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General information  

  • Real name : James King Aurness
  • Place of birth : Minnesota
  • Date of birth : 26/05/1923
  • Place of death : Los Angeles
  • Date of death : 03/06/2011

Alias  

  • Arness James

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James Arness (1923)

James King Aurness

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  Summary  

James King Arness (May 26, 1923 – June 3, 2011) was an American actor, best known for portraying Marshal Matt Dillon in the television series Gunsmoke for 20 years. Arness has the distinction of having played the role of Dillon in five separate decades: 1955 to 1975 in the weekly series, then in Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge and four more made-for-TV Gunsmoke movies in the 1990s. In Europe Arness reached cult status for his role as Zeb Macahan in the western series How the West Was Won. His younger brother was actor Peter Graves.

  Biography  

 early life
Arness was born James Aurness in Minneapolis; he dropped the "u" when he started acting. His parents were Rolf Cirkler Aurness, a businessman, and his wife Ruth Duesler, a journalist. His father's ancestry was Norwegian; his mother's was German. The family name had been Aursnes, but when Rolf's father Peter Aursnes emigrated from Norway in 1887, he changed it to Aurness. Arness and his family were Methodists. Arness' younger brother was actor Peter Graves (1926–2010). Peter used the stage name "Graves", a maternal family name.

Arness attended John Burroughs Grade School, Washburn High School and West High School in Minneapolis. During this time, Arness worked as a courier for a jewelry wholesaler, loading and unloading railway boxcars at the James J. Hill's Burlington freight-yards in Minneapolis, and logging in Pierce, Idaho. Despite "being a poor student and skipping many classes", he graduated from high school in June 1942.

 acting career
After his discharge, Arness entered Beloit College in Wisconsin. He began his performing career as a radio announcer in Minnesota in 1945.

Arness came to Hollywood by hitchhiking and soon began acting and appearing in films. He began with RKO, which immediately changed his name from "Aurness". His film debut was as Loretta Young's brother, Peter Holstrom, in The Farmer's Daughter .

Though identified with westerns, Arness also appeared in two science fiction films, The Thing from Another World and Them!. He was a close friend of John Wayne and co-starred with him in Big Jim McLain, Hondo, Island in the Sky, and The Sea Chase, and starred in Gun the Man Down for Wayne's company.

An urban legend has it that John Wayne was offered the leading role of Matt Dillon in the longtime favorite television show Gunsmoke, but he turned it down, recommending instead James Arness for the role. The only part of this story that is true is that Wayne did indeed recommend Arness for the part. Wayne introduced Arness in a prologue to the first episode of Gunsmoke, in 1955. The Norwegian-German Arness had to dye his naturally blond hair darker for the role. Gunsmoke made Arness world-famous and would run for two decades, becoming the longest running drama series in U.S. television history by the end of its run in 1975. The series' season record was tied only in 2010 with the final season of Law & Order. Unlike the latter show, Gunsmoke featured its lead character in each of its twenty seasons; Gunsmoke also aired 179 more episodes, and was in the top 10 in the ratings for eleven more seasons, for a total of thirteen, including four consecutive seasons at number one.

After Gunsmoke ended, Arness performed in western-themed movies and television series, including How the West Was Won, and in five made-for-television Gunsmoke movies between 1987 and 1994. An exception was as a big city police officer in a short-lived 1981-1982 series, McClain's Law, co-starring with Marshall Colt. His role as mountainman Zeb Macahan in How the West Was Won made him into a cult figure in many European countries, where it became even more popular than in the United States, as the series has been re-broadcast many times across Europe.

James Arness: An Autobiography was released in September 2001, with a foreword by Burt Reynolds. Arness noted that he realized, "f I was going to write a book about my life, I better do it now ... 'cause I'm not getting any younger."

 personal life
Arness was married twice, first to Virginia Chapman from 1948 until their divorce in 1960. He adopted her son. She died of a drug overdose in 1976. Arness was married to Janet Surtees from 1978 until his death. He had two sons, Rolf and Craig . His daughter Jenny Lee Aurness (May 23, 1950 – May 12, 1975) committed suicide by overdose. Rolf Aurness became World Surfing Champion in 1970. Craig Aurness founded the stock photography agency Westlight and also was a photographer for National Geographic. Arness is survived by Rolf and by his adopted son.

Despite his stoic character, according to Ben Bates, his Gunsmoke stunt double, Arness laughed "from his toes to the top of his head". Shooting on the Gunsmoke set was suspended because Arness got a case of the uncontrollable giggles. James Arness disdained publicity and banned reporters from the Gunsmoke set. He was said to be a shy and sensitive man who enjoyed poetry, sailboat racing, and surfing. TV Guide dubbed him "The Greta Garbo of Dodge City". Buck Taylor thought so highly of Arness that he named his second son, Matthew, after Arness' character.

Arness died of natural causes at his Brentwood home in Los Angeles on June 3, 2011. He is interred at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.

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Whole or part of the information contained in this card come from the Wikipedia article "James Arness", licensed under CC-BY-SA full list of contributors here.