Gunsmoke

James Arness admitted that he felt insecure during the first season of Gunsmoke

At first, Arness was in over his cowboy hat.

Everyone is prone to bouts of self-consciousness, even Marshal Matt Dillon himself. While James Arness was a fairly seasoned actor by the time he won the main role in Gunsmoke, he recalled in his book, James Arness: An Autobiography, that at first, he was unsure if he even belonged in the show at all.

“As we started into the series, I realized that we were scheduled to do a number of shows in quick succession, yet I had more to do on the first one than ever in all my previous shows and movies,” Arness wrote. “I had the central role, and, back in those early episodes, I was in every scene. I had page after page, scene after scene, and at first I felt comfortable with it.”

However, Arness confessed that he began to feel self-conscious about his acting ability, especially when surrounded by the talent of his costars like Dennis Weaver, Milburn Stone, and Amanda Blake. “In the early days, as I began to act with these people, I got the feeling that my inexperience showed. They knew how to play a scene with all the nuances of a pro, while I had all I could do just to keep up with them.” Arness said. “I carried this feeling of insecurity throughout the first season.”

The feeling wasn’t fleeting; in fact, Arness felt more anxious as the show progressed.

“As the weeks went by and each show was produced, I started to feel like I was falling behind a little in the routine.” Part of this was due to Arness’ greenness as an actor. “I had no concept, at first, of how much work was involved in getting a solid grasp on the character I played.” Another part of the stress was because of Arness’ lack of familiarity with playing a lead role as large as Matt Dillon.

“I’d arrive in the morning to discover I had eight pages of dialogue for an interior set scene, followed by a six-page scene out on the street.”

Luckily, one of the show’s sponsors noticed Arness’ discomfort beginning to show in Gunsmoke scenes and quickly set him up with an acting coach that the star began seeing regularly. With a teacher, Arness not only became more knowledgeable about the show and his character, but he also became more confident in his acting abilities. In less than six months, Arness had finished his training and had done the work to become a better, more capable Marshal Matt Dillon.

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