James Arness

James Arness was a popular American actor who was best known for playing the roles of Marshal Matt Dillon for 20 years in the TV series Gunsmoke.

James Arness Early Life :

James Arness was born on May 26, 1923, in the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His mother Ruth Duesler was a journalist and his father Rolf Cirkler Aurness was a businessman. James completed his education from Minneapolis Washburn high school.  He had also completed Alma masters from Beloit College.

James Arness Body Measurements :

James Arness had of 6 feet 7 inch. His chest- waist, and hips measurements were 48-36-36 respectively.

James Arness Career :

James Arness had a dream to be a pilot as a naval fighter. His eyesight was poor so he couldn’t persue his dream. Arness yet served as a rifleman during the Infantry Division in the 3rd range within the United States. Arness joined WLOL radio station in 1945, as its a radio announcer and later decided to join the acting world.

James Arness then debuted in the 1947 film The Farmer’s Daughter. From 1952-1955 he joined John Wayne’s Company “Bat Jack” and with them, he appeared in four films and after that he played in the CBS series Gunsmoke which turned out as the longest-running dramatic series in television history.

James Arness Relationship :

James Arness was married twice with his first wife being Virginia Chapman whom he married in 1948 and they lived together until 1963 when Virginia died of drug abuse. He then married Janet Surtees in 1978 and had three children.

James Arness Net Worth :

The American actor had a net worth of about $10 million. His main income source was from the roles as an actor.


Facts of James Arness

Full NameJames Arness
Net Worth$10 Million
Date Of BirthMay 26, 1923
Age98 years 4 months
Place Of BirthMinneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.
Height6' 7" (2.01 m)
Weight235 lbs
EducationJohn Burroughs Grade School, Washburn High School, West High School in Minneapolis
SpouseJanet Surtees (m. 1978–2011), Virginia Chapman (m. 1948–1960)
ChildrenRolf, Craig, Jim, Jenny Lee
ParentsRuth Aurness, Rolf Cirkler Aurness
SiblingsPeter Graves (1926–2010)
NicknamesJames Arness, Arness, James
AwardsBronze Star Medal, Purple Heart, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three bronze battle stars, World War II Victory Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge
NominationsEmmy Awards for Best Continuing Performance by an Actor in a Dramatic Series (1957), Hollywood Walk of Fame, Western Performers Hall of Fame (Oklahoma City, 1981), Santa Clarita Walk of Western Stars (2006), 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time list (#20, TV Guide, 1996)
MoviesHow the West Was Won (1962), Her Twelve Men (1954), Carbine Williams (1952), The Girl in White (1952), The Lone Hand, The Thing from Another World (1951), Them! (1954)
TV ShowsGunsmoke (1955-1975), America's Star - (1988) , Law & Order (2010), Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge (1987), Gunsmoke IV: The Long Ride (1993), McClain's Law (1981-1982)
FacebookJames Arness Facebook
IMDBJames Arness IMDB

Quotes of James Arness

1With Gunsmoke (1955), we had an outstanding quality of writing. The show had been on radio for three years, so they were able to fine-tune the characters. What made us different from other westerns was the fact that Gunsmoke wasn't just action and a lot of shooting; they were character-study shows. They're interesting to watch all these years later.
2I have met many other actors who were great also, but there was something about him that was so special He was just off in a class by himself somehow. It was a real privilege really to be around the man and to know him. I was with his company for three years, and it was just a special time. - On John Wayne
3I had the pleasure of knowing Ronald Reagan before he became Governor of California. He was a truly great human being and we usually spent our time together reminiscing about mutual friends. He will be missed by all who knew him and by a nation that will mourn with us. (2004)
4"If they were man and wife, it would make a lot of difference. The people upstairs decided it was better to leave the show as it was, which I totally agreed with." - on why his Gunsmoke character, Marshal Dillon, never married Miss Kitty.

