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.

Read to Me

"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.

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MikeMarshall 3 months ago
I know of only one spin off of Gunsmoke
"Dirty Sally ". I believe the name of the episode was "Pike". Love Gunsmoke and the entire cast.
Thank you METV!
Ric 3 months ago
Greetings. The Actors were Masters of what they did:
Entertain the audience by making themselves believable and convincing.
Kudos to All!
WF 3 months ago
Dr. Simon Van Gelder and Captain Ron Tracey in Star Trek! Both excellent and, in my opinion, very convincing performances!
DanielZabo 3 months ago
Jack Elam had a way at playing the bad guy each and every time. All of those fine gentlemen actors were great . But jack was my all time favorite.
LH DanielZabo 3 months ago
Wasn’t he the guy with that wonky eye? He was GREAT…
REALLY scary.
You kinda didn’t know what was going on in his head.
richardkel DanielZabo 3 months ago
He was really good at playing the bad guy. But every once in a while he would play a nice guy just as well. I remember the Gunsmoke episode "PS, Murray Christmas". He was looking out for a group of orphans. It also featured a super young Erin Moran and Jodie Foster.
Ariel 3 months ago
I had a crush on Victor French. That says alot about me.
DanielZabo Ariel 3 months ago
Did he play in Highway to Heaven?
richardkel DanielZabo 3 months ago
Yes. He played Michael Landon's best friend in both Little House and Highway to Heaven. He made lots of guest appearances on many old westerns, but you rarely saw him without the scruffy beard and mustache.
LH Ariel 3 months ago
I kinda did too!
JHP 3 months ago
never knew Capt Kangaroo toted a heater :)
CaptainDunsel JHP 3 months ago
What did you think those big pockets were *for*? 🔫
JHP CaptainDunsel 3 months ago
carrots for Bunny Rabbit:)
CaptainDunsel 3 months ago
Probably Mr. Woodward's least recognized role, in 1980's "Battle Beyond The Stars".
BruceBeckwith 3 months ago
I met Mr Woodward at an autograph show about 11 years ago. A very gracious gentleman.
MaryMitch BruceBeckwith 3 months ago
I met him a couple years before he passed on. He said one key to playing the bad guy is to "not blink your eyes". A very nice man.
justjeff 3 months ago
Nowadays there seems to be a plethora of 'pretty boy" *stars* and a deep shortage of real character actors... Give me the [supposedly] "good old days"...
DanielZabo justjeff 3 months ago
In my humble opinion...there was nothing supposedly about it. lol
LH justjeff 3 months ago
Best character actors EVER were in the late 50s-60s
justjeff LH 3 months ago
There were quite a few good ones in the 1930s and 1940s as well... Donald Meek, James Gleason, Edward Everett Horton, ZaSu Pitts, Fritz Feld, George "Gabby" Hayes, Cy Schindell, Symona Boniface, Jock Mahoney, Edna May Oliver, Dick Elliott, Charles Lane, Sheldon Leonard, Emil Sitka, Ward Bond, Leonid Kinsky, Maria Ouspenskaya, Helmut Dantine, Frank Faylin, Edward Arnold, Donald Crisp, Billie Burke, Everett Sloane... just to name drop a few of the hundreds of memorable "I know that person!" faces...
StrayCat 3 months ago
They could have very appropriately added Trevor Burdette to this bunch because he was as adept at playing the bad guy as any of them.
DethBiz 3 months ago
He was in so many episodes of Gunsmoke they ought to have just given him his own regular character in town. I thought I knew of all his appearances and then he popped up in an episode of Gunsmoke called Potato Road.
stephaniestavr5 DethBiz 3 months ago
What kind of character could you seen him portraying? What kind of job would he have had?
I could see him perhaps as having been a relative of Festus', with a similar personality. Then Doc Adams would have had to deal with stereophonic Festuses! The Doc would need some docterin' after talking with those two! Not sure of a job, though. Maybe a miner or a trapper.
Andybandit 3 months ago
Morgan is in a lot of westerns. He was a good actor.
richardkel 3 months ago
Bruce Dern should have definitely been on that list.
jeopardyhead richardkel 3 months ago
I was thinking Anthony Zerbe.
Pdls richardkel 3 months ago
Definitely! He was perfect as nasty psychos. Warren Oates and Jack Elam also come to mind.
MarkSpeck Pdls 3 months ago
Elam was mentioned in the original article.
Beta6 jeopardyhead 3 months ago
absolutely Anthony Zerby.
MikeMarshall richardkel 3 months ago
Loved to dislike Bruce Dern!
He was one of the best bad guys ever in any episode including "The Cowboys " with Wayne.
stephaniestavr5 3 months ago
Victor French's daughter wished he he would play good guys.
Well, in 1974, Michael Landon showed him the "error of his ways" "freed him from his life of crime," when he cast him to play the "not very pretty"
Isaiah Edwards on Little House On The Prairie. Then 10 or so years later he cast him to play "not very pretty" former cop & Angel's Assistant, Mark Gordon on Highway To Heaven. So his daughter got her wish, but it took about 5 years to have it granted!
MarkSpeck stephaniestavr5 3 months ago
And French also had the lead role as the Sheriff in Carter Country.
stephaniestavr5 MarkSpeck 3 months ago
Which is why he left LHOTP. Once that show was cancelled, he went and asked Michael for his old job back. (Or Michael asked him to come back.)
I've watched Landon on the Johnny Carson Tonight Show. Kinda got the feeling that Michael Landon was kinda short if he felt he was being disrespected, instead of just going with it.
harlow1313 3 months ago
Dragline: “Luke, you gone too far when you mess with the man with no eyes.”
Did you forget that you had already typed this? It appears below.
I have an elephants's memory.
WordsmithWorks 3 months ago
The Man with No Eyes. I would not have guessed it from his picture.
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