James Arness Was A Mystery To His Costars – And Here’s Why
I’m sure many of you will remember the extremely popular, record-breaking Western, Gunsmoke. Airing for a whopping 20 years, the show starred James Arness who played U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon. Even throughout the show’s wild and long-lasting popularity, as well as other acting credits earned by Arness, the actor was not like other television and movie stars of the time. In fact, he was extremely private.
In 1973, The Tallahassee Democrat wrote that Arness was “one of the most private men in Hollywood.” Even the costar he worked most closely with, Amanda Blake (who played Kitty) explained that Arness kept everyone at an arm’s length. “Jim is the mystery man,” she said. “Like most men, he’s an overgrown 12-year-old. He’s delightful, charming, one of the funniest men I’ve ever known. I really don’t know much about him, because he’s a private person. But he’s fun to work with.”
It was rare for Arness to make public appearances, and he even banned reporters from showing up to the Gunsmoke set. He was said to be shy and sensitive, and preferred to spend his time indulging in poetry, yacht racing, and surfing rather than walking red carpets and giving interviews. Though Arness enjoyed a highly successful acting career, his life was not exempt from tragedy. In 1948, Arness married Virginia Chapman. Arness adopted Chapman’s son, and the couple went on to have two other children together. Sadly, his daughter Jenny died of a drug overdose in 1975. His then-ex-wife died of a drug overdose just two years later.
Arness passed away on June 3, 2011 of natural causes at the age of 88. Before he died, he had written a note to be passed on to his fans after his death. His wife Janet shared the note:
I decided to write a letter to you for Janet to post on our website in the event I was no longer here. I had a wonderful life and was blessed with some many loving people and great friends. The best part of my life was my family, especially my wife Janet. Many of you met her at Dodge City so you understand what a special person she is. I wanted to take this time to thank all of you for the many years of being a fan of Gunsmoke, The Thing, How the West Was Won and all the other fun projects I was lucky enough to have been allowed to be a part of. I had the privilege of working with so many great actors over the years. I was honored to have served in the army for my country. I was at Anzio during WWII and it makes you realize how very precious life is. Thank you again for all the many letters, cards, emails and gifts we received from you over the years. You are and always have been truly appreciated.
Rest in peace, James – you were truly one of the greats, and your memory will forever live on in your incredible acting credits.