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Gunsmoke: 1957

Gunsmoke: 1957

1957. "Actor James Arness filming on location for the television series Gunsmoke," in the notional Kansas landscape around Dodge City. Photo by Maurice Terrell for the Look magazine article "Jim Arness: Hero of Gunsmoke." View full size.

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Location: Wildwood Park Area

The Location for this shoot is; corner of Wildwood Ave at W. Olsen Rd. Thousand Oaks, CA looking about due East at the hill.

Those were the days

when I would watch Gunsmoke every week, cap gun in hand. Growing up in the 1960s, it was my favorite show. Today, at age 55 I come home from the office and turn on the Western channel and watch the early episodes every week night. It's still a great show after all these years. My only peeve about Gunsmoke, and the same with virtually all westerns of the era, is the use of guns that are often too modern for the period. Matt's 7.5" barrel Colt model 1873 is correct and authentic. But had just come out and was not yet common. His quick draw, low slung holster is a more modern invention as well. The use of model 1892 Winchester rifles is almost universal in westerns of this era, but is totally incorrect for the 1870s. But regardless, of these mior nits, I love the series and the morals they conveyed. Please post more Gunsmoke photos if possible.


The location shots were probably in SoCal near Hollywood. Crew union pay rules specify higher rates when further than 30 miles from LA, so that is why most things are filmed in and around there. The TMZ in etc actually stands for "thirty mile zone" in reference to this

Nice vignette

If they weren't shooting at this moment, they should have been. Arness' stance is a great publicity still.

Gunsmoke on Radio and TV

I listen to episodes of the Gunsmoke radio show every night as I fall asleep. It is constantly streaming over the internet from three or four separate sources. The quality of these radio shows is outstanding, beginning with Willaim Conrad's portrayal of Matt Dillon. Several of the radio actors turned up repeatedly on the tv series. One radio actor who played many roles was James Nusser who played town drunk Louie Pheeters on tv. Another regular radio actor was John Dehner who played roles in many movies, tv and radio. Dehner also played Paladin in the radio version of "Have Gun Will Travel" and did a fantastic job. Many radio scripts were remade for television, and this was very noticeable in "Have Gun Will Travel." That does look like Dennis Weaver playing Chester Goode in a tv episode (the character's name was Chester Proudfoot in the radio series). Doc Adams was portrayed on radio by Howard McNear who is better know for playing Floyd the Barber on "The Andy Griffith Show." All good stuff, and most of it has been properly preserved for future generations. Oh, and finally, James Aurness (original spelling) briefly attended Beloit College in Wisconsin. Those of us who went there have heard countless (incorrect) recountings of how John Wayne attended the school!

Not Goodyear but

The camera is wearing a quilt-like fitted blanket.
That would be to deaden the sounds it makes.

Probably a 2nd unit shoot

That guy on the left looks like a boom operator, but the fact that the camera is on such a lightweight tripod and dolly makes me think it isn't blimped (closed up in a big case that makes it silent for sound recording). I don't know if it was a practice in '50s TV production to sent a second unit to shoot locations, but that's what this looks like.


I, and about 50 close friends, helped VOLVO do a 30 second commercial back in 1978. It took about 12 hours to shoot. This type of activity is very labor intensive. 'Gunsmoke' was, and still remains, one of the best ensemble shows ever, regardless of genre.

Arness vs. Burr

It's a good thing they cast Arness as the TV marshal instead of the radio show version of Matt Dillon. Raymond Burr played Matt Dillon on the radio show.

[No, the radio Matt Dillon was played by William Conrad, known on TV as "Cannon" and also the narrator of the Rocky & Bullwinkle adventures. Burr did audition for the TV role, however. -tterrace]

Oops - I meant to say William Conrad played Matt Dillon on the radio show. Different guy, but roughly the same shape.

Hurry Up And Wait

The object on the hinge above the camera is a fill reflector.
If you notice where his shadow is on the ground, the sun is nearly directly above. Plus he is wearing a hat. His face would be all shadows, which wouldn't look good on film, without some light coming in below the hat. So you bounce some light in, for the camera, with those reflectors.

