James Arness was one of the most well-known faces on American television from the 1950s through the 1990s. His career spanned the decades between the two decades. At the time, he was one of the most popular Western drama performers in Hollywood because to his charismatic and commanding attitude, as well as his strong appearance.
Notably, James rose to prominence when he was cast as Marshal Matt Dillon in the television series “Gunsmoke,” a character that he continued to perform for a period of twenty years. James portrayed Dillon throughout the whole of the run of the show. Due to the fact that James has spent his whole career being identified by the part, the following productions in which he has appeared are connected to it.
He was a star on the weekly Western television series “Gunsmoke” from 1955 to 1975. In the television movie “Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge,” which was released in 1987, he portrayed the same role. In addition, he played the same character in the films that were made after the television series ended. These films include “Gunsmoke: The Last Apache” in 1990, “Gunsmoke: To the Last Man” in 1992, “Gunsmoke: The Long Ride” in 1993, and “Gunsmoke: One Man’s Justice” in 1994.
James established a reputation for himself as an actor during the 1950s by acting in a number of films in addition to the “Gunsmoke” television series franchise. These include, among many others, the films “Wyoming Mail,” “Two Lost Worlds,” “The People Against O’Hara,” “Iron Man,” “The Lone Hand,” and “Island in the Sky.”
However, his portrayal as Zeb Macahan in the television series “How the West Was Won” cemented his status as a television star in both the United States and Europe. James has appeared on television with such legendary figures as Eva Marie Saint, Fionnula Flanagan, Richard Kiley, and Bruce Boxleitner. Due to the overwhelming popularity of the show, a paperback novelization of one of the first few episodes was expanded to an epic length of 400 pages.
James had a rather tumultuous existence leading up to his marriage to his second wife, who remained his life-long companion until the very end, in spite of the fact that his life seemed to be quite glamorous behind the scenes.
James King Aurness was born into a very rich family. His father, Rolf Cirkler Aurness, was a successful businessman, and his mother, Ruth Duesler, was a writer. James grew up in Norway and was of German origin. When James was younger, he tried his hand at acting onstage, but later in life, he showed little interest in making a profession out of it and instead answered the call of the seas to pursue a career in the maritime industry.
He is the elder brother of the actor Peter Graves, who has appeared in “Mission: Impossible” and “Airplane!” While they were growing up, their mother instilled in them a love for the arts. While Peter pursued it right away, it took James a great deal longer to realize that it was meant to be his path in life.
James was conscripted into the Navy in the year 1943. Both he and Peter were in the military during the Second World War, but tragically, he was wounded while serving his country on the front lines. He sustained life-threatening injuries to his right leg while fighting in the Battle of Anzio. Following a number of operations, 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, which was acting. He was discovered by a Hollywood agency when he was performing at a theater in Los Angeles, and the agent put him in contact with Dore Schary, who cast him in a few parts in 1947.
One year later, he wed Virginia Chapman, who would become his first wife. Craig was given to James as an adoptive son. Rolf, who was crowned the World Surfing Champion in 1970, and Jenny were the offspring of James and Virginia, who had two children together. On the other side, Craig decided to pursue photography and eventually worked his way up to become an official photographer for National Geographic.
However, after a marriage of 15 years, James and Virginia decided to separate, and James was awarded legal custody of their children as a result of the split. After some time, Virginia ran away to San Bernardino, California, subsequently missing just after the divorce was finalized. She passed away in 1977 as a result of an overdose of drugs, two years after her daughter had passed away from the same condition.
James continued to work toward his goals in the professional world despite the breakup. Janet Surtees, who would later become Arness’s second wife, appeared in the latter seasons of the television show “Gunsmoke.” He was introduced to Janet by the spouse of his makeup artist, Glen Alden. At the time, Janet and Alden’s wife worked together at the same clothing business.
Janet was first dubious about the possibility of meeting James, a television personality, but since her son was a fan of James’s, she decided to give it a go and take that chance.
“I’m sitting there anxiously waiting, when all of a sudden I hear someone knocking on the door. And then this enormous guy walks in the door, and my first thought was, “Oh my god.” “He is a huge man, and He was extremely nice,” she remembers thinking about James when they first met.
“We were introduced to one other, and then we sat down. Jim was so kind, and he was just so down-to-earth that it completely took away whatever fear I had. We simply began chatting, and he was a skier, and I was into skiing.”
After the first get-together, Janet didn’t contact James for another three months after that. Because they decided to meet together for another meal, it was the beginning of the two of them embarking on a journey of a lifetime together as a couple.
At a ceremony held in Brentwood, Los Angeles, in 1978, James and Janet exchanged their vows and became husband and wife. Even after James finished his role as Marshal Matt Dillon on “Gunsmoke” and his movies, he and Janet continued to have a happy life together.
The Los Angeles Times reports that James, who was 88 years old at the time of his death on March 16, 2014, died away due to natural causes. Janet remained by his side till he took his last breath and passed away. He left behind his wife Janet, his son Rolf who lived in Virginia, and his stepson James who lived with Janet.