James Arness was a beloved American television personality from the 1950s through the 1990s. He was one of the most popular Western drama performers in Hollywood due to his charismatic and commanding attitude, as well as his strong appearance. Throughout his career, James played a number of iconic roles that made him a household name.
Perhaps his most famous role was that of Marshal Matt Dillon in the television series “Gunsmoke.” James portrayed Dillon for an impressive twenty years, making him one of the longest-running television characters in history. Due to the success of the show and the popularity of his character, James became synonymous with the role of Dillon. As a result, he was often typecast in similar roles throughout his career.
In addition to his work on “Gunsmoke,” James appeared in a number of other films and television shows during the 1950s and 1960s. Some of his notable films from this period include “Wyoming Mail,” “Two Lost Worlds,” “The People Against O’Hara,” “Iron Man,” “The Lone Hand,” and “Island in the Sky.” He also had a role in the television series “How the West Was Won,” in which he played the character of Zeb Macahan. This role cemented his status as a television star in both the United States and Europe.
James worked with a number of legendary figures during his career, including Eva Marie Saint, Fionnula Flanagan, Richard Kiley, and Bruce Boxleitner. He was beloved by fans for his strong and stoic performances, as well as his rugged good looks. Due to the overwhelming popularity of his work, a paperback novelization of one of the first few episodes of “How the West Was Won” was expanded to an epic length of 400 pages.
Despite his success in the entertainment industry, James had a tumultuous personal life. He was born into a wealthy family, but his upbringing was far from perfect. His parents divorced when he was young, and he struggled to find his place in the world. James tried his hand at acting when he was younger, but he initially showed little interest in pursuing it as a career. Instead, he answered the call of the seas and pursued a career in the maritime industry.
James’s life took a tragic turn during the Second World War, when he was conscripted into the Navy. He and his younger brother Peter Graves both served their country, but James was wounded while fighting in the Battle of Anzio. He sustained life-threatening injuries to his right leg, and he spent several months in the hospital recovering. After a number of surgeries, he was eventually released from the hospital for medical reasons.
Years later, when James was a seasoned veteran at the height of his career, he finally pursued his hidden love of acting. He was discovered by a Hollywood agency while performing at a theater in Los Angeles, and he was soon cast in a few small parts. One year later, he married Virginia Chapman, and the couple had two children together. James also adopted a son named Craig during this time.
Despite his success in his professional life, James’s personal life was filled with tragedy. After a marriage of 15 years, he and Virginia decided to separate. James was awarded legal custody of their children as a result of the split. Virginia ran away to San Bernardino, California, shortly after the divorce was finalized. She passed away in 1977 as a result of a drug overdose, two years after their daughter had passed away from the same condition.
Despite the difficult times he faced, James continued to work toward his goals in the professional world. He eventually met his second wife, Janet Surtees, who appeared in the latter seasons of “Gunsmoke.” They were introduced by the spouse of his makeup.