Gunsmoke Took 20 Years to Get Outta Dodge

From 1952-1961, you could tune into Gunsmoke on your local radio to hear the adventures of the folks in Dodge City, Kansas created by Norman Macdonnell and John Meston. The primary characters were Marshal Matt Dillon (William Conrad), Doc Charles Adams (Howard McNear), Miss Kitty Russell (Georgia Ellis) and Chester Wesley Proudfoot (Parley Baer). Three years after its debut, the series shifted to television as well, running on CBS from 1955-1975, producing an incredible 635 episodes. For television, Macdonnell took over the reins as producer with Meston the head writer.

Amazon.com: Gatsbe Exchange Framed Print Gunsmoke Cast Marshal Dillon Kitty  Fester and Doc: Posters & Prints

James Arness was offered the role of Dillon on television. The network wanted John Wayne who turned it down. He did, however, introduce the first episode. Both Raymond Burr and Denver Pyle were also considered for the role. Matt Dillon spent his youth in foster care, knew the Bible well, and at some point was mentored by a caring lawman. He also talks about his time in the Army in some episodes.

Gunsmoke Cast Matt Dillon 8x10 Photograph – Vintage Poster Plaza
Photo: allposters.com

The role of Chester, with a new last name of Goode now, was played by Dennis Weaver. Chester was not only a loyal employee to Marshal Dillon, but he brewed a mean pot of coffee. He had a noticeable limp which apparently resulted from an injury in the Civil War. Weaver later said if he realized how hard it would be to film that long with a fake limp, he would have not used it. Other sidekicks to the Marshal included Ken Curtis as Festus Haggen, Burt Reynolds as Quint Asper (1962-65), Roger Ewing as Thad Greenwood (1966-68), and Buck Taylor as Newly O’Brien (1967-75).

Chester Good....Dennis Weaver Gunsmoke I've always loved that hat | Movie  stars, Actors, Tv westerns
Photo: pinterest.com

Doc was now Galen Adams and played by Milburn Stone. Doc was an interesting guy. He apparently was educated in Philadelphia and spent some time as a ship doctor on gambling boats on the Mississippi River where he met Mark Twain. His young wife died from typhus two months after their marriage. He finally settled in Dodge City after wandering a bit.

Gunsmoke photo 197 Milburn Stone
Photo: ebay.com

Miss Kitty was portrayed by Amanda Blake. Perhaps the closest bond she had with Dillon was that she also grew up in foster care in New Orleans. She was in more than 500 of the television episodes. In addition to her role as “entertaining men” in Dodge City, she is half owner of the Long Branch Saloon. Kitty and Matt obviously are attracted to each other and are very close. Kitty was a successful business owner and had a cold demeanor about professional matters but had a soft heart in other matters. Blake was ready to leave the show in 1974, and her storyline was that she finally returned to New Orleans.

Amanda Blake - Wikipedia
Photo: wikipedia.com

During its twenty-year stint, the show had some notable guest stars.  Just a few celebrities who graced the set include Jack Albertson, Ed Asner, James Backus, Beau Bridges, Charles Bronson, Bette Davis, Angie Dickinson, Richard Dreyfuss, Buddy Ebsen, Barbara Eden, Jodie Foster, Mariette Hartley, Ron Howard, June Lockhart, Jack Lord, Rose Marie, Howard McNear, Harry Morgan, Leonard Nimoy, Carroll O’Connor, Denver Pyle, Wayne Rogers, William Shatner, Cicely Tyson, and Adam West.

While the show portrayed the hard life in the West, it was also a warm and humorous celebration of a group of people making a new life together.

The opening of the show is a gunfight between Matt and a “bad guy.” It was shot on the same Main Street set used in High Noon, the Grace Kelly/Gary Cooper classic. The scene was dropped in the 1970s when a nonviolence emphasis was placed on television shows and the opening was Matt riding his horse.

Gunsmoke, The Great American Western
Photo: marksmannet.com

The show began its life on Saturday nights at 10 pm ET. In 1961 when the radio show left the air, the television show switched from half an hour to an hour. For season 13, it moved to Monday nights at 7:30 for four years, and then at 8 pm for four years. By season two it was a top ten hit, rising to number one where it remained until 1971.

