Gunsmoke:
Radio's Last Great Dramatic Series
(1952-1961)

The Characters and Setting | The Radio Cast | After Gunsmoke | The Opening


The Characters and Setting

Gunsmoke's four continuing characters on both radio and television were
Matt Dillon, United States Marshall,
Chester Wesley Proudfoot, his middle aged "helper,"
Charles "Doc" Adams, the town physician, and
Kitty Russell, a "saloon girl" at the Texas Trails.

Dodge_City_1876
Front Street, Dodge City, KS 1876
Gunsmoke was set in Dodge City, Kansas between 1872, when the Santa Fe Railroad reached town, and 1885, when local farmers forced the end of the Texas cattle drives along the Western Trail. Dodge City, known as the "Queen of the Cow Towns," the "Wicked Little City," the "Gomorrah of the Plains," had a reputation as a hostile, lawless town where the "fastest gun" ruled. As the opening of the show proclaimed: "Around Dodge City and in the territory on west, there's just one way to handle the killers and the spoilers and that's with a U.S. Marshal and the smell of gunsmoke." That marshall, Matt Dillon, was modeled after the real lawmen who "tamed" (or at least kept a lid on) Dodge City: US Deputy Marshall Wyatt Earp (1848-1929), Sheriff Bat Masterson (1856-1921), Sheriff Bill Tilghman (1854-1924), and Sheriff Charlie Bassett (c.1847-1869).


The Radio Cast

Radio_cast_of_Gunsmoke

A publicity photo by fellow actor, Harry Bartell, of the radio cast in western costumes
Howard McNear (Doc), William Conrad (Marshall Dillon), Parley Baer (Chester)
Georgia Ellis (Kitty)

On television these four characters were played by James Arness (Matt Dillon), Dennis Weaver (Chester), Amanda Blake (Kitty), and Milburn Stone (Doc).


After Gunsmoke...

During Gunsmoke's nine years on the radio, CBS presented 480 performances of 413 scripts. Many of these radio plays were adapted to television. One, The Ride Back by Anthony Ellis, became a full length movie starring William Conrad and Anthony Quinn. When the series went off the air in 1961, the four actors who played the continuing characters moved on to other things.

William Conrad

William_Conrad
William Conrad
on the cover of TVGuide

William_Conrad
William Conrad as Frank Cannon
Cannon

William_Conrad
William Conrad
A publicity photo from the 1970s.

William_Conrad William Conrad (1920-1994), who was the original Marshall Dillon and one of radio's most prolific actors (he claimed he performed in 7500 radio programs) became a television producer and director. According to a "TV Episode List" published on Gunsmoke: The Great American Western, he directed two television episodes of Gunsmoke: "Panacea Sikes" (April 13, 1963) and "Captain Sligo" (January 4, 1971) , and narrated a third-- "Women for Sale" (September 10 & 17, 1973).

Between 1963 and the series finale in 1967 his deep, resonant voice was heard under the opening credits of The Fugative. He was also the voice of the unseen narrator on The Bullwinkle Show (1961-1962), The Wild, Wild World of Animals (1973-1978), Tales of the Unexpected (1977) and How the West Was One (1978-1979). His first major on camera, television role was Frank Cannon in Cannon (1971-1976). This was followed by Nero Wolf (1981) and J.L. McCabe, the Fatman, in Jake and the Fatman (1987-1992). In addition to radio and television, Conrad appeared in at least 25 films between 1946 and 1960. His first on screen appearance was as Max, one of the killers in The Killers (1946). In most of these films he was cast as the villain or heavy. In his last movie Hudson Hawk (1991) he was once again the narrator.

The_Ride_Back_poster Between 1957 and 1968 he directed four and produced ten feature length films. The first film he produced was The Ride Back (1957) (also known as "The Way Back"), a western based on a 1952 Gunsmoke radio script. According to Leonard Maltin's Movie and Video Guide it is a "Well-handled account of a sheriff (William Conrad) and prisoner (Anthony Quinn) who find they need each other's help to survive the elements and Indian attacks." He died of cardiac arrest in February 1994 and was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1997.

Howard McNear

Howard_McNear Howard McNear (1905-1969), Gunsmoke's Doc Adams, was in 19 films. His first was Drums Across the River (1954); his last was The Fortune Cookie (1966). On television he made a number of guest appearances on Gunsmoke, but he is probably best remembered as Floyd Lawson , the barber of Mayberry USA, on The Andy Griffith Show (1960-1968). He died in January 1969.
Howard_McNear_and_Andy_Griffith
Howard McNear cutting Andy Griffith's hair
The Andy Griffith Show

Parley Baer

Parley_Baer_as_Miles_Dugan
Parley Baer as Miles Dugan,
The Young & the Restless
Parley_Baer Parley Baer (1914-2002), Marshall Dillon's "helper:" Chester Proudfoot, followed Howard McNear to Andy Griffith's Mayberry where he played Mayor Stoner. Between 1955 and 1961, in addition to being Marshall Dillon's "deputy," he was also Darby, Ozzie Nelson's next door neighbor, in The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (1952-1966). In 1993 and '96, he was cast as Miles Dugan, one of the senior citizens Cricket helped on CBS's The Young & the Restless. Parley Baer was cast in 56 films between Union Station in 1950 and The Last of the Dogman in 1995. He died November 22, 2002.

Georgia Ellis

Georgia_Ellis Georgia Ellis (1917-1988), Gunsmoke's Miss Kitty, appeared in numerous radio shows: The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, Broadway’s My Beat, Escape, Night Beat, Rogers of the Gazette, Romance, Suspense, This is Your FBI, The Whistler and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, but did not develop a major film or television acting career. She is listed in only three movie in the Internet Movie DataBase-- As Georgia Hawkins, her maiden name, she appeared in The Light of the Western Stars (1940) and Doomed Caravan, a 1941 B-Western starring William Boyd as Hopalong Cassidy. She was credited as Georgia Ellis in Dragnet (1954). After the close of Gunsmoke, she retired to Woodland Hills, California where she lived in peaceful anonymity as Georgia Ellis Puttfarken until her death in March of 1988.
Georgia_Ellis
Georgia Ellis
A publicity photo from the 1950s.

Georgia_Ellis_in_Doomed Caravan
Georgia Hawkins as Diana Wescott
from Doomed Caravan

The four individual character head shots were cropped from the CBS publicity photo of the radio cast in western costumes.

The Opening

The opening sequence of a radio drama introduces the audience to the location and major characters of the program. This introduction is normally made by the announcer with assistance from the Sound Effects and Music Departments. Below is Gunsmoke's opening in standard radio script format.
SOUND:       HORSE FADES ON TO FULL MIKE -- SINGLE SHOT -- RICHOCHET

MUSIC:       UP AND UNDER -- RECORDED -- CUT 1

ANNOUNCER:   Around Dodge City and in the territory on west -- there's just
             one way to handle the killers and the spoilers -- and that's with
             a U.S. Marshall and the smell of "GUNSMOKE"!


MUSIC:       THEME HITS: FULL BROAD SWEEP AND UNDER  -- RECORDED -- CUT 2

ANNOUNCER:   "GUNSMOKE" starring William Conrad. The story of the violence 
             that moved west with young America -- and the story of a 
             man who moved with it. (MUSIC: OUT)

MATT:        I'm that man, Matt Dillon, United States Marshall -- the first man 
             they look for and the last they want to meet. It's a chancy job -- 
             and it makes a man watchful...and a little lonely.

MUSIC:       MAIN TITLE -- RECORDED -- CUT 3 

Listen to the 1 minute, 10 second, opening to Gunsmoke

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Last updated: January 2, 2014
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