Here is the advice James Arness gave to aspiring actors in 1970

This fair and just lawman was quite the quiet one. In 1970, Arness gave actors advice on how to keep viewers' attention.

Image credit: The Everett Collection

James Arness played one of the coolest characters in the Old West. Marshal Matt Dillon was cool, calm, and collected. He was also the epitome of what it meant to be a fair and just lawman and kept himself composed even when going head-to-head with livestock, outlaws, and bad guys.

Arness was on our television screens as Matt Dillon for a total of 21 years, or 20 seasons. Gunsmoke fans were able to get really familiar with Dillon, Kitty Russell (Amanda Blake), Doc (Milburn Stone), Festus (Ken Curtis), and the rest of the Dodge City residents.

Gunsmoke became the longest-running Western in the U.S., and with Arness at the forefront of the success, he quickly became an inspiration for many young actors who were trying to navigate television.

In a 1970 interview with The Peninsula Times Tribune, Arness had some advice for young actors who were rushing to get into television, especially those coming to TV from film.

Arness said actors should not count the number of scenes and lines that are given to them. While many actors believe the more lines the better, Arness thought the audience preferred fewer lines. 

With 20 seasons of Gunsmoke, he must have been doing something right. Arness was never much of a talker, but here's why: He limited scenes and lines sufficiently to give viewers the illusion that they were seeing more of Matt Dillon than they were.

His method gave viewers a rest from heavy dialogue and showed that the actor wasn't solely thinking of himself. He was one caring cowboy.

"There is a different psychology between the theater and the television screen," Arness said. "With too much dialogue an actor can talk himself right off-air. People get tired of looking at him and listening to him."

Clearly, people never tired of looking at and listening to Arness. Although Arness was on the quiet side on Gunsmoke, he said he would do a "heavy show" four or five times a year.

"By that I mean I will play the major figure in the story," Arness said. "The rest of the time I don't press it too much. Other characters take over. If you notice, the shows that have been on the air the longest are the ones where the so-called star isn't onscreen all the time,"

According to the interview, Arness said he also was careful to not oversell himself or Matt Dillon. Arness, Fred MacMurray (My Three Sons), and Lorne Green (Bonanza) were all big on preventing overexposure. They were careful not to overexpose themselves by appearing on talk shows or as guest stars in other TV series. 

Arness said he also limited personal appearances out of fear of overdoing it. With this method in mind, Gunsmoke became super successful, and Arness said he didn't have the urge to do anything else. 

"Last year I sat down and analyzed what I wanted to do," Arness said. "I could have tried movies, but they're pretty shaky right now. Anyhow motorcycle riding doesn't appeal to me. No. Television is the place to be. We have a popular show, a well-coordinated crew, and about as fine a cast an actor could care to work with."

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13 Comments

Runeshaper 4 months ago
Arness was a smart man who appreciated what he had (-:
WGH 4 months ago
James Arness seems like the kind of guy I could hang out with.
Runeshaper WGH 4 months ago
Me too!
cperrynaples 4 months ago
That 21/20 is misleading! It appears only on IMDB and only illustrates the fact that most successful series start in the fall and end in the spring or the summer! Gunsmoke started in the fall of 1955 and ended in the summer of 1975! That's 20 years no matter how you slice it! At least MeTV came very close to acknowledging that Gunsmoke ended in 1975, NOT 1973 as they said in an earlier post!
LoveMETV22 cperrynaples 4 months ago
" At least MeTV came very close to acknowledging that Gunsmoke ended in 1975, NOT 1973 as they said in an earlier post!"

https://www.metv.com/stories/the-cbs-rural-purge-of-1971
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Perhaps you should contact "𝗠𝗲𝗧𝗩 𝗱𝗶𝗿𝗲𝗰𝘁𝗹𝘆 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗴𝗲𝘁 𝗰𝗹𝗮𝗿𝗶𝗳𝗶𝗰𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻" on what they "meant" in the last sentence of the paragraph:

Although March of '71 was ground zero for the "purge," a bold move away from rural programming began prior and continued afterward. CBS had already canceled Petticoat Junction and The Red Skelton Show in 1970. 𝗧𝗵𝗲𝘆'𝗱 𝗻𝗲𝗮𝗿𝗹𝘆 𝗮𝘅𝗲𝗱 𝗚𝘂𝗻𝘀𝗺𝗼𝗸𝗲 𝗶𝗻 𝟭𝟵𝟲𝟳 𝗯𝗲𝗳𝗼𝗿𝗲 𝗳𝗶𝗻𝗮𝗹𝗹𝘆 𝗱𝗿𝗼𝗽𝗽𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗶𝘁 𝗶𝗻 '𝟳𝟯.

The word "𝗱𝗿𝗼𝗽𝗽𝗶𝗻𝗴", seems to have raised your "𝗶𝗿𝗲." Although your inference of the term is clearly interpreted as ended/ending, perhaps they meant something different. It seems with your mention(s) of the topic that it is important to you.

Pacificsun 4 months ago
Not appearing any where else on others Shows was smart. But in terms of carrying the scenes and dialogue the advice didn't apply to Perry Mason (Raymond Burr).
cperrynaples Pacificsun 4 months ago
Yes, because many Gunsmokes only had Arness as a supporting performer [due to his demands to have a shorter schedule at the end] whereas Burr literally lived at the studio while Perry Mason was on! In fact when he did Ironside, he insisted on being allowed to go home!
Pacificsun cperrynaples 4 months ago
Good points! Keep in mind, the difference in dialogue makes a difference on the workload as well. Arness might slip up on the name of a town or an outlaw, whereas Mason could hardly screw up a suspect or a piece of evidence. He also lived at the Studio because the Shoot itself was more complicated. Being easily accessible streamlined the blocking, retakes and dubbing (though you never really heard any, cause they didn't work outside a studio very often).
WGH cperrynaples 4 months ago
And James Arness had really serious arthritis which limited his ability to appear in every scene of every episode. He'd come in, do his scenes, and go home after one day.

Younger people with arthritis don't know what it was like in the 1960's. I remember my grandpa. He suffered a lot and was really crippled up by it
GOOSEYGOOSE9 4 months ago
James arness and Peter graves are brothers on the small screen battling the bad guys
WGH GOOSEYGOOSE9 4 months ago
Seeing Peter Graves on screen was kind of like seeing James Arness in a second series. Very similar voices.

Probably made him even more cautious about being overexposed.
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