James Arness


  1. Jim Davis, The Big Sky, 1951.   Howard Hawks, The Grey Fox, paid $30,000 for the rights to the rights to AB Guthrie Jr’s Western saga and turned down the tall Norwegian-American from his sf film, The Thing, 1950.   Like Arness, David became a TV star – as head of the Ewing clan in Dallas from 1978 until his death in 1981.
  2. Robert Ryan,  The Tall Men, 1954.    In the mix for  the boss of the cattle drive from Texas to Montana in  “a story of tall men – and long shadows. ”  And a Gable far too old  for his role. 
  3. Fess Parker, Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier, 1955.   When the loser won…  For a final check on Arness, Disney execs saw his FBI agent in Them – which  also featured Parker. “And that completely changed my life.”  And his name in France: he became Fier (proud) Parker as  fesse is arse. Arness began TV’s Gunsmoke, instead,  and was still playing Marshall Matt Dillon 20 years later  –  for a final total of 297 hours!
  4. Richard Boone, The Alamo, 1959.   John Wayne’s crusade. His dream project, since the 40s. He would direct and play, maybe, just a short rôle. Sam Houston, maybe. It was Davy Crockett and he gave Houston to Arness. Big John had discovered Big Jim for  Big Jim McClain, 1952, and recommended him for Gunsmoke, TV, 1955-1975 – and even introduced the first episode. But Arness felt intimidated and simply “powdered” (as in: to take a powder, leave, split) and missed their TV set meeting. Duke was furious. He could never stand disloyalty. He told the then-TV director Andrew V McLaglen: “Get me the other guy you work with.” Enter: Boone from Have Gun, Will Travel.
  5. Clint Walker, Send Me No Flowers, 1963.   Canadian director Norman Jewison wanted a cameo  from a TV Western star in  the third and last Doris Day-Rock Hudson rom-com. Cheyenne was too busy, so Gunsmoke’s Marshal Dillon took over. Hudson approved the guest shot but hated the movie. “Making fun of death is difficult and dangerous.”
  6. Rock Hudson, The Undefeated, 1969.    Western director Andrew V McLaglen called Arness. And he was willing, but strangely backed off. The homophobic Wayne approved of using Hudson as he new co-star and never said a disparaging word  because he was (a) very tall  and  (b) played a good hand of poker.  Hudson was not happy about being told not to bring his gay lover on the three-month location in Mexico. 
  7. Harrison Ford, Witness, 1984.    Early runners for the John Book course were Mel Gibson, Jack Nicholson, Sylvester Stallone Earlier still,  Witness had first been  an idea for a chapter of US TV’s longest-running series, Gunsmoke,  1955-1975. Then  it had been for Jim’s  Marshall Dillon to go searching for a murder witness on an Amish farm near Dodge City.


 Birth year: 1923Death year: 2011Other name: Casting Calls:  7