James Arness of 'Gunsmoke' fame dead at 88
By FRAZIER MOORE AP Television Writer The Associated Press
Friday, June 3, 2011 6:37 PM EDT
It takes a special kind of lawman to carry on for 20 years in the Wild West of TV.
Matt Dillon, the mythical marshal of Dodge City, stood tall — all 6 feet, 6 inches of him — on "Gunsmoke" from 1955 to 1975. He outlasted dozens of other Western heroes while making history on TV's longest-running dramatic series, a record that held until NBC's "Law & Order" tied the CBS Western's record in 2010.
Through all those gunslinging years, James Arness, who died Friday, kept Marshal Dillon righteous, peace-seeking and, most of all, believable.
Fickle viewers can kill a TV hero as surely as a bullet from an outlaw's six-gun. But Arness knew how to maintain order not only in circa-1870s Dodge City, but also among the TV audience, whose itchy fingers on their channel changers he knew how to calm.
In an era when TV actors typically chewed the scenery, Arness had a credible, commanding presence by hardly uttering a word. A typical scene found a dozen cowboys riding up to the town jail intent on busting out a prisoner pal.
Dillon faces them all down.
"The first move anybody makes," he says, with a slight shake of his head, "I cut you in two."
Arness' defiant but rueful delivery is so understated, he makes Clint Eastwood seem like a loudmouth.
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