As far as setting up that track, motion picture scenes are put together by various sub crews of the whole team. The gaffers do the lighting, the grips set up that track. So, while the camera crew and actors are shooting some other scene, the grips are working on what the camera will need for the next one. Everyone is there from before sun up to after sun down, so how long it takes to set the track up doesn't really matter that much because if they finish setting up that track before they are needed to carry around that reflector, or take down another track, they just have to stay there and wait.

In reality, the guys have set up that same track so many times and broken it down again, that they are pretty quick at it. I haven't ever seen a wooden track like that anywhere that I worked, but I wasn't working in 1957.

No track?

I'm amazed that there is no track for the wheels of that dolly, only what look like 2x10 boards. I imagine it was very difficult keeping those wheels from running off.

The impact of Gunsmoke

I grew up in Kansas in the 1950's and remember how "big a deal" Gunsmoke was to my parents, aunts, and uncles. Saturday night was Gunsmoke night. A couple of years ago my wife and I watched the first-year episodes, and their impact surprised us both. From Dillon's introductory walk through a desolate Boot Hill, talking about wasted lives, to stories where good guys don't always win and life is cruel, those episodes just never let up -- little fluffy banter, no dancing, no kids running around laughing and playing, just harsh life with bad guys and bad weather on the Kansas plains in the 1870's -- in black and white, without even color to soften. Those episodes are almost unbearably sad. They reasonated, though, with an audience that had experienced the Depression and Dust Bowl, WWII, and, for some, what life was like on an isolated Kansas farm. The only western capable of this level of drama was Rawhide, but even it did not consistently match Gunsmoke's first year. Later westerns like Bonanza and Big Valley look childish by comparison, even at their best. Even Gunsmoke could not maintain its level, and the Boot Hill walk disappeared and the stories became lighter.

"Mr. Dillon! Mr. Dillon!"

Is that Chester (Goode) to the left of Arness, obscured by the shirtless crewman?

On Making Movies

I once came up the filming of some scenes for a TV movie in Los Angeles. I saw them film one seen where a detective was questioning a person in the ticket booth at a movie theatre. It took fifteen minutes to set up the scene. When I saw the film, it was maybe five seconds long as part of a montage. Much work for little film time -- but that's what it takes to do the job right.

The thing on the dolly in this photo looks like a diffused reflector to shine soft sunlight onto James Arness. If he were facing into the sun he would be squinting and the light would be harsh. The reflector softens the light for better film exposure.


You mean the light refracting panel? Looks like a alum. foil covered piece of plywood. Used to redirect natural light onto the actor or scene I would assume.

Okay, any experts out there:

Being ignorant of commercial film operations, I'd like to know what is the purpose of the screen on the dolly, and what may be in front of it?

Ok, guys, thank you for the answer. I though it might be a refractor or bounce fill reflector, but in my limited photography experience I used white cardboard. The blurry surface made me wonder what it was. Again, thanks!

Re: James Arness

He also returned the favor to John Wayne when he starred in a short-lived TV series, "McClain's Law." Jim McClain was John Wayne's character in "Big Jim McClain," which co-starred Arness, as well as the title character in Arness' TV show.

All this for one camera shot

Not being hip to the whole "how do they do it" thing in Hollywood I find this amazing.

I wonder how much time is put into setting up that track for the camera dolly to roll on? All the leveling, shimming, adjusting. You can see lots of wood blocks underneath are used. All for a 10 second shot probably.

Everything but the location

Gunsmoke went to extraordinary pains to get the details right, especially the period artifacts and technology. This makes it all the more puzzling that the producers seldom filmed the outdoor scenes in locations that looked even remotely like southwest Kansas.

Arness trivia

Played The Thing in 1951's "The Thing (from Another World)"; brother of Peter "Mission Impossible" Graves.

James Arness

It's interesting to note that after John Wayne turned down the role of Marshall Dillon in Gunsmoke, he recommended James Arness for the part. One of his reasons was because James Arness was 6ft 6in tall, and John Wayne said he didn't like the idea of Arness towering over him in films. Arness originally refused the part himself, fearing typecasting, but eventually took it; and I think it's safe to say it worked out well for him. I especially liked his letter to the fans, published posthumously, where he thanked them for their support. He was truly a classy guy.

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