Sunday, June 5, 2011

Rest In Peace, Marshall Dillon

It was with great sadness that I read about the death of James Arness in the paper the other day. I felt like I was experiencing the end of an era, the final passing away of my childhood.

I wasn't around when the television show Gunsmoke started, but I do remember watching it as a kid. It was pretty tame, as most television shows from that era were, and I am sure that if I watched an episode today I would be focusing more on a fake backdrop or on the fact that when people got shot they never seemed to bleed. Back then, none of that mattered. I think that my love of westerns comes from watching Gunsmoke.

Gunsmoke was a family show, meaning that it was something my entire family would watch together. We all loved Marshall Dillon, and why not? He was the essential good guy, the man who always rescued the people who needed rescuing. Dillon always did the right thing, even if the right thing meant punching someone in the face. He kept the town safe just by walking down the dusty streets. Who wouldn't love that kind of a character?

It has been said that the role of Matt Dillon was originally made for John Wayne, who turned it down. I don't believe for one second that the show would have been nearly as successful if John Wayne had been Marshall Dillon. No disrespect to John Wayne, but James Arness didn't just act the role of Matt Dillon, at least not to me. James Arness wore the character of Matt Dillon like a second skin. He was Marshall Dillon. Arness' portrayal of Marshall Dillon became iconic; the character became an archetype because of it. How many television actors can say that?

The character of Matt Dillon even got his own verse in a decent Toby Keith song:

I'll bet you never heard ol' Marshall Dillon say:
Miss Kitty, have you ever thought of running away?
Settling down, would you marry me?
If I asked you twice and begged you pretty please?

Rest in peace, James Arness. There never was a TV or movie lawman who could fill your shoes. But they all wanted to try.


  1. Gunsmoke was definitely watched by not only my Father and me but also by my dog!! (of course his favorite was Lassie!!) The passing of Matt Dillon is definitely the passing of an earlier and much more gentle era--

    Michele aka MikiHope

  2. I also was sad when I heard of his death! There were several NEVER MISSED SHOWS in our home that my parents turned on every week: Gunsmoke, Bonanza, and Lawrence Welk. The reruns take me straight to my childhood!

  3. I used to watch Gunsmoke with my Papaw...brings up great memories for me!


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