The first seven seasons were sponsored by L&M cigarettes and Remington shavers.

The well-known theme from the show and radio was “Old Trails” composed by Rex Koury. Lyrics were later recorded by Tex Ritter in 1955 but not used in either radio or tv. Although I could not confirm it, I read several mentions that Koury was so busy, he actually penned the song while using the bathroom. William Lava composed original theme music for television; other composers who contributed music during the twenty years were Elmer Bernstein, Jerry Goldsmith, Bernard Herrmann, Jerome Moross, and Franz Waxman.

Photo: amazon.com

Surprisingly, the show was only nominated for fifteen Emmys during its reign. Of those, there were only three wins: one for best dramatic show in 1957, one for Dennis Weaver as supporting actor in 1958, and one for Milburn Stone in 1967.

After surviving the rural purge Paley conducted, the cast thought they were not in jeopardy and were all stunned by the cancellation in 1975. CBS had not prepared them that they were debating ending the show. They assumed the show was continuing till it had 700 episodes and many of the stars read about the cancellation in the trade magazines.

The show has appeared in syndication in three different versions. One package is half-hour episodes from 1955-1961, one package contains hour-long black and white episodes from 1961-1966, and the final package contains one-hour color episodes from 1966-1975. Me TV currently airs the one-hour color shows.

Photo: wichitaeagle.com

Arness would appear in five made-for-television movies after the show went off the air. In 1987, Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge featured Blake as Miss Kitty and Taylor as O’Brien. Stone had passed away in 1980, so his role was not part of the new film. Gunsmoke: The Last Apache premiered in 1990 without Blake who had died in 1989. In 1992-1994, Gunsmoke: To the Last Man, Gunsmoke: The Long Ride, and Gunsmoke: One Man’s Justice would appear before the series rode off into the sunset for good.

After being on television so long, it’s not surprising that there were a lot of merchandising opportunities for the show. In addition to typical items like lunch boxes, there was Gunsmoke cottage cheese. A Matt Dillon figurine was available with his Horse Buck.

Picture 2 of 8

There were also board games, puzzles and a variety of books including numerous paperbacks and comic books from Dell and Gold Key.

1950s Gunsmoke lunch box with thermos. Vintage Gunsmoke Matt Dillon U.S.  Marshall metal lunchbox with thermos. Lunchbox depicts James Arness as Matt  Dillon draw…

Fans had an affinity for the show. During its time on the air more than thirty westerns came and went, but Gunsmoke continued, in the top ten for most of its two decades. Few series have their own museum, but you can visit Boot Hill Museum in Dodge City to learn all about the show. Furniture from the series is included, as well as signed photos from the cast and other memorabilia including one of Miss Kitty’s dresses.

When you hear someone say “Get outta Dodge,” you can fondly remember Gunsmoke which is where this phrase began. Perhaps being cancelled was a blessing in disguise. After two decades, maybe it was time to get outta Dodge, maintaining the high standards and high ratings that made the show such a long-running success.

Laughing Every Day with Beverly Archer

As we continue looking at some of our favorite actresses, today we get to spend some time with Beverly Archer. Beverly was born in Oak Park, Illinois in 1948 but grew up in California.

See the source image
Photo: behindthevoiceactors.com

Beverly knew she wanted to enter the acting profession and studied at both San Francisco State University and UC Santa Barbara where she majored in drama. But once she graduated, she decided acting wasn’t for her. She worked for Wells Fargo for two weeks and then accepted a job with Abbey Rents in Los Angeles where she worked for three years. She says she was lonely and not having fun, so she started taking acting classes again and working with theater groups.

Unlike a lot of actors who have to spend decades before nabbing their first series, the first two television roles Beverly received were regulars. However, Beverly paid her dues working in commercials before appearing on a series. She said they gave her confidence that she could make a living acting, so she was able to quit her job.

