalance my appearance as much as possible.”

According to the interview, Curtis was born in Colorado and was raised on a ranch. He even knew a thing or two about riding horses, which helped prepare him for his role on Gunsmoke.


Although he grew up riding horses, in the interview, he admitted that he didn’t like the horse Festus had to ride in the series. He added: “It doesn’t have any reins or anything, and I have to get it going with hees and haws.”

Festus fit Curtis well because of his upbringing. He related to and understood where Festus was coming from. But for as much work as he put into developing the character on Gunsmoke, he had to put in double the work to strip the image of ‘Festus’ away.

“When the script calls for me to look even worse than usual I wear my sincere black suit offstage,” Curtis said. “But I’d rather just run around in sports shirts, sweaters, and slacks. Even then, I have to be clean as a pin and neatly pressed so I won’t be mistaken for one of the local beatniks.”

Despite being one of the dirtiest men in the Old West, Curtis grew attached to his character and grew to love him.

“He has a lot of dimensions,” Curtis said. “Festus may look like the world’s biggest mess, but underneath it all lies a heart of pure gold brick.”