Quick Facts of James Arness

1He and Kelsey Grammer both hold the record for playing the same character the longest (20 years). However, since the length of TV seasons was longer between 1955-75, it results in 635 episodes as Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke (1955) for Arness and only 467 as Frasier Crane (on Cheers (1982) and Frasier (1993)) for Grammer.
2Had to dye his naturally blond hair for the role of Matt Dillon, since dark hair was considered more masculine.
3Was in the 3rd Infantry Division at the time as Audie Murphy. Murphy was in the 15th Infantry Regiment and Arness was in the 7th Infantry Regiment. Both regiments landed at Sicily and Anzio. Arness was wounded at Anzio and sent back to the US for treatment and discharge.
4His ex-wife, Virginia Chapman, died on July 29, 1977, at age 56.
5Had many times sailed with Buddy Ebsen.
6After his last role Gunsmoke: One Man's Justice (1994), he retired from acting at age 71.
7He and his brother Peter Graves never acted onscreen together; however, Graves did direct Arness in Gunsmoke: Which Dr. (1966).
8He was most widely known to be a very quiet and private man.
9Was a Boy Scout.
10Began his career as a contract player for Batjac Productions--John Wayne's production company--in 1952.
11In 1968 he donated his 1,400-acre ranch in northern Los Angeles County to the Brandis Institute.
12Before he was a successful actor, he was a radio announcer in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
13His acting mentor was the late John Wayne.
14He passed away on June 3, 2011, just one week after he celebrated his 88th birthday.
15His best friend and younger brother Peter Graves, died on March 14, 2010, just four days before his 84th birthday.
16Despite the fact that he was friends with Robert Fuller and James Drury, he did not appear on any episodes of other series, because Warner Bros. would not lend its contract players to competitors.
17Was the only actor to appear in all 635 episodes of Gunsmoke (1955).
18One of Harry Morgan's sons was the friend of one of his children. One of Morgan's sons spent the night at his ranch.
19Best remembered by the public for his starring role as Marshal Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke (1955).
20Acting mentors and friend of Buck Taylor and Amy Stoch.
21He is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.
22He was said to be somewhat self-conscious about his stature and quite happy when they took measures to obscure his towering height while filming "Gunsmoke".
23He had a lifelong affiliation with the Methodist church.
24He was a lifelong supporter of the Republican party.
25He was the son of Rolf Aurness and Ruth Duesler who divorced in the 1940s.
26He attended public schools and graduated from West High School in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1942. He studied for a year at Beloit College in Wisconsin before he was drafted into the United States Army during World War II as an infantryman. During the invasion of Anzio, Italy in 1944, his right leg was shattered by machine-gun fire, resulting in his losing part of his foot. He was hospitalized for a year and underwent surgeries to correct his leg, which left a limp. He was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his services. His injury made it difficult for him to walk for extended stretches. When shooting movies or TV shows, any scenes that required extensive walking would be shot early in the morning, before his feet and knees started giving out.
27He married Virginia Chapman and adopted her son, Craig, by a previous marriage. They had daughter, Jenny Arness and son, Rolf Arness.
28He was a longtime resident of the Brentwood area of Los Angeles, California with his second wife, Janet Surtees.
29He is survived by his wife, Janet Surtees of Brentwood, Los Angeles, California; son, Rolf Arness; stepson, Jim Surtees; six grandchildren, and a great grandchild. His adopted son, Craig, died in 2004 and his daughter Jenny died in 1975.
30Fought in the US Army during World War II, taking part in the landing at Anzio, Italy, where he was wounded. He received the Bronze Star; the Purple Heart; the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three bronze campaign stars; the World War II Victory Medal and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
31Although they never married, he had a long-term relationship and lived with actress Thordis Brandt.
32He never played the lead male role in a theatrical movie, only on the various televised incarnations of "Gunsmoke". In his theatrical films, he usually acted along tall leading men such as John Wayne, Robert Ryan and Jeff Chandler.
33Confirmed in a 2001 interview that he is completely retired from acting because he no longer has the stamina for it.
34Made four movies with his close friend John Wayne during the 1950s. He was also originally cast in Rock Hudson's role opposite Wayne in The Undefeated (1969). Wayne personally recommended Arness for the lead role in Gunsmoke (1955), and filmed an introduction for the first episode.
35Did not attend the premiere of The Thing from Another World (1951) because he found his role as the Thing embarrassing. He often remarked that he felt his make up as "The Thing" made him look like a giant carrot.
36Attended Beloit College.
37His status as a Republican disappointed Lady Bird Johnson, who was a fan of Gunsmoke (1955).
38Father of Jenny Lee Arness (born May 23, 1950) and Rolf Aurness (born February 18, 1952), with Virginia Chapman. He also adopted her son from her first marriage, Craig (born 1946).
39Very, very often during his career, this huge actor was surrounded by co-stars standing on apple boxes or had to perform standing in a ditch just so he could be in a shot.
40Member of Beta Theta Pi Fraternity
41Was rightly touted as the tallest leading man in Hollywood, although this title has since been taken by other stars, mainly basketball players turned "actors."
42Held the record for the longest continuous role portrayed by a single actor (20 years) on prime-time television (for Marshal Matt Dillon on the CBS western Gunsmoke (1955)), until Kelsey Grammer (Dr. Frasier Crane on Cheers (1982) and Frasier (1993)) tied the record in 2004 (at 20 years).
43On Friday, June 20th, 2003, Arness was honored at Los Angeles City Hall by the mayor, the 15 City Council members and the City Attorney with a resolution honoring his life's work as an actor and 60-year resident of Los Angeles. The colorful resolution included a depiction of a U.S. Marshal's badge and a salute to his work as Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke (1955) and its over-20-year duration as TV's longest-running drama series. It also recalled his heroism during World War II and thanked him for "leaving us with one of the most telling and realistic portraits ever created of the brave, tall man in the saddle who tames a western town as he searches for justice and peace." Arness called it "the most wonderful day in his life" and says the resolution is now framed and in a prominent place in his home. He received a standing ovation that morning.
44Inducted (as a cast member of Gunsmoke (1955)) into the Hall of Great Western Performers of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1981.
45According to an article on TV westerns in Time magazine (March 30, 1959), Arness stood 6' 7", weighed 235 lbs, and had chest-waist-hips measurements of 48-36-36. However, Arness usually gave his own height as 6' 6" in interviews.
46His daughter and actress, Jenny Lee Arness, committed suicide on Monday, May 12th, 1975.
47Became U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke (1955) after John Wayne suggested Arness to play it. (Wayne himself, contrary to legend, was never offered the role.).
48Honorary United States Marshal, "in recognition of his unique contribution to the image and traditions of the U.S. Marshal's Service".

Trademarks of James Arness

1The role of Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke (1955).
2Towering height
3Commanding voice

Filmography of James Arness





Archive Footage

Awards of James Arness




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