From the 1950s through the 1990s, James Arness was one of the most well-known television personalities in the United States. He was a major Western drama actor in Hollywood at the time thanks to his powerful build and charismatic demeanor.
The character of Marshal Matt Dillon, who he played for 20 years in the CBS television series “Gunsmoke,” is noteworthy since it helped James much in terms of recognition. James has been recognized for the role throughout his career, therefore it is connected to the future projects in which he appeared.
He appeared in the weekly series “Gunsmoke” from 1955 to 1975. He performed the same role in the television movie “Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge” in 1987. In the subsequent films, “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, he also returned to the role.
In addition to the “Gunsmoke” series, James became well-known through appearing in other movies in the 1950s. There are numerous examples of this, such as “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 “How The West Was Won” cemented his status as a television star in the US and Europe. Along with Eva Marie Saint, Fionnula Flanagan, Bruce Boxleitner, and Richard Kiley, James co-starred in a television classic. The popularity of the show was so great that one of its first few episodes was novelized as a 400-page paperback “epic-length” novel.
Despite enjoying a glamorous life in the spotlight, James had a rather troubled past before to his second wife, who became his lifelong partner and died before him.
James King Aurness, who was born to businessman Rolf Cirkler Aurness and journalist Ruth Duesler, led a rather affluent existence as a Norwegian with German ancestry. James briefly dabbled in theater acting when he was younger, but he eventually showed little enthusiasm in making a profession out of it and chose to answer the call of the sea.
Actor Peter Graves, who starred in “Airplane!” and “Mission: Impossible,” is his older brother. When they were young, their mother instilled in them a passion of the arts. Peter instantly pursued it, but James took much longer to realize that it was his destiny.
James was enlisted in the Navy in 1943. He fought in the Second World War with Peter, but regrettably he wasn’t completely unharmed. His right leg was seriously hurt at the Battle of Anzio. He underwent several operations before being medically released.
James pursued his passion for acting years later, when he was an experienced veteran in the height of his powers. A Hollywood agent saw him while he was performing at a theater in Los Angeles and introduced him to Dore Schary, who gave him a few roles in 1947.
He wed Virginia Chapman, his first wife, a year later. Craig was adopted by James. James and Virginia have two kids: Jenny and Rolf, the latter of whom won the world surfing championship in 1970. Craig, on the other hand, pursued photography and worked as a National Geographic official photographer.
However, James and Virginia divorced after 15 years of marriage, and James was given legal custody of their kids. Virginia eventually escaped to San Bernardino, California, and vanished just after the divorce. She passed away in 1977 from a drug overdose, two years after the death of her daughter from the same cause.
James continued to work toward his career despite the split. Arness first met Janet Surtees, who would become his second wife, in the later seasons of “Gunsmoke.” Through the wife of his makeup artist Glen Alden, he got to know Janet. At the time, Janet and Alden’s wife shared a fashion boutique.
Janet was first hesitant about meeting James, a television personality, but since her son was a fan, she gave it a shot and trusted fate.
“I’m tensely waiting there when I hear a knock at the door. Oh my my, I thought, as this gigantic man entered through the entrance. He is a large man and was really nice, “She remembers having met James.
“We sat down after being introduced to one another, and Jim was so amiable and down to earth that my anxiety vanished. He was a skier, and I was interested in skiing when we first started conversing.”
Janet didn’t call James after their initial encounter until three months had passed. They scheduled a second dinner date, which marked the beginning of their everlasting relationship.
James and Janet exchanged vows in 1978 in a ceremony in Brentwood, Los Angeles. Even after James’ role as Marshal Matt Dillon in “Gunsmoke” and his films, he and Janet continued to enjoy one other’s company.
The Los Angeles Times reports that James died on March 16, 2014, at the age of 88, from natural causes. Janet was at his side until he took his last breath. He left behind Janet, his Virginia-born son Rolf, and Janet’s stepson James.