James Arness started his career as a radio announcer in his home state of Minnesota in 1945. His break in the field of movies came in 1947 after moving to Los Angeles and getting a role in The Farmer’s Daughter along with a number of Westerns. In 1951 he landed a part in the horror classic “The Thing.” In the early ’50s James was signed to Bat Jack productions, owned by John Wayne.
After acting with “The Duke” in four films over the next three years his big break came when John Wayne turned down the CBS offer to star as Marshall Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke and suggesting that James play the part. So started a 20 year run until the show was canceled after the 1975 season. After leaving Dodge City, Arness would go on to star in “How The West Was Won,” a mini series which ran over three seasons from 1976-79. Except for a few appearances on TV movies, James stayed behind the camera as a producer and a consultant for a few projects.
He is the elder brother of Peter Graves.
He has three nieces, Kelly, Claudia and Amanda, the daughters of his younger brother, Peter Graves.
He played the role of Marshal Matt Dillon on “Gunsmoke” from 1955 to 1975. This is the longest running prime time role in American television history. It has only been equalled once, by Kelsey Grammer in 2004.
His daughter, Jenny Lee Aurness, died of a drug overdose in 1975.
He has two sons, Craig and Rolf.
He was married to Virginia Chapman from February 12, 1948 to 1960. They had three children, Jenny, Craig and Rolf.
Key TV Appearances
McClain’s Law (1981) as Jim McClain
How the West Was Won (1978) as Zeb Macahan
Gunsmoke (1955) as Matt Dillon
Birth Name: James King Aurness
Date Of Birth: May 26, 1923
Country Of Birth: USA
Birth Place: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Date Of Death: June 03, 2011
Cause Of Death: natural causes
Height: 6′ 7″ (2 m) (Age 88)