See the source image
The Nancy Walker Show
Photo: memorabletv.com

In 1976, she appeared on The Nancy Walker Show. She played Nancy’s daughter,  Lorraine. In a recent interview with Sitcoms Online, Beverly said she ran into a guy she had done some theater with who had become an agent. He signed her and got her the audition for the show. Archer was reading the script with several other actresses but apparently, she was the only one who found the scene very funny. Nancy then read with her and the producers felt they could be family. She says she was in the right place at the right time.

See the source image
With Oliver Clark on We’ve Got Each Other
Photo: sitcomsonline.

Unfortunately, the show only lasted one season, but in 1977, Beverly was offered the role on We’ve Got Each Other. The plot for this show was that Stuart Hibbard (Oliver Clark) worked at home, cleaning and cooking while his wife Judy (Archer) worked in LA for photographer Damon Jerome (Tom Poston). Stuart had to deal with domestic situations and his next-door neighbor Ken (Martin Kove) while Judy dealt with work situations and secretary Donna (Renn Woods). Like her first show, this sitcom only lasted one season as sell.

In 1976 she accepted another permanent role as Mrs. Robert Bernard. She met her husband through an acting teacher. He was also an actor, doing a lot of voice-over work.

During the 1980s, she would receive offers to play recurring characters on four shows.

See the source image
Photo: tumblr.com

On Spencer, she played Miss Spier, a divorced friend of Spencer’s mother. Most episodes show Spencer, played by a very young Chad Lowe, humorously dealing with the drama of high school.

In 1985 she was on ten episodes of Washingtoon. This is a little-remembered show that aired on Showtime. The plots centered around a senator who wasn’t too bright and Archer was his secretary on the show.

In 1988, she appeared on ALF as neighbor Mrs. Byrd.

See the source image
Photo: sitcomsonline.com

One of her best-known roles occurred on Mama’s Family. Beverly portrayed Iola Boylen from 1986-1990. In the Sitcoms Online interview, Archer talked about being on Mama’s Family. She explained that the network version was cancelled, and Joe Hamilton decided to recreate it in syndication. At that time, no one really did syndication shows. Archer says he was a pioneer in the field. Betty White and Rue McClanahan moved over to Golden Girls, so there was a gap for a new character and Archer was hired for the syndicated show. She says some of her favorite moments on the show were working with Ken Berry. She described him as the funniest person on the planet.

See the source image
Photo: tumblr.com

Beverly tried her hand at writing and received credits for scripts for Mama’s Family, Working Girl and ALF.

In addition to these regular roles, she guest starred on a variety of shows, including It Takes Two, Family Ties, The Fall Guy, and My Sister Sam.

See the source image
Photo: allstarpics.famousfix.com

During the decade of the nineties, Beverly was again lucky enough to gain a recurring role on five additional shows: Married . . . with Children, Aahh Real Monsters, Jumanji, The Young and the Restless, and Major Dad. On Married . . . with Children, she was a sexually repressed librarian who falls in love with Bud.

On Major Dad, she played the role of Alva Bricker, gunnery sergeant. During an interview with Jerry Buck in 1992, Archer says she used John Wayne for her role model for Alva because he was the only Marine she could remember. Describing her character on the show, Archer says “She’s the best Marine on the base. I think the driving force behind the characters is that she’s the best. But the personal stuff is fun to play. She has a wild sex life, but the crux is that she’s incredibly efficient as administrative chief of the commanding general’s office.”

See the source image
Photo: ebay.com

After portraying so many school-marm types of characters, she was happy to have a different sort of character to work with. Beverly says Gunny has a macho-style to her femininity. She treated relationships the way men typically did. She didn’t want to be tied down to one man.

Beverly joined the cast in season two. Once again, she benefitted from the fact that several characters from the first season were let go. The show was produced by Rick Hawkins who also worked with her on Mama’s Family. Archer loved the fact that Gunny was so different from Iola on that show.

She also guest starred on nine shows, including Full House, Love and War, and Grace Under Fire throughout the 1990s.

See the source image
Photo: avelyman.com

In 1995 she was part of the fun, satire, The Brady Bunch Movie, playing a teacher who gets caught stealing.

