James Arness, who died on June 3 aged 88, played Matt Dillon, the square-jawed, heroic marshal of Dodge City in Gunsmoke, which became one of America’s most durable television series.
Critics hailed the show — which ran from 1955 to 1975 and was known in Britain as Gun Law — as “the grimy, gritty version of the reality of frontier life” and as “television’s first adult Western”. One summed up Arness’s performance as Dillon with the words: “[His] slab-like face and massive outline merges all our memories of frontier lawmen. Dillon is the Virginian, Wyatt Earp, Gary Cooper, Shane and John Wayne lumped into a single, definitive, towering good guy.”
A strong supporting cast included Milburn Stone as Doc, Amanda Blake as the saloon keeper and Dennis Weaver as Dillon’s gullible deputy Chester Goode. From 1962 to 1965 a youthful Burt Reynolds was recruited to play Quint, the lusty, honest Dodge City blacksmith.
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