Gunsmoke the Early Years

I grew up watching the hour-long color episodes (seasons 12-20) of Gunsmoke in reruns and I liked the show. Now I’m watching the first 6 seasons…they are black and white and very different. There is no Festus or Newly…we have Chester (Dennis Weaver) and he is a refreshing character. They just never played these episodes on television when I was younger. There still is Doc Adams  (Milburn Stone)and a very young good looking Kitty Russell (Amanda Blake).

These episodes dealt with murder, rape, human trafficking, and plenty of Matt Dillon (James Arness) decking bad guys with his fist or the butt of his gun. They are 30 minutes long which is great. They got to the point quickly. Some of the stories were grim but it matched the look of the series.

I was surprised at how rough, violent and authentic they were and that is not knocking the later episodes but there is a difference. The violence was toned down as the series continued.

The later color episodes centered more around the guest stars and the old black and white ones centered more on the local cast of Dodge City.

Have Gun Will Travel was also on CBS along with Gunsmoke. You will see some of the same character actors and sets. Some Have Gun Will Travel scenes were filmed in a redecorated Long Branch… Too bad there wasn’t a crossover at least once.

Chester…I’ve always liked Dennis Weaver as an actor…in McCloud, Duel and anything he was in… He brings his character Chester alive as a real person. Chester had a limp on the show and Dennis Weaver said he would take yoga classes so he could do things like putting on a boot look believable with a bad leg…he also put a pebble in his boot on his right foot so he would not forget which leg was lame.

Chester could be lazy but he was invaluable and loyal to a fault to Matt Dillon. Dennis Weaver left the show after the 9th season with no explanation on what happened to Chester as was the way back then with TV shows.

If you are a fan and have seen only the later episodes…check these out.

Author: badfinger20 (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

11 thoughts on “Gunsmoke the Early Years”

  1. I am only familiar with the later episodes. Festus was the key character I thought- kind of like the George in Seinfeld or Barney in Andy Griffith. When my brother was born in 1968 my dad only half jokingly wanted to name him- Festus Eugene… That wasn’t happening.. If I recall correctly Gunsmoke was on Monday nights at 8pm.

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    1. That is funny about your Dad… Festus was a great character…a good sidekick for Matt. My Dad told me about Chester and his limp and I never got to see him. He is not as capable as Festus but he is there for Matt. The reason I wrote it is that I was taken aback by the violence and the grim stories that worked really well with the 30-minute black and white episodes. If you ever get a chance check it out. I’ve read where the network censors made them tone it back.

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      1. I never saw Amanda Blake that young either. She was very good looking… As you watch Have Gun Will Travel in one episode they do mention Matt Dillon…like I said it would have been a cool crossover on an episode.

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      2. That would have been awesome- a crossover episode.. they must have not thought outside of the envelope that much back in that time. Today they would probably have done it. Mentioning Have Gun Will Travel makes me want to get the DVD’s out…

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  2. I don’t know how I missed this yesterday but also in the old programs from the 50’s-70s…people would just disappear off the show like Chester with no explanation. I don’t know why they thought it would be a bad thing to explain why…

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  3. I probably started watching Gunsmoke when it first came to the UK! I can’t recall ever having seen it in colour, but we didn’t get a colour TV til long after most of the people I knew. Loved the show. There were loads of westerns on British TV in the 1950s, it was pretty much a staple of our viewing. Not just TV shows, but movies, as well.

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    1. Westerns were huge here at that time. It was probably the most popular type of show.
      Gunsmoke was good and also Have Gun Will Travel.
      Were the Westerns American or did the British make some?

      The early Gunsmokes were 30 minutes and some were brutal and harsh. I liked them but they toned it down as it went a long.

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      1. I think we probably took violent shows in our stride – these came onto our screens just a few years after WW2 and in comparison it was probably regarded as light relief (being fiction – even when it might have been intended to throw some light on the old American west). I didn’t arrive in the world til some years after the war ended, but my sister was born during it and my parents lived through it. Have you seen any of the other shows from then, like Bronco, Maverick and Rawhide? I was appalled to see recently that Ty Hardin who was the star of Bronco (the first tv western I loved as small kid) was anti-semitic. Not good news to me as I’m Jewish (but non-practising) but actually it seems not to have made much difference: my memories are still good.

        The Westerns were American. We had a huge amount of American content coming over, though more so in the 60s.

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      2. You know…I love British tv shows but I couldn’t see them making a western whatsoever.

        Rawhide yes I saw that one…with Clint Eastwood. Maverick…I’ve seen that one but Bronco I missed…which after what you said I’m glad I did. I just don’t understand people’s prejudices.

        Wanted Dead or Alive I’ve seen with Steve McQueen. I didn’t like westerns until a few years ago…I then went haywire and watched everything… That is my problem. When I get into something…I must find out everything about it and watch all of it…no matter the subject.

        An example of that is a couple of years ago I wanted to know about Jim Jones. I was 10 when it happened in 77 but I didn’t know why. I read 3 books in a row about that awful man. The third book I didn’t finish because I was disgusted by it.

        TV there is more lenient on things. Americans can be prudes. America will show violence like crazy but nothing else.

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