James Arness - Rotten Tomatoes

James Arness



American actor James Arness had an unremarkable Minneapolis childhood, but his wartime experiences shattered that normality - literally. During the battle of Anzio, Arness' right leg was peppered with machine gun bullets, and when the bones were set they didn't mend properly, leaving him with a slight but permanent limp. The trauma of the experience mellowed into aimlessness after the war. Arness became a "beach bum," lived out of his car, and worked intermittently as a salesman and carpenter. Acting was treated equally lackadaisically, but by 1947 Arness had managed to break into Hollywood on the basis of his rugged good looks and his 6'6" frame. Few of his screen roles were memorable, though one has become an object of cult worship: Arness was cast as the menacingly glowing space alien, described by one character as "an intellectual carrot," in The Thing (1951). For a time it looked as though Arness would continue to flounder in supporting roles, while his younger brother, actor Peter Graves, seemed destined for stardom. John Wayne took a liking to Arness when the latter was cast in Wayne's Big Jim McLain (1953). Wayne took it upon himself to line up work for Arness, becoming one of the withdrawn young actor's few friends. In 1955, Wayne was offered the role of Matt Dillon in the TV version of the popular radio series Gunsmoke. Wayne turned it down but recommended that Arness be cast and even went so far as to introduce him to the nation's viewers in a specially filmed prologue to the first Gunsmoke episode. Truth be told, Arness wasn't any keener than Wayne to be tied down to a weekly series, and as each season ended he'd make noises indicating he planned to leave. This game went on for each of the 20 seasons that Gunsmoke was on the air, the annual result being a bigger salary for Arness, more creative control over the program (it was being produced by his own company within a few years) and a sizeable chunk of the profits and residuals. When Gunsmoke finally left the air in 1975, Arness was the only one of the original four principals (including Amanda Blake, Milburn Stone and Dennis Weaver) still appearing on the series. Arness made plans to take it easy after his two-decade Gunsmoke hitch, but was lured back to the tube for a one-shot TV movie, The Macahans (1976). This evolved into the six-hour miniseries How the West Was Won (1977) which in turn led to a single-season weekly series in 1978. All these incarnations starred Arness, back in the saddle as Zeb Macahan. The actor tried to alter his sagebrush image in a 1981 modern-day cop series, McClain's Law -- which being set in the southwest permitted Arness to ride a horse or two. It appeared, however that James Arness would always be Matt Dillon in the hearts and minds of fans, thus Arness obliged his still-faithful public with three Gunsmoke TV movies, the last one (Gunsmoke: The Last Apache) released in 1992. In between these assignments, James Arness starred in a 1988 TV-movie remake of the 1948 western film classic Red River, in which he filled the role previously played by his friend and mentor John Wayne.

Filmography

MOVIES

RATING TITLE CREDIT YEAR
No Score Yet Gunsmoke: The Long Ride
  • Matt Dillon
  • Executive Producer
1992
No Score Yet Gunsmoke: The Last Apache
  • Matt Dillon
1990
No Score Yet Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge
  • Marshal Matt Dillon
1987
No Score Yet Gunsmoke: To the Last Man
  • Matt Dillon
1987
No Score Yet The Alamo: Thirteen Days to Glory
  • Jim Bowie
1987
No Score Yet The Horror Show
  • Actor
1979
No Score Yet Alias Jesse James
  • Matt Dillon
1959
No Score Yet Gun the Man Down
  • Rem Anderson
1956
No Score Yet The First Traveling Saleslady
  • Joel Kingdon
1956
No Score Yet Many Rivers to Cross
  • Esau Hamilton
1955
No Score Yet The Sea Chase
  • Schlieter
1955
No Score Yet Flame of the Islands
  • Kelly Rand
1955
No Score Yet Her Twelve Men (Miss Baker's Dozen)
  • Ralph Munsey
1954
100% Them!
  • Robert Graham
1954
No Score Yet Island in the Sky
  • McMullen
1953
86% Hondo
  • Lennie, Army Indian Scout
1953
No Score Yet Horizons West
  • Tiny
1952
No Score Yet Big Jim McLain
  • Mal Baxter
1952
No Score Yet Carbine Williams
  • Leon Williams
1952
No Score Yet Two Lost Worlds
  • Kirk Hamilton
1951
88% The Thing from Another World
  • The Thing
1951
No Score Yet The People Against O'Hara
  • Johnny O'Hara
1951
No Score Yet Wyoming Mail
  • Russell
1950
No Score Yet Sierra
  • Little Sam
1950
100% Wagon Master
  • Floyd Clegg
1950
100% Battleground
  • Garby
1949
No Score Yet Roses Are Red
  • Ray
1947
No Score Yet The Farmer's Daughter
  • Peter Holstrom
1947

Quotes from James Arness' Characters