The setting for Gunsmoke was the by-now-famous Dodge City, circa 1870’s. Phrases like “get out of Dodge” would enter the popular lexicon as a result of this resilient series. Marshall Dillon (Arness) was charged with keeping the peace in Dodge City. The only other character to see the entire 20-year run was kindly Doc Adams (Stone). Star Trek’s own Doc, Leonard McCoy, took many of his traits from Doc Adams. He was the humanitarian of the city, always looking to help someone. Like McCoy, he had a taste for bourbon and a soft heart underneath a rather gruff exterior and was always ready with free advice. Dillon’s love interest throughout most of the series was Miss Kitty Russell (Blake). While there were certainly a few romantic undercurrents, the romance never came to fruition. Miss Kitty was a prostitute on the radio and was likely one here as well, but CBS chose to underplay that aspect of her character as a “saloon girl”. Finally Dillon’s faithful sidekick deputy was Chester (Weaver). Chester often found himself in trouble and was the naïve son figure to Dillon.
Gunsmoke is the longest-running scripted live-action television show in history. The series ran from 1955 to 1975. At first it was a half-hour black-and-white show that evolved into a color hour by 1967. It actually started before the days of television, premiering on radio in 1952. Then it was William Conrad as the tough-as-nails Marshall Matt Dillon. When television came into its own, Gunsmoke made the jump to the bright living room box and made history. Westerns would ride across our small square screens for the next three decades, making it the most successful genre of that time, and it was Gunsmoke that started it all. The television version of Gunsmoke was originally conceived as a vehicle for John Wayne, who opted to remain in movies. Yet it was Wayne himself who suggested James Arness, and it turned out to be a career for the one-time “carrot” monster from The Thing. Gunsmoke started before all of the big westerns and was around when most of them had departed.
The 15th season is now out, and we’re closing in to that last handful of seasons. The two season halves have been released at the same time. It offers you the opportunity to buy it all together, and why wouldn’t you? You get 26 episodes on seven discs total. The only extras are a few episode promo spots.
Highlights from the season include: Stryker. We learn a lot about Matt Dillon’s past here. He was once the deputy to a marshal named Stryker. However, it was Dillon’s testimony that sentenced his former boss to 15 years in prison for murder. He’s out and has a little revenge on his mind. I love the back story stuff here. In The War Priest Kitty ends up kidnapped by a warrior Indian who is running from the Army. Matt Dillon has to track and find them before things get out of control. Matt Dillon ends up transporting a lot of prisoners, and this season there’s no shortage of adventures to be found on that road. In The Pack Rat, a trio of outlaws are willing to kill the marshal to free his prisoner. More of Dillon’s history is on display in The Badge. Kitty moves to another town after Dillon is nearly killed in a gunfight. In the new town she makes some discoveries about the marshal.
Guest stars in this collection include: Robert Lansing, Nina Foch, Jack Albertson, Susan (Cindy Brady) Olsen, James Best, Ronnie (Ron) Howard, John Anderson, Richard Hale, Loretta “Hot Lips” Swit, Beverly Garland, Jean Allison, and Get Smart’s John Schuck.
This was the show that keeps on going. While Dick Wolf managed to match the 20 years, Gunsmoke still has more episodes than any scripted television series in history. At 635 episodes, it’s proved its lasting power. Only The Simpsons beats it, so it’s the longest-running non-animated show in television history. We’re now only five seasons away from having the entire series out on DVD. That’s going to be nice to see it all up there on your video shelves. “I’ve been waiting a mighty long time for this.”