Warren : John Wayne not only advised Arness to take the show but volunteered to give it a send-off I never thought for a moment of offering it to Wayne
Gunsmoke was highly popular on both radio and television, making John Wayne the first name that came to mind for many fans for casting. As a result, many stories circulated that he was the first choice to join the cast. However, this Gunsmoke allegation “irritated” novelist, screenwriter, producer, and director Charles Marquis Warren. He once explained why Wayne was never requested to play the role.
‘Gunsmoke’ made the move from radio to television
John Wayne and ‘Gunsmoke’ actor Jim Arness.
Gunsmoke started as an American radio show, which ran from 1952 until 1961. However, it proved to be a big hit on the small screen starting in 1955 until 1975, where it remained one of the most popular shows on television for quite some time. The story followed Marshal Matt Dillon, who sought to keep peace in Dodge City.
Many fans of the radio show were up in arms about the network having no interest in bringing the original voice cast back. Rather, the network had an interest in introducing a whole new group of faces for the on-screen adaptation.
Wayne introduced Gunsmoke at the beginning of its airing, calling it a “different type of Western” with a new cast. The iconic actor’s friend, James Arness, played the lead role. However, that didn’t stop the rumors that Arness only played the part after Wayne turned the role down.
‘Gunsmoke’ rumors suggested John Wayne was the first which, which ‘irritated’ director Charles Marquis Warren
According to TV Guide, Wayne was never considered for Gunsmoke. Norman Macdonnell helped create the original radio program and produced the television adaptation. He confirmed that the role would have never worked with Wayne.
“Wayne was a big movie star and wouldn’t have considered TV for a minute,” Macdonnell said. “It was just a publicity story.”
However, the rumor continued to bother Warren for many years after. Nevertheless, Wayne had a very particular role to play in getting Arness to take on the Gunsmoke role.
“I hired Jim Arness on the strength of a picture he’d done for me,” Warren said. “At the last minute, he decided being on the little screen might not lead anywhere and he asked his friend Wayne to help get him out of his contract. Wayne not only advised Arness to take the show but volunteered to give it a send-off. I never thought for a moment of offering it to Wayne. But to this day even some of the cast go around repeating that story.”
The TV Guide article confirmed that casting the Marshal’s role was no easy task. Gunsmoke was never meant for Wayne, but the search was quite intense with 26 actors tested for the part. Raymond Burr was in the running, who had a “fine” voice for the part. However, “he was too big. When he stood up, his chair stood up with him,” Warren said.
Actor John Pickard almost got the part, but he “floundered” a love scene with Amanda Blake’s Kitty. “Pickard never knew how close he came to immortality,” Warren said.
Warren gave William Conrad a shot, who played the Marshal in the Gunsmoke radio show. However, the director admitted that he only did it to appease the press and had no intention of casting him.