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James Arness

James Arness

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Also Known As: Jim Arness, James King Aurness, Jim Arness, James Aurness Died: June 3, 2011
Born: May 26, 1923 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Minneapolis, Minnesota Profession: actor, advertising man, real estate agent

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Standing 6'7" and casting a shadow every bit as impressive as his mentor John 'Duke' Wayne, James Arness burned himself indelibly into the American psyche as Marshall Matt Dillon, Dodge City's straight-shootin' sheriff on the long-running CBS series "Gunsmoke" (1955-1975). Born James Aurness, this older brother of actor Peter Graves was recovering from WWII wounds suffered during the Anzio invasion when he joined a little-theater group, supporting himself as a real estate agent and advertising man. He made his screen debut in 1947's "The Farmer's Daughter" and appeared as GI Garby in William Wellman's WWII drama "Battleground" (1949) before working his way up to a supporting role in John Ford's "Wagon Master" (1950). That same year, he played to fearsome effect the vegetable monster of the Howard Hawks-produced "The Thing", but his size which made him perfect for the sci-fi classic's 8' cognitive carrot precluded him from working with most leading men. After six years in pictures, he still took a job credited as 'Mutant crouching by Raygunner' in "Invaders from Mars" (1953). One actor Arness did not dwarf was 'The Duke', and he supported Wayne in four pictures, beginning with Edward Ludwig's "Big...

Standing 6'7" and casting a shadow every bit as impressive as his mentor John 'Duke' Wayne, James Arness burned himself indelibly into the American psyche as Marshall Matt Dillon, Dodge City's straight-shootin' sheriff on the long-running CBS series "Gunsmoke" (1955-1975). Born James Aurness, this older brother of actor Peter Graves was recovering from WWII wounds suffered during the Anzio invasion when he joined a little-theater group, supporting himself as a real estate agent and advertising man. He made his screen debut in 1947's "The Farmer's Daughter" and appeared as GI Garby in William Wellman's WWII drama "Battleground" (1949) before working his way up to a supporting role in John Ford's "Wagon Master" (1950). That same year, he played to fearsome effect the vegetable monster of the Howard Hawks-produced "The Thing", but his size which made him perfect for the sci-fi classic's 8' cognitive carrot precluded him from working with most leading men. After six years in pictures, he still took a job credited as 'Mutant crouching by Raygunner' in "Invaders from Mars" (1953). One actor Arness did not dwarf was 'The Duke', and he supported Wayne in four pictures, beginning with Edward Ludwig's "Big Jim McClain" (1952). When CBS approached Wayne about playing the Matt Dillon role, he suggested the 32-year-old Minnesotan. The rest is history. As Marshall Dillon, Arness became a towering figure of rectitude presiding over the weekly rawhide morality play. The sad eyes had seen too much, but the voice remained gentle. Slow to provoke, implacable in pursuit, he gunned down evil and kept his town safe. When the longest-running drama in TV history finally fell, there wasn't much left for Arness to do. Although he would star in two short-lived series, ABC's "How the West Was Won" (1978-79) and NBC's "McClain's Law" (1981-82), his Matt Dillon character was just too huge a presence to forget, and he reprised the role in five TV-movies into the 90s. Arness also portrayed the larger-than-life character Jim Bowie in "The Alamo: Thirteen Days to Glory" (NBC, 1987) and starred in the 1987 CBS-TV remake of Howard Hawks' "Red River" (1948), playing Wayne's part, Tom Dunson.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Gunsmoke V: One Man's Justice (1994) Matt Dillon
2.
 Gunsmoke: The Long Ride (1993) Matt Dillon
3.
 Gunsmoke: To the Last Man (1992) Matt Dillon
4.
 Gunsmoke: The Last Apache (1990) Matt Dillon
5.
 Red River (1988) Tom Dunson
6.
 Alamo: 13 Days to Glory, The (1987) Jim Bowie
7.
 Gunsmoke: Return To Dodge City (1987) Matt Dillon
8.
 Macahans, The (1976) Zeb Macahan
9.
10.
 Flame of the Islands (1956) Kelly Rand
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Joined a theater group while recovering from severe wounds incurred during WWII
1947:
Made feature acting debut in "The Farmer's Daughter" (billed as James Aurness)
1947:
First film as James Arness, "Roses Are Red"
1949:
Portrayed GI Garby in William Wellman's WWII epic "Battleground"
1950:
Had supporting role in John Ford's "Wagon Master"
1950:
Played title role in "The Thing/The Thing from Another World"
1952:
First film with John Wayne, Edward Ludwig's "Big Jim McClain"
1953:
Re-teamed with Wayne for Wellman's "Island in the Sky" and John Farrow's "Hondo"
1954:
Acted in the sci-fi feature "Them!"
1955:
Final film with Wayne, John Farrow's "The Sea Chase"
1955:
Portrayed Marshall Matt Dillon in the long-running CBS series "Gunsmoke"
1956:
Second film with Ludwig, "Flame of the Islands"
1957:
Played a bank robber who hunts down the companions that abandoned him in "Gun the Man Down"
1959:
Made a cameo as Matt Dillon in "Alias Jesse James"
1976:
Portrayed Zeb Macahan in the ABC movie "The Macahans"
1977:
Reprised Zeb Macahan role in ABC miniseries "How the West Was Won"
1978:
Again played Zeb Macahan in the ABC series "How the West Was Won"
1981:
Starred as Detective Jim McClain in the NBC series "McClain's Law"
1987:
Played Jim Bowie in the NBC movie "The Alamo: 13 Days to Glory"
1987:
Returned to the role of Marshall Dillon in the first of five CBS-TV movies, "Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge"
1988:
Acted in the CBS remake of Howard Hawks' 1948 movie "Red River"; portrayed the John Wayne role of Tom Dunson
1993:
Executive produced and starred as Matt Dillon in the CBS movie "Gunsmoke: The Long Ride"
1994:
Executive produced and starred as Matt Dillon in the CBS movie "Gunsmoke: One Man's Justice"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Beloit College: Beloit , Wisconsin -

Notes

"I remember asking myself why doesn't he ever allow himself to be on the other end of the pole? Why not let Matt be wrong once? But Jim would never hear of it." --Amanda Blake, who played Miss Kitty on "Gunsmoke"

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Virginia Chapman. Married on February 12, 1948; divorced in 1960; attempted suicide twice.
wife:
Janet Surtees. Married in 1978; divorced.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Rolf C Aurness.
mother:
Ruth Aurness.
brother:
Peter Graves. Actor. Born on March 18, 1925.
son:
Craig Aurness. Mother, Virginia Chapman.
daughter:
Jenny Lee Aurness. Mother, Virginia Chapman; died of a drug overdose in 1975.
son:
Rolf Aurness. Mother, Virginia Chapman.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"James Arness: An Autobiography" McFarland

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