Festus got to show off his singing chops a few times on Gunsmoke
We answer some fan mail. Turns out, Ken Curtis was a big band singer before becoming an actor.
Peter Dvergsten in Minneapolis, Minnesota, wrote to us and asked, "Did Ken Curtis sing much on Gunsmoke? I know he was with the Sons of the Pioneers and I saw one snip where he sang with Slim Pickens, but I was wondering if he did any other singing."
Great question, Peter! The short answer is: yes!
While Festus provided comic relief on the long-running Western (his bickering with Doc Adams could make even the sourest sourpuss laugh), he was more than just a hillbilly with a penchant for creative metaphors. His duties as deputy sheriff entangled him in some sticky situations and allowed actor Ken Curtis to use the full range of his acting abilities.
Another skill Curtis got to show off from time to time was his lovely singing voice. More often than not, at a lively barn dance, for example, Festus' singing sounded a lot like the exaggerated drawl of his speaking voice. But sometimes, for a quiet scene like in the video above, Ken Curtis played it straight – hinting at his early days as a radio and big band singer.
After his stint as a Sinatra-esque crooner, Curtis began his shift into country music as a singing cowboy in 1940s musical Westerns like Lone Star Moonlight and Singing on the Trail. He soon joined the group Sons of the Pioneers and released hits like "Room Full of Roses" and "Riders in the Sky."
Ken Curtis sang with Slim Pickens in the Gunsmoke episode "Once a Haggen." Pickens plays a friend of Festus who has been sentenced to hang. Festus sings a somber tune as they await the deadly outcome. Curtis actually composed the song "Six Shiny Black Horses" himself. He performed two other songs in that episode as well!
Other episodes with Festus ditties include "Comanches is Soft" and "The Warden" – both of which feature songs later compiled onto the 1968 album Gunsmoke's Festus Sings 'n Talks 'bout Dodge City 'n Stuff. As the title implies, the collection features music as well as monologues performed by Ken Curtis in character.
Gunsmoke wasn't the only Western that showcased Curtis' talent. In the Have Gun, Will Travel episode "Love's Young Dream," Curtis croons a touching rendition of "Dink's Song" (commonly known as "Fare Thee Well").
Listen to a song from Gunsmoke's Festus Sings 'n Talks 'bout Dodge City 'n Stuff below!