Beverly accepted that she was typecast in many of her roles. As she described it, “Nobody’s going to let me play a normal human being, certainly not a lead. Certainly not a normal next-door neighbor. I’m there to add a character twist. That’s my living and with this mug, what do you expect?”

See the source image

Beverly retired in 2002. Beverly may have retired, but she was not sitting around the house twiddling her thumbs. She opened an antique shop in the Catskills in upper New York which she ran for about eight years, spending half the year in New York and half in California. She finally moved the shop to California to eliminate the bicoastal living.

Photo: Xiem Gallery

She also wanted to do a lot of traveling. Now she is sculpting with clay and getting to travel. She studied her craft in Italy. In 2008, Beverly had an exhibit at the Xiem Gallery in Pasadena, CA, entitled “2008: A Year of the Pig: A Beginner’s Journal.” The exhibit included some of her thoughts on her art:

“There was so much to learn.
Despite the fact that I began with 365 pigs I never thought back then that I would be able to count on two hands the number of pieces I have made that are not critters. I cannot seem to divorce myself from them. Nor do I want to.
Our relationship to other animals is quite a complex one, of course. We tend to imbue them with attributes and feelings we admire. We find our domestic companions delightful, amusing, courageous and intelligent…..all attributes we would like to see in ourselves. We even find the critters we eat to be companionable as well as useful.
Perhaps I will branch out eventually. Perhaps to wild animals. We think them fascinating, noble and mysterious. And yet, we threaten them, hunt them or ignore them and fail them constantly.
One can’t know for certain but I imagine that in years hence I will still be working on the animal form.
There is so just much to learn.”

While I’m sad, her retirement took her out of our living rooms, she seems to have found a wonderful new career. Since writing my blog, and writing in general, has become my almost-retirement career, I understand the passion and satisfaction she is experiencing in her new art life.

See the source image
Photo: famousbirthdays.com

When asked about the type of roles she wanted to play or would like to have if she had not retired, Beverly responded that “I loved doing comedy, and there is no greater gift than coming to work laughing every day.” I hope she is still laughing every day, and I thank her for the many days of laughter she provided for us.

Verrry Interrresting!

Occasionally, a show is so entrenched in the time and culture it debuts in, it becomes almost impossible to describe or understand away from its original setting. Dan Rowan and Dick Martin were nightclub comics who co-hosted a special called Laugh-In in 1967.  The name was a play on words based on the love-in’s and sit-in’s happening in the 1960s.  The special was so popular it was turned into a weekly series. I think of Laugh-In as Sesame Street for adults.  Both shows debuted in the late 60s and had a rapid-fire approach, continually moving on to the next segment so the viewer would not get bored. The show captured the counterculture movement and the lime green, turquoise, fuschia, deep orange, bright yellow, and paisley flowers kept our eyes moving as quickly as the jokes did. The show lasted six seasons.

laughin1

Regular cast members who went on to other careers included Ruth Buzzi, Gary Owens, Alan Sues, Arte Johnson, Henry Gibson, Lily Tomlin, Richard Dawson, Jo Anne Worley, Goldie Hawn, Judy Carne, Dave Madden, and Flip Wilson.

Numerous celebrities flocked to the show.  Movie stars that were reeled in included John Wayne, Jack Benny, Peter Lawford, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Charles Nelson Reilly, Debbie Reynolds, Rock Hudson, Jack Lemmon, Edward G. Robinson, Sally Field, Orson Welles, and Rita Hayworth.  Noted musicians included Sammy Davis Jr., Dinah Shore, Johnny Cash, Perry Como, Liberace, Bing Crosby, Cher, Rosemary Clooney, and Liza Minelli. Sports stars tackled the chore including Joe Namath, Wilt Chamberlin, Sugar Ray Robinson, and Howard Cosell.  Comedians who laughed their way on the show included Rich Little, Don Rickles, Bob Hope, Bob Newhart, Paul Lynde, and Carol Burnett. Classic tv stars who accepted starring roles were Tim Conway, Carl Reiner, Steve Allen, Jim Backus, Ernest Borgnine, Eve Arden, Andy Griffith, Desi Arnaz, and Wally Cox.

