James Arness

An Autobiography

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About the Book

James Arness gives the full story on his early years, his family, his military career and his film work in Hollywood, including appearances in the cult-favorite science fiction movies Them! and The Thing. He had a very long run on television’s Gunsmoke and a role in the miniseries How The West Was Won. His post-theatrical period is also covered.

This is a republication in paperback of the 2001 edition—the long anticipated account of one of the icons of 20th–century television. He offers many anecdotes of interacting with the Gunsmoke family, such as Miss Kitty, Doc and Festus. His own work as a producer is covered. Throughout are previously unpublished photographs from the author’s collection. Appendices include comments by show biz colleagues and Gunsmoke alumni, and a sampling of letters received from his fans. Actor and fellow Gunsmoke performer Burt Reynolds has written a foreword to the book.

James Arness was born May 26, 1923, in Minneapolis. He entered college just as World War II began and dreamed of being a naval aviator. It seemed as if every night his fraternity was having a party to send off a brother to the service. Young Arness got his interview with a naval flight program officer, but his hopes vanished as he was informed that his six foot seven inch height disqualified him automatically. He wrote his draft board asking that they call him up as soon as possible and so he ended up as a private in the famed Third Infantry Division where he earned a Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. Because of his stature, he was chosen to be first off the landing craft (to test the depth of the water) when his division landed at Anzio, Italy. He was subsequently wounded by enemy machine gun fire and spent eighteen months recovering in overseas and stateside hospitals. Later his height would help him strike a commanding figure in the role of U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon of Dodge City. After Arness had toiled in Hollywood for a decade, John Wayne recommended him to CBS executives for the Gunsmoke part (after Wayne turned it down). As the principal performer of Gunsmoke for twenty years (1955–1975), the actor and the character took on mythic proportions—a born leader, honest and strong. Rare is the actor who has been cast in a role that so deeply fits his true self.

James Arness gives a full account of his early years, his family, his military career, his film work in Hollywood which included appearances in the cult-favorite science fiction movies Them! and The Thing. He had a long run on Gunsmoke, a role in the highly popular television miniseries How The West Was Won, and his post-theatrical period is also covered. This is the long anticipated, never-before-told account of one of the icons of twentieth-century television. There are many personal revelations of interacting with some of the Gunsmoke family ensemble, such as Miss Kitty, Doc and Festus. His own work as a producer is covered. Throughout are rare, previously unpublished photographs from the author’s personal collection. Appendices include comments by show biz colleagues and fellow Gunsmoke alumni, and a sampling of letters received from his legions of fans. Actor and fellow Gunsmoke performer Burt Reynolds has written a foreword to the book.

About the Author(s)

The late James Arness lived in suburban Los Angeles with his wife Janet, where they were involved in various charity projects.

The late James E. Wise, Jr., a retired Navy captain in Alexandria, Virginia (d. 2013), wrote many books on history and the performing arts. He served as an intelligence officer aboard USS America during the 1967 Six Day War in the eastern Mediterranean and later in the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam War.

Bibliographic Details

James Arness with James E. Wise, Jr.
Foreword by Burt Reynolds
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 248
Bibliographic Info: 86 photos, appendices, index
Copyright Date: 2013 [2001]
pISBN: 978-0-7864-7588-9
eISBN: 978-0-7864-8738-7
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Foreword by Burt Reynolds     ix
Introduction by James E. Wise, Jr.     1
Prologue     3

1. The Early Years     5
2. Anzio 1944     27
3. Drifting into Show Business     57
4. John Wayne     87
5. Gunsmoke     99
6. And Beyond     151

Appendix A: Others Remember     165
Appendix B: Comments by Guest Stars     201
Appendix C: Fan Letters     205
Appendix D: Films     223
Appendix E: Television     225
Appendix F: Honors and Awards     227

Index     229

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “gives a full account of his early years, his family, and his World War II military career…well written”—Classic Images
  • “an account that’s clean, free of malice and which tells the story completely…a lot of detail”—Big Reel
  • “a magnum opus”—SPERDVAC Radiogram
  • “fans…will no doubt purr with pleasure…relate[s] many interesting incidents from his active life…recommend[ed]”—Wrangler’s Roost
  • “recommend[ed]…provide[s] insights into both the Gunsmoke western and the tall-in-the-saddle star”—Providence Journal
  • “detailed”—The Yesterday USA Radio Networks
  • “comprehensive”—Western Mail
  • “recommended”—Colorado Libraries