This Gunsmoke guest star was so good at playing bad, women yelled at him on the street
"I'm a nice guy in real life," Morgan Woodward insisted.
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"They are the faces that haunt your nightmares — rapists, maniacs, thieves, and perverts," Min S. Yee wrote admiringly in 1969. Believe it or not, it was a flattering puff piece. For this syndicated Newsweek article was titled "The Dirty Half-Dozen – TV's Men You Love to Hate," and it highlighted six fantastic character actors who excelled at being bad.
The "Dirty Half-Dozen" included Jack Elam, Simon Oakland, Warren Stevens, Victor French, Gerald O'Loughlin, and Morgan Woodward. The names may not ring a bell, but fans of classic TV would recognize their sly, scarred, craggy, bug-eyed, or heavy-browed faces. All of them popped up on Gunsmoke, like most hard-working character actors of that era with a rugged appearance. But not of them crossed paths with Matt Dillon quite as much as Morgan Woodward.
Woodward, whose mustachioed face illustrated the "Dirty Half-Dozen" article, guest-starred on Gunsmoke more than any other actor — 19 times, typically as the bad guy.
"You won't find many men who look like me," Woodward said in the article. "Fortunately, there aren't too many of us around." It was revealed that all six actors were earning $100,000 to $200,000 per year thanks to their villainous typecasting — about a million bucks in today's cash. Not bad for getting beaten by Marshal Matt Dillon.
In his spare time, the divorced Woodward rebuilt and flew antique airplanes. He saw playing the nasty fellows as good therapy. It's a vent for all your bad impulses.
"Maybe I'm a nice guy in real life because I've had my spleen on the screen," Woodward pondered.
Not that his day-to-day life was all sunshine and roses. One day, Woodward was walking down the street when a stranger accosted him. This random woman began to berate the actor. Why? Well, he was the man who killed Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke and this lady took it personally — or at least too realistically.
Poor Victor French was pressed by his own daughter. "Why don't you be good sometimes?" the seven-year-old asked.
"Because I'm not very pretty, darling," the actor explained.
But at least Woodward got the chance to reform a character onscreen. In the Gunsmoke episode "Luke," in which he plays the titular Luke Dangerfield, Woodward's grizzled character sees the light late in life and tries to prevent another fellow from following a dark path. Woodward had previously portrayed a dozen dirty different characters on Gunsmoke, and all that baggage with the fans pays off. He may not have been the same man in those other tales, but he was essentially a similar guy. It makes his transformation all the more rewarding.