James Arness is recognized as one of America's most beloved actors. Generations have grown up with him as Marshal Matt Dillon on television's longest running series, GUNSMOKE. His ability to create an enduring character in America culture is unsurpassed and Hollywood honored him with a star on the world famous Walk of Fame for his many years on television.
Jim Arness was born on May 26, 1923 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and began his long and illustrious career as a radio announcer in Minnesota in 1945.
After moving to Los Angeles, he found work in the movies. His big break came in 1947, when he landed a prime role opposite Loretta Young in "The Farmers Daughter". That year he also received parts in numerous westerns. In 1951, Jim appeared in the classic science fiction movie "The Thing". Jim's career was now taking off.
In the early 1950's, Jim signed a contract with John Wayne's production company Bat Jack. During his three years there he made four films with Wayne. It was John Wayne who was instrumental in landing Jim his biggest break ever in 1955 as Marshal Matt Dillon for a new TV series called Gunsmoke. As the story goes, CBS wanted Wayne for the part when the series was adapted from radio to television. He declined, but suggested his good friend for the part. CBS agreed to audition the 6-foot-7-inch actor. (The network also met with 25 other actors, including Raymond Burr.)
After being selected to play Dillon, Jim had second thoughts about doing television but decided to give it a try. He did, and stayed with Gunsmoke for 20 years and three Emmy nominations, until the show was cancelled in 1975, making it the longest running dramatic series ever produced. In addition to the series he made four Gunsmoke movies for TV the last of which was produced in 1992 "Gunsmoke IV: The Long Ride"
After the success of Gunsmoke, Jim stayed with the television western. From 1976 through 1979 he starred in "How the West Was Won," which was rated as the fifth all time mini-series. His last television series was the police drama "Big Jim McLain" in the early 1980's.
Throughout his career, James Arness received numerous awards and honors for his work and dedication to law enforcement. He has twice been made an Honorary United States Marshal in recognition of his many contributions to their charitable activities over the years. Jim has been inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City and received numerous Western Heritage Awards.
During World War II, Jim served his country at Anzio where he was wounded and was awarded the Purple Heart.
Over the years Jim has given his time and personal donations to several non-profit organizations. In 1968, he donated his 1,400 acre ranch in Northern Los Angeles County to the Brandis Institute. He also donated his 60 ft. catamaran 'Sea Smoke', that was specially built for him, to the Sea Scouts.
These days Jim is busy with many projects and charity involvements. One closest to his heart is the United Cerebral Palsy organization. Jim is also hard at work on his long-awaited autobiography. Jim and his wife Janet live in the Brentwood area of Los Angeles and are actively involved with their family, three sons and three grandchildren.
Warning Copyright Disclaimer
Any reproduction of photos, autobiography or text is strictly prohibited without the written permission of Janet Arness