Buck Taylor said that this was the only difficult part about working with James Arness
"Once he started, the entire set would start laughing."
If you've read his autobiography, James Arness: An Autobiography, you already know that as an actor and as a man, James Arness only gets glowing reviews from those who have had the pleasure of knowing him. Heck, if you've watched Gunsmoke enough times, you might even get the feeling that the man behind Marshal Matt Dillon might even be the character himself. But did you know that James Arness is actually much funnier than Matt Dillon could ever hope to be?
That's the story from Buck Taylor, better known as Newly O'Brian. O'Brian recalled his time spent with Arness while the two were shooting Gunsmoke and even admitted that he found it difficult to film with him for a very sweet reason. Taylor stated, "I always found it extremely difficult to work with Jim, mainly because I couldn't look him in the eye and not start to laugh."
Taylor explained, "I think Jim thought, this is my feeling, that Hollywood and making movies and all that went with it was a lot of fun but it's a silly kind of business...I believe that it was hard for him to get serious about this stuff and if you started laughing or made some funny comment, then that was it for the day; he was ruined."
Of course, when the two men got together to film, it was a recipe for a lot of disastrous takes on the set of Gunsmoke. Much of it was accidental, with a single moment setting Arness off until the two men were reduced to giggles, but Taylor also added that Arness would sometimes do his best to break him out of his serious character's exterior.
At one point, the characters O'Brian and Dillon were supposed to be included in the background of a scene loading luggage. While the two weren't the focal point of the scene, they were still visible, though Arness had his face turned from the camera. As the two loaded their luggage, Arness began making funny faces over at Taylor. In return, Taylor simply couldn't keep his composure and began laughing. Taylor said, "I blew this shot four or five times and the director was getting on my case, saying, 'Buck, what is it? What's so funny? What's the deal?' Of course, I couldn't tell him it was Jim because that would get him in trouble."
Taylor said, "I think Jim's sense of humor was the funniest of anyone I've ever met," and said that when Jim started laughing, a chain reaction was sure to follow. He said, "Once he started, the entire set would start laughing."
It'll make you chuckle just thinking about how a man as serious as Marshal Matt Dillon could be played by someone as jovial as James Arness, a strangeness that Taylor makes light of. He said, "The Matt Dillon that people see on the screen is a serious guy but Jim was really, after he got to know you, and felt comfortable around you, a funny son of a gun."