Gunsmoke's Ken Curtis was destined to be in a Western

Ken Curtis and Festus both knew a thing or two about cattle and horses.

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Ken Curtis played 7 different characters on Gunsmoke!
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Gunsmoke's Ken Curtis was no stranger to life on a ranch. In fact, Curtis grew up in the country, and much like his character on Gunsmoke, he enjoyed every moment of it.

Curtis played a few different roles on Gunsmoke (Brisco, Frank Eaton, Scout and more), but joined the cast permanently as Festus in season nine, episode 16 in 1964.

He grew up in Colorado, where he lived his first ten years on a ranch. He and his family later moved to Las Animas so that his father could run for sheriff. Playing the role of Festus was like second nature for Curtis, who knew a thing or two about cattle and horses.

Curtis and Gunsmoke's Milburn Stone, who played Doc in the series, would travel the country in the rodeo circuit during their time on the series. They would travel to around 500 shows a year, keeping them busy even during downtime on the series.

In a 1972 interview with The Charlotte Observer, Curtis talked about his time in the rodeo with Gunsmoke co-stars.

"I'm on the rodeo circuit all year round and get a chance to talk to more fans than anybody else," he said. 

Curtis and Stone were known as Gunsmoke's goodwill ambassadors, going on the road and putting on a folksy little act at rodeos all over the country. In the 1970s, Curtis began having heart problems. After a heart attack, Curtis took time off from the series and his travels before returning to the show towards the end of its 20-season run.

The rodeo became a great way to meet fans and promote the show, and soon more Gunsmoke cast members would join the team. Others who went along for the ride included: Glenn Strange, Miss Kitty's bartender and Buck Taylor.

Curtis said he wouldn't trade his country roots for anything. Growing up with over 75 cattle really prepares a person for a career in a Western series. He said he learned many life lessons while growing up, most of which he carried with him to Hollywood. 

"Honor and politeness, and deep regard for others were prime things," he said. "And everyone is a friend until proven otherwise. That last part got me into a lot of trouble out here until I learned the hard way."

In a 1973 interview with The Daily Advertiser, Curtis said he used most of the money he earned from Gunsmoke to buy land, which was a fitting way to spend it. Curtis seemed dedicated to his Western ways and said the role of Festus was made for him.

"I figure to stay with Gunsmoke as long as I can," he said. "Any actor who leaves a show that has a part that's made for him is foolish."

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iluvwesterns 17 months ago
The Festus character was one of the best additons to Gunsmoke. his arguements with Doc were so funny but Festus was a good deputy and didn't take any bs from outlaws. i loved watching this show every week with my dad and brother.
texasluva 17 months ago
Not only could he act but sing also. He was in many a Western movies such as Horse Soldiers and my favorite The Searchers. Where he did some acting, singing and fighting which was quite comical. A long list of Westerns popped up in the 1940's also.

Before taking up an acting career, he sang with Tommy Dorsey's band and the Sons of the Pioneers.

He met singer Jo Stafford while appearing with Johnny Mercer on a radio program. Mercer invited him to make a guest appearance and, in acknowledgment of Jo's latest recording, Ken sang "Tumbling Tumbleweeds". As a result of this appearance, Columbia Pictures signed him up for a series of musical westerns.

More trivia about Ken Curtis-
Adanor 17 months ago
So we now know the biggest secret of acting. An actor is can be very authentic in a particular part, for the most part, IF he or she is knowledgeable, grounded and/or has proclivities in the role that they are playing. DeForest Kelley had relatives who were doctors and early on, he aspired to becoming a doctor. So he naturally fell into the role of Bones on The Original Star Trek. Ken Curtis was raised on a ranch and so he naturally was comfortable in Westerns. Donna Douglas was required to demonstrate that she knew how speak with a Southern accent and to milk a goat when she tried out for the part of Elly May Clampett. The role fit her like a glove. So what is one tip on how to be a good actor? Just be yourself, and to luck onto a role where you can comfortably do that.
LoveMETV22 17 months ago
Gunsmoke's Ken Curtis was destined to be in Westerns.
Ken Curtis did a great job on Gunsmoke. Although he did appear in non-western roles throughout his career, his forte seemed to be Westerns.
Robertp 17 months ago
I met Mr Curtis in Waco at the Heart of Texas Colosseum in about 1971 or maybe 72. He rode Ruth and shook everyone’s hand. I really enjoyed GS and especially the way Stone and Curtis interact. Thanks METV!!
Runeshaper Robertp 17 months ago
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