10 Fascinating Facts about ‘Gunsmoke’ 


One of the most popular and longest-running TV shows in history, ‘Gunsmoke’ came to define the genre of the Western drama series. With 635 episodes and 20 seasons, the second longest-running show trailing only behind ‘The Simpsons’, ‘Gunsmoke’ set the standard for iconic Western dramas. It also paved the way for famous actors to get noticed before they became well-known along with already notable ones wanting a piece of the action.  

From legendary catchphrases to famous onscreen and behind-the-scenes challenges and triumphs, the Emmy award-winning show continues to have a major influence on pop culture. Put on your cowboy boots and get ready for a dust-up in the Wild West with these interesting facts about ‘Gunsmoke’, one of the most watched shows on Vidgo:   

  1. The Cowboys of Dodge City Ride the Airwaves  

Before the popular ‘Gunsmoke’ became a TV show, it was a radio program called ‘Gun Law’, which was also a comic strip from the UK. First premiering in 1952, the radio show continued along with the TV series until it went off the airwaves in 1961 after 400 episodes. Compared to the TV series, ‘Gun Law’ was more realistic with plotlines that didn’t typically have happy Hollywood endings but gritty, heart-wrenching scenarios.  

  1. Dodge City Ropes in Hollywood Actors 

A long list of famous names arrived in the Wild West of Dodge City to play their part in shootouts and wild times at the Long Ranch Saloon. In one episode, Kirk, Spock, Bones, and Scotty from Star Trek made an appearance. In a more family-friendly episode, Peter, Jan, and Cindy from ‘The Brady Bunch’ also guest starred. Burt Reynolds also had a regular part as the half-native Quint Asper from 1962 to 1965. 

Burt Reynolds; Wikimedia Commons

Other guest stars included Harrison Ford, Jodie Foster, Sam Elliott, Dennis Hopper, Richard Dreyfuss, Nick Nolte, and Kurt Russell, who all played small parts. Not to be left out of the action-packed Western, Charles Bronson played psychopath Krago in 1956 episode ‘The Killer’, then reprised his role a few years later. ‘Naked Gun’ star Leslie Nielsen was a gang leader and Kung Fu legend David Carradine played a horse thief.  

  1. ‘Gunsmoke’ Rustled Up the Catchphrase ‘Get out of Dodge’  

In many episodes, Marshal Dillon would warn criminals to ‘get out of Dodge’, which was a reference to Dodge City, Kansas, the fictional town of the show. He said this phrase so frequently that the show helped popularize the catchphrase in everyday vernacular as well as other Westerns.  

  1. The Hardest Working Cowboy in Showbiz 

James Arness; Wikimedia Commons

The showrunners originally wanted John Wayne to play Marshal Matt Dillon, but he was unavailable because he was dedicated to his film career. William Conrad was the voice actor on the radio show but wasn’t considered attractive enough for the part due to his obesity. He recommended his friend and old war buddy James Arness, who would eventually land the role. Not only did he fit the role perfectly as a true-life war hero, but he also had the best work ethic. The only actor on the show that appeared in every episode, you could say he was the hardest working cowboy in show business.  

More Surprising Facts About ‘Gunsmoke’ 

  1. A Real-Life Hero  

Before James Arness fought outlaws of the Wild West as Marshal Matt Dillon, the beloved TV star fought real battles in World War II. Serving on the front lines in 1944, he suffered gunfire wounds to the lower leg and foot during the Battle of Anzio in Italy. Regarded as a war hero when he returned home, he was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his bravery in battle.  

The pain of the injuries continued throughout his life and caused an arthritic condition that limited his filming time. Consequently, his walking scenes were filmed early in the day and for a limited number of hours.  

  1. Gunsmoke’s Shootout with Gilligan’s Island  

A popular show in its own right, the head of CBS never believed that ‘Gilligan’s Island’ would make it past one season due to the premise of a ragtag group of people stranded on an island. When the iconic show was about to get canceled in 1967 after ratings started slipping, he decided to cancel ‘Gilligan’s Island’ instead and give the Monday time slot to ‘Gunsmoke’, his personal favorite.  

  1. Gunsmoke Unexpectedly Went Up in Smoke  

Despite its popularity, fans of ‘Gunsmoke’ might find it surprising that the show was unexpectedly canceled in 1975 after 20 seasons. As a result, the producers and writers didn’t have a chance to wrap up the series and it ended unceremoniously with a regular episode.  

  1. Gunsmokin’ it Up with Cigarette Ads  

For the first seven seasons, commercials for L&M Cigarettes were aired using the face of James Arness, including newspaper and magazine ads – Watch L&M’s Gunsmoke each week on CBS-TV. The ads were pulled in 1970 when the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act was passed, banning TV ads for cigarettes.  

L&M Cigarettes TV Ad; METV
  1. Gunsmoke Was Adapted into 5 Made-for-TV Movies  

After ‘Gunsmoke’ ended in 1975, fans couldn’t get enough, a testament to the five made-for-TV movies that followed, starting with ‘Return to Dodge’ in 1987. Fans would have to wait a few more years for ‘The Last Apache’ in 1990, then ‘To the Last Man’ in 1992, followed by ‘The Long Ride’ in 1993 and the final installment, ‘One Man’s Justice’ in 1994. 

  1. Dodge City Tombstones 

According to the Wild West History Association, Marshal Matt Dillon shot 407 people on ‘Gunsmoke’, including the television show and made-for-TV movies. A few of the bandits survived their wounds but most were not so lucky.  

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