The format rarely changed from week to week.  Rowan and Martin opened each show with a dialogue; Rowan acted as the straight man, and Martin took on the gullible role. Then the regular cast, along with celebrities, danced against a psychedelic background, firing off one-liners and short gags. Comedy bits, taped segments, and sketches filled in the rest of the hour and always ended with Rowan telling Martin to “Say goodnight, Dick” and Dick replying, “Goodnight Dick.”

Some of the regular features were:

laughinn

The Cocktail Party where the cast stood around spouting politically and sexually suggestive jokes.

Letters to Laugh-In where the cast read letters.

ROWAN AND MARTIN'S LAUGH-IN,  Teresa Graves, Pamela Rodgers, 1969-1970.

It’s a Mod, Mod World where go-go dancers danced in bikinis with puns and word play phrases painted on their bodies.

farkel

The Farkel Family about a group of red-headed, freckled family members.

fickle

The Flying Fickel Finger of Fate Award where dubious achievements were celebrated.

Laugh-In Looks as the News was comparable to the Saturday Night Live news sketches of today.

New Talent Time showing various weird skills.

Many of the regular cast members had their own skits that were repeated during the series’ run:

carne

Judy Carne was always tricked into saying “Sock it to Me” which then caused her to get doused with water, fall through a trap door, or endure some other indignity. Sometimes celebrities ended up being the ones to say “Sock it to me,” the most famous being Richard Nixon when he was campaigning for president.

buzzi

Arte Johnson played Tyrone, an inappropriate senior citizen who tries to seduce geriatric Ruth Buzzi as Gladys, forcing her to eventually hit him with her purse.

laughinc

Henry Gibson came on stage holding an oversized paper flower, reciting poetry.

Lily Tomlin performed skits as Ernestine, a telephone operator or Edith Ann, a young girl sitting in a rocking chair. (Personal note:  When I was in 4th grade, I performed an Ernestine and an Edith Ann skit for our talent show.  Why a 9-year-old was watching Laugh-In and the school approved the skits, I can’t say, but I remember getting a lot of compliments.  And Lily Tomlin didn’t sue me for stealing her material!)

sues

Alan Sues portrayed Uncle Al, a children’s show host, who was short tempered and often in bad shape from his late partying nights.

laughinh

Flip Wilson was Geraldine.

laughin6

Jo Anne Worley would say “Bor-ing” in the midst of jokes.

laughing

Goldie Hawn as the ditzy blonde.

The series also became known for some of its catch phrases including “Look that up in your Funk & Wagnalls,” “You bet your sweet bippie,” “Beautiful downtown Burbank,” “Is that a chicken joke?,” “Sock it to me,” “Here come de judge,” and “Verrrry Interesting.”

The show was one of the highest rated shows in the late 1960s. It was in the top 4 of the top 40 shows for its entire run. It won Emmy and Golden Globe awards. The Nielsen polling determined it was the most-watched show in seasons 1 and 2.

The show had its own magazine for a year.  Trading cards were sold with catch phrases and images from the show. Several records were produced capturing the humor of the time.  There was even a set of View-master reels made, as well as lunch boxes and other memorabilia.

laughinrev

Laugh-In debuted fifty years ago, but still feels new and edgy. Because the show has not been syndicated in re-runs, it is hard for the current generation to imagine how very different this show was from anything else that appeared on television before it.  The closest show to capturing any of its essence since then is Saturday Night Live.  This was a time when everything was changing: civil rights, Vietnam, women’s lib, the hippie lifestyle, psychoactive drugs, anti-authoritarianism, freedom of speech and assembly, and environmental concerns, especially littering and pollution.

The Generation Gap was a real concept in the 1960s but this show might have come as close as anything else to bridge that gap. Families sat down together to watch the show. Many of the phrases still have a life of their own decades later even thought decades of kids have never seen the show.  Plan your own little sit-in when you check out a couple of the you-tube videos to get a flavor of